The Red River Blog #2
Low Temperature Brewing of Black Teas – Part 1
One afternoon at the store I was brewing an Assam. A customer came in and I naturally put aside the tea and assisted the customer. I returned to the Assam about 40 minutes later. Needless to say the tea was ruined, bitter beyond salvaging.
So the next time I was inclined to an afternoon black tea I decided to brew it at a lower temperature, the temperature we use for brewing green teas, about 175 degrees. Nothing interrupted the brewing this time, so after about three minutes I poured out the tea. To my surprise I found the tea to be sweeter and more flavorful than I had previously tasted.
This started a series of experiments in brewing black teas. The standard wisdom regarding black teas is that they are more resilient than green or oolong teas, meaning that one can use a full boil to brew black teas, whereas greens and oolongs require a lower temperature. The idea is that if one uses a full boil on green teas they will turn bitter; which is certainly true. The same applies to most oolongs. While it is true that black teas can take a full boil without ruining them, what I have discovered is that a richer, more complex, flavor is produced when one brews black teas at a lower temperature.
After my first sip of black tea brewed at a low temperature I began to systematically experiment with black teas. I discovered that black tea blends in particular benefit from low temperature brewing. This applies to such favorites as English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, and the numerous blends available today. What I discovered is that low temperature brewing allows me to taste the individual ingredients. For example, if the blend includes Keemun and Darjeeling, with low temperature brewing I can taste these two teas as distinct flavors. In high temperature brewing, usually at a full boil, the individual teas become indistinguishable.
If one thinks of tea as a vegetable, this makes sense. If one is cooking a soup and one boils the vegetables at a full boil for a while, the individual components lose their distinctiveness. Similarly, with a black tea blend brewed at a high temperature, the individual ingredients lose their distinctiveness.
In contrast, when I brewed black tea blends at a low temperature the individual flavors of the varieties used were clearly distinguishable. I found this to yield a complex, rich, and savory tea. The complexity in particular appeals to me because it makes each sip a kind of adventure in the realm of taste.