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Searching for balance!

25 May 2016

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A simple yet fundamental idea when preparing tea is that of how to make a good infusion. Clearly the main factors are the water and leaves, but besides the quality of these, three other parameters need to be carefully considered to get the best of our tea, this is why we have written on the bags: quantity of leaf, brewing temperature and time. For preparation in a teapot, around 2.5 grams (1 to 2 tsp) of tea per cup of water are submerged at the desired temperature, depending on the type of tea, and left to infuse a few minutes before removing leaves with the filter when the infusion has reached its balance! But what about the renowned sweet spot …

Each tea has its own chemical composition depending on a multiplicity of factors, and the rate at which its various constituents are released during the  infusion is also extremely varied. A minute too short can result in an infusion which gives the impression of  tasting a fragrant hot water, be very careful when infusing your tea since the tannins, which cause the sensation of astringency or dryness in the mouth, are progressively adding body to the liquor, and this happens more rapidly when the water is hotter. Those who prefer light and fine teas can therefore benefit from lowering the water temperature or shortening their infusion. It is useful to follow the evolution of the infusion by periodically tasting the liquor (every 15 seconds towards the end!), until the balance is what I call the nose and mouth, i.e. between the aromatic profile and the tastes and sensations (body, volume and texture). Too long an infusion and astringency may overwhelm the flavour, limiting the perception of more subtle nuances. Too short, and it offers too little texture and a lack of body. It is also good to know that the liquor changes even after having removed the leaves, becoming more full-bodied with time. A good reason to make small quantities at a time!

The three parameters are closely related, varying any one affects the others. A stronger dosage provides a  greater concentration of aromatic oils, but also more caffeine and tannins, sometimes resulting in a more pronounced bitterness. In this case it is necessary to  shorten the infusion to maintain the ideal balance. The techniques of infusions in small volumes (gong fu cha, gaiwan, sencha do) correspond with this idea.

Each tea merits being preparing according to a variety of different recipes in order to understand its multiple aspects.  A good knowledge of the infusion also enables adapting it to suit the moment, for a solo morning lunch,  a winter evening in good company or a family afternoon on the hot sand.

Happy experiments.

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