A strong builders tea does no more to help us revive in the mornings than a subtle green tea, says Henrietta Lovell
In light of the rather excited response to last week’s article concerning the ideal brewing of tea – and in particular the issue of water temperature – I hope to debunk a few more myths.
All tea comes from the same plant – Camellia sinensis. From the richest black tea to delicate white silver tips, all tea comes from this same plant – it is just crafted differently. All tea has caffeine. You get as much of a caffeine kick from most green teas and oolong as from black. It’s the flavour that is softer – not the caffeine.
A strong builder’s tea does no more to help us revive in the mornings than a subtle green tea. The strength of really good tea is quiet but tangible.
Pre-Heating the Pot
Tea was an extremely precious commodity in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It was far more valuable than brandy or champagne. The lady of the house often kept the key to the tea-chest on her belt to ensure not a single leaf went astray. It was often infused at the table with great care and precision.
For large gatherings, however, it was made in the kitchen by the servants – perhaps with even greater care. The tea was carefully measured into the teapot; the water temperature exact; the infusion time precise. Perfectly infused, the tea was then transferred to the serving teapot (the finest china) that would be used in the drawing room.
Naturally, the infusion time and this transfer would cause the tea to lose its warmth, so the prettier service teapot would be warmed with hot water beforehand.
Several infusions were often added together to the teapot used in the drawing-room to get the very best and most complex flavours from the precious leaves.
As tea became less expensive and spread throughout British society, this method of infusing the leaves in one teapot and then transferring it to a second warmed pot was used by most British families. It is at once practical and sensitive. A large quantity of beautifully brewed tea can be prepared without over infusing (as it would if the water was left on the leaf beyond the ideal infusion time). No one has to leave the table to re-infuse the leaf and make more tea if there are no servants to hand.
You really don’t need or want to heat a teapot you are making tea in – unless you are making tea for a regiment, in an enormous freezing tea pot, in a field, in a blizzard.
Herbal tea is not technically ‘tea’ but an infusion of other plants – generally a flower, leaf or root (Rooibos is an exception, being made from the needles and stem of a wild bush). These herbs contain no caffeine but they also lack some of the wonderfully polyphenols found in tea. They are better infused at a higher temperature than tea –100C.