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Brewed awakening: A guide to selecting quality tea leaves

Cream of the crop

Brewed awakening: A guide to selecting quality tea leaves
Julie Wang, certified tea master and training director of Australian Tea Masters Singapore, shows us how to separate the wheat from the chaff

To enjoy the perfect cup of tea, simply brewing the tea leaves correctly is only half the battle won. It begins with a selection of good quality tea leaves — a delicate affair that requires you to look, smell, and taste the product. Below, Julie Wang, certified tea master and training director for Australian Tea Masters Singapore, shares a few tips on how to select tea leaves and brew the perfect cuppa. 


1. What factors do you consider when selecting quality tea leaves?

When it comes to selecting quality tea leaves, there are a few factors which we need to properly consider. Firstly, the appearance of the dry leaf prior to steeping is important. High quality tea usually contains more whole leaves, with fewer stalks and tea dust, and should be uniform in size. Moreover, the tea you are buying should also follow its signature tea type appearance. For example, a Tie Guan Yin oolong should come in its standard ball-shape as opposed to a Phoenix Dancong Oolong which comes typically rolled in strips.

oolong tea

Next, the smell of the dry leaf before steeping is also vital, and should not be uncharacteristic of the particular tea that you are choosing. For example, the dry leaves of a high quality Japanese Sencha should smell like freshly-cut grass and seaweed.


The taste of the tea should also be carefully monitored and would taste pleasant, smooth and distinctive of the particular tea. For example, a high quality Long Jing Green Tea should exhibit notes of buttery chestnuts with vegetal and nutty overtones, and a high quality Oriental Beauty oolong should have a honey-like aroma, accompanied with delightful fruitiness.


Lastly, after steeping the tea, the final factor to consider is the appearance of the wet leaves. Once the leaves have been steeped and fully expanded, the wet tea leaf can tell you how consistent the grading of the tea was and what flaws could have occurred during the oxidation process.


2. Tell us more about the ideal temperature when it comes to brewing different types of tea.

tea leaves

There are mainly six types of tea — white, green, yellow, oolong, black and pu-erh. Generally speaking, white and green teas require lower steeping temperatures and the table below will give you an approximate guide.

 

Temperature

Time

White Tea

80C - 85C

3 - 5 minutes

Green Tea

75C - 80C

3 - 4 minutes

Yellow Tea

90C

3 minutes

Oolong Tea

80C - 90C

1 - 6 minutes

Black Tea

90C - 100C

3 - 5 minutes

Pu Er Tea

Sheng (raw) Pu Er: 85C - 90C

Shou (cooked) Pu Er: 95C - 100C

Depends on the pu erh and how many times it has already been steeped.


3. Does brewing tea in vessels of different materials affect the quality of the brew?

Yes, the various vessels do affect the quality of the brew. For example, clay vessels (Chinese Yixing) will retain heat over longer periods and is best suited for oolongs, black teas, and pu-erh. The unique granular structure and mineral composition of yixing clay gives it good heat handling properties that are excellent for maintaining a stable temperature in the teapot, and in so doing, mitigates temperature fluctuations which can diminish the flavour of tea. On the other hand, porcelain and glass vessels tends to release heat faster and is more suited for green & white teas as it stays cooler.

tea

4. What's your favourite tea to end the day with?

I love to end my day with a pot of Doke Black Fusion. This is a small-estate black tea from Bihar, India that won the Gold Star Winner at the Great Taste Awards, an acknowledged benchmark for fine food and drink and described as the 'Oscars' of the food world. This organic tea brews to a bright gold liquor with notes of muscatel honey, and is perfect for winding down in the evenings.


5. Which book would you recommend to someone who's keen to learn more about tea?

There are several good reads on tea out there for the aspiring tea sommelier. The Tea Journey, a digital magazine, offers pretty interesting articles and insights on tea. 


We have also launched a Tea Sommelier Handbook last year which was specifically designed as a source of knowledge for sommeliers who are passionate about tea. It provides specialist advice in the preparation and service of single origin teas, and covers the history of tea, processing methods, impact of the natural environment, detailed tasting notes and brewing guidelines. 


To further facilitate the ease of learning, we have also launched a tea sommelier app that is designed as the ultimate quick-resource tool for enthusiasts and tea professionals. In this app, a Tea Tasting Wheel is included to help you develop your tea sensory evaluation skills, along with a tea timer for perfect brewing, tea music and a host of information on the different types of tea and tea growing areas in the world. It is a one-stop app for all things tea and a source of knowledge for someone keen to learn more about tea. 

Denise Kok

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