Health

How To Drink Tea… Because You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

‘Put the jug on immediately!’ I said as I wrestled my way through the front door of our roadside motel in California. We’d just arrived in LA that morning and had spent the day in our enormous rented Dodge, motoring down Route 66. It marked the beginning of a month-long road trip around California and Nevada . It also marked the beginning of one of the most frustrating months of our lives.

‘There is no jug.’ Mr Smaggle said as he stared at the mini-kitchen bench top.

‘What? Of course, there’s a jug. Look in the cupboard.’ 

We looked in the cupboard. No jug. We looked in the bathroom. No jug.

Mr Smaggle said he’d duck downstairs and grab one from reception. He came back 5 minutes later, empty-handed. They didn’t have jugs. They had a coffee maker and an ice machine, but no way in which to make tea. Incidentally, there was also no tea, but that wasn’t really a problem as we had no way to make it.

We just sort of stared at each other and couldn’t figure out to fix this problem. It was really late at night, we weren’t entirely sure where we were and we were exhausted. We just wanted to fall into bed with a cup of tea but that didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

We went to sleep and then woke up grumpy because we had no way to make our morning cup of tea. I managed to get a cup of standard black tea with my omelette at the diner we went to for breakfast but I was dying for a strong cup of English breakfast tea with a good dash of fresh milk in it. The generic black tea bag with powdered creamer at the diner wasn’t really cutting it.

We forgot all about the tea situation until we checked into our next hotel and the same thing happened. No jug. Not even from reception. The lovely lady behind the counter looked confused and said ‘There’s a coffee machine and an ice machine!’. 

This became the standard reply everywhere we went. We tried making tea in a coffee machine and it just tasted like coffee-tea. Occasionally we stayed at a place that had a jug but we learnt to buy our own fancy tea bags from Wholefoods because standard black tea in the US just wasn’t what I was after. Most of the time though we ended up finding 7 Eleven’s and getting our tea from there. You could make a big cup of milky tea for $1 that really hit the spot when it was late at night, we’d been travelling all day and all we wanted was a bloody cup of tea. We couldn’t even a carry a thermos because we had no way of actually making a thermos of tea.  It was madness. 

Before this trip, I hadn’t really thought that much about tea which is weird because I drink it constantly. I have at least three cups most days, sometimes more. It’s just such a part of my life that I didn’t notice until it was taken away from me.

Many years ago when I first moved to Melbourne, I lived with my friend Taë (some of you may remember her as Roomie Smaggle) whose mother is Japanese. Fo Taë, tea was an entire food group of its own. We had a full shelf in our kitchen that was devoted to tea and she had a tea for every ailment. She wouldn’t just run down to T2 and grab a box of fancy bullshit, she used to go into proper herbal medicine shops and buy brown bags of dried leaves and she’d put them dark amber jars like some kind of modern-day sorceress. I learnt about tummy teas, calming teas, wake you up teas and how to properly brew tea so you don’t destroy them. I also learnt from Taë how beautiful the act of tea making is. If I’d had a bad day, she’d take one look at me and put the kettle on. Next minute I’d have a beautiful cup and saucer filled magic elixir that would temporarily fix my problems. Tea drinking is a very excellent thing to get into so if you’re a bit stuck here’s my little tea drinking guide.

how to drink tea

How To Drink Tea

Black Tea

Black tea is the most common type of tea you’ll find in the western world. Breakfast teas, Earl Grey, Chai and any kind of tea you’re likely to add milk to or dunk a biscuit in, is probably black tea. Black tea has the highest level of caffeine of all the teas so it’s pretty awesome for an afternoon pick me up.

Green Tea

Green tea is produced when fresh tea leaves are picked and steamed without being fermented (black tea is fermented). Green tea has a high antioxidant count and has been linked to weight loss and decreased blood pressure. Green tea is very much an acquired taste so if you think it tastes like cow poo then don’t bother drinking it… but you might also be preparing it wrong. Keep reading for green tea steeping tips!

White Tea

White tea is made from very young buds that have been left to wither naturally unlike black and green teas that have been processed. White teas are very high in antioxidants and are usually a bit more expensive than other teas. Experts describe the taste of white tea as ‘mild and delicate’ but I think it tastes like boiling water that’s had potpourri floating in it. I still enjoy it and I feel very healthy-smug drinking it. Totally worth the investment.

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is very popular in China. It’s similar to black tea but it goes through a shorter fermentation process. It’s kind of in between green and black tea. Many studies show links to weight loss and improved skin with increased consumption of Oolong tea.

Herbal tea

Herbal teas technically aren’t tea as they don’t have any tea in them. They’re made from flowers, plant leaves, seeds and bark. They’re an excellent choice for people who can’t tolerate caffeine but love to have a delicious warm beverage.

how to drink tea

Brewing Tips

1. Follow the instructions – they’re there for a reason.

2. Pay attention to temperature. For example, most black teas are fine to pour boiling water on immediately but green tea (and full credit goes to my cousin Alice for teaching me how to do this) needs the water to be ‘off the boil’. You can buy kettles that will boil the water to the temperature you need but if that’s overkill for you here’s a simple way to work it out.

If the ideal temperature on the box says 100 degrees (usually black and oolong teas) – pour boiling water straight onto your tea bag or infuser of tea.

If the ideal temperature on the box says 80 degrees (usually green tea and some white teas) – pour boiling water into your empty mug or pot, then add a splash of cold water to cool it slightly, THEN add your tea bag or infuser of tea. This prevents you from ‘burning’ your green tea and making it taste all bitter and nasty.

3. Time it. I had a mate come over the other day and she was shocked that I had timed the steeping of my tea. I’m shocked when people DON’T time their tea. Humans are TERRIBLE at guestimating time and lots of us are pretty terrible at remembering that we even made tea in the first place. How many times have you gone to the kitchen to find an ink-black and icy cold cup of tea that you made 6 hours ago? Always time your tea.

4. Use loose leaf tea when you can. Bags are brilliant but if you’re at home, it takes no extra time to pop a teaspoon of tea in a little single cup strainer. Mr Smaggle and I each have one of these babies from T2 and they’re brilliant. They are held by the top of your cup and give a beautiful and even steep of any kind of tea.

5. Make tea for everyone you love. It’s one of the nicest things you can do.

Do you know how to make tea? What’s your favourite brew?

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Oh and tea is fab with gluten-free banana bread. Just saying.

37 Comments

  1. my2morrows 3 years ago

    Great post Carly! I’m a big tea fan and have a tea ‘station’ in my kitchen with my fave tea pots and teas in canisters and glass jars. (Which the huz just doesn’t get).

    I love the ritual of brewing a pot of tea and like your friend, I have one for every mood or time of day. My fave is a green tea called ‘autumn’ from T2. There’s also a great tea brand from Tassie I bought at the markets that I love but can’t remember the name! You are so right about getting the temp right with green tea too! Crucial!

    I also love mixing my own ice tea combos and always have a jug of something in the fridge. Xx

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 years ago

      We have a tea station too! It’s a a few fruit boxes stacked on top of each other and we’ve got steepers and jars and scoops. I bloody love tea! Do you have any recipes for ice tea? Sugar free ones? I keep trying to make my own but they aren’t very palatable without sugar or steevia which I’m not a huge fan of.

      • my2morrows 3 years ago

        At the moment my fave iced tea combo is T2’S fruitalicious mixed with lemon myrtle leaf. Weird combo but super refreshing. Also love their apple crumble tea with a bit of cinnamon added. Its like a desert! I don’t add sugar or stevia but if I do find I need to sweeten an ice tea occasionally I add a bit of rice malt syrup. Xx

        • Erica 3 months ago

          Art of Tea in Hobart, that would be it 🙂

  2. Christine 3 years ago

    I love tea. Always loose leaf in a pot, please and thank you. Green/jasmine for breakfast, eumundi organic English breakfast tea for after lunch pick me up and peppermint for after dinner. enjoyed just as they are – no milk or sugar. I have tried valerian – but it truly smells gross – so bad I had to throw the container I’d kept it in away. Another stinky one is lapsang souchong – smells like smoked beef or dog treats. Xx

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 years ago

      Loose leaf tea is the best. I think once you get into it you don’t go back. I’ve never valerian… it sounds like it should make you sleepy! I love peppermint tea! It’s so zingy!

  3. Caz 3 years ago

    I love tea, I have so many kinds I have a rule that I must finish one before I can buy another type. My go-to though is green (of any kind, but gen-mai cha is a favourite) and I’ll often mix a green (caffeine) with an herbal (throat coat, echinacea for flavour/health). In the summer I go through liters of the stuff I make and keep in the fridge.

    I also love Earl Grey w milk. But only Twinnings. Its the tea I grew up with and reminds me of childhood. If I’m feeling really nostalgic I’ll add the tiniest bit of sugar to remind me of being 6. Unfortunately I rarely buy milk.

    Friends recently developed a new tea made from coffee leaves! Check out wizemonkey.com Its a bit of a cross between black/green tea and herbal tea. It’s delicious, but I’m not sure if its in Aus yet 🙁

    I’m totally awful at making it properly though. Besides always making it in a if-it-breaks-I’ll-cry pot and if-it-breaks-i-will-cry mug (both have moved across the globe w me more than once) I definitely use tea bags, don’t particularly care about timing (I love strong tea) and will drink it at any temperature.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 years ago

      I love chai with milk and anything vanila flavoured at T2. Green tea is magical! I’ve been having it heaps recently on the 5;2 diet on fast days and I swear it’s the only thing that gets me through! Oh that coffee tea sounds great! I’ll book mark it!

  4. merilyn 3 years ago

    that would have been lovely to share a flat with someone from a culture that appreciates the fine art of tea making! … special!
    yes, I love all sorts of tea! plus herbal tea remedies! I have lots!
    caffeine is a problem for me!
    one day I read that you love rooibos! … we do too!
    great post smags! .. as usual! love m:)X

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 years ago

      I do love rooibos! New favourite! I’m a bit sensitive to caffiene so it’s great for the afternoons!

  5. I most certainly am a tea drinker – I just adore the stuff! At work during the day I will either have an Earl Grey (no milk) or a white tea. At home, after dinner I either enjoy a cup of Higher Living ‘Evening’ tea blend (you can just get it from the supermarket) or this lovely loose leaf blend called I Am Love by I Am Infusion (http://www.iaminfusion.com.au/product/32-i-am-love). x

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 years ago

      I can’t have black tea without milk! I have it as a snack sometimes on fast days. Just about to have a rooibos tea!

      • Peter 8 months ago

        Yes, you can! Just get good tea and brew it right. You won’t dream of adding milk or sugar after you taste real tea. If (a) it comes in a tea bag or (b) it is chopped into tiny pieces or (c) it comes from a gimmick shop like T2 or (d) it needs to be brewed for more than 30 seconds, it isn’t good tea. Feel free to add milk, sugar, salt and pepper – whatever it takes to kill off the awful taste. But find a quality tea and gong fu brew it, and you’ll never add milk again.

  6. Filza Nasir 3 years ago

    I am addicted to tea! Like actually addicted. My head hurts if i don’t have my black tea with milk, once in the morning (with breakfast), and once in the evening. But throughout the day I prefer green tea (with cardamom, it’s blissful!), and a peppermint tea before bed. Jeez, I just realized I have way too much tea!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 years ago

      Oh that sounds lovely! I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much tea! 🙂

  7. I absolutely loved this blog post! I am a Green Tea drinker, i don’t quite fill the cup to the brim but instead i add a dash of cold water. Have totally gone off White tea since the birth of my son, strange i know.:)

    • my2morrows 3 years ago

      How funny to have that happen after pregnancy Kat! I’m a massive tea fan but completely went off it during both my pregnancies. Like did not touch it at all. But Omg that first cuppa the midwife brought me right after giving birth was the best one I’ve ever had! X

  8. Carolyn Heywood 3 years ago

    Try this tea iced – I have to order online but local for you
    http://www.petalproducts.com.au/berry-bonanza-tea/

  9. Erika 3 years ago

    The absolute best way to make black tea? In the old brown teapot that your grandfather had (I am SO lucky!). Warm it first, then tea and boiling water, steep to taste and pour. We’ve got the cup strainer as well, and use it regularly, but the teapot is better.

    A good espresso is the way the day starts, but it’s tea thereafter – generally black with a splash of milk, but white or herbal are also in the cupboard.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 months ago

      Oh lord yes! Very, very hold teapots are the BEST!

  10. Bec 3 years ago

    I’m a green tea addict – I just love it! I recently bought a white/green hybrid from T2 with hibiscus – it’s delicious for an afternoon pick me up!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 months ago

      I love T2 tea… must stop in and get some more Rooibos!

  11. Nadine 3 years ago

    I drink litres of camomile tea! It’s crucial not to burn it – I go tea bag, hot water, immediately followed by cold water. I love Earl Grey but caffeine does not agree with me . . And no milk or sugar in tea EVER. Yuck!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 months ago

      Yes! Burnt chamomile is gross. I love milk in my black tea but I agree… no sugar. Gross!

  12. Michaela 3 months ago

    I’m definitely a tea drinker – and many of my kooky fellow American friends are as well – but by and large Americans are not tea drinkers. I think it stems back to the Revolutionary War and Boston and a whole bunch of other unpleasant historical things to do with taxes and kings. 🙂

    I’ve recently fallen in love with Thai Iced Tea, to be honest. I don’t normally enjoy really sweet drinks, but I am definitely making an exception for that one.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 months ago

      I love how it’s a bit kooky to drink in America. Do you have a recipe for Thai iced tea?

  13. Jess Carey 3 months ago

    I’m a total tea addict… I have a collection of teapots and tea cups, and about 30 different jars of loose leaf tea… oops! I like to collect different teas when I travel, so I remember a cold winter day in Tokyo when I drink *that* Gyokuro, or that awesome day driving through Ireland when I drink *that* Assam… #teanerd

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 months ago

      Me too! I love that really fancy brand that you find in Asian malls – I think it’s called 1897 or something? They have a Bourbon Vanilla Tea that dreams are made of.

  14. Jamie 3 months ago

    Another tea lover here! After my one cup of coffee with breakfast, I drink tea for the rest of the day…black tea with (soy)milk at midmorning, green or herbal of some kind after lunch, decaf black in the evening, and I usually fall asleep with a “soothing” blend of some kind – mint, chamomile, etc. – on my nightstand. I use teabags occasionally for convenience but also have lots of nice loose leaf varieties in my tea cupboard (yes it’s a whole cupboard!). I can sympathise with your travel experience – I was so confused the first time I went to the States as an adult and couldn’t for the life of me get a decent cup of tea the entire time! I clearly remember arriving home and making a cup of tea before doing anything else. 🙂

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 months ago

      Me too! I’m trying to keep my caffeine intake as low as possible so I go Rooibos during the day after my morning coffee!

  15. hayleybash 3 months ago

    I don’t drink tea or coffee but still read this…that’s a compliment for your writing… I still enjoyed it! 🙂

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 3 months ago

      Oh thank you that’s lovely… you’re not tempted to try tea though? There’s so may different ways to drink it!

      • hayleybash 3 months ago

        I call tea ‘herby water’.. it isn’t a taste I enjoy. I thought licorice tea might be good for me, but.. yuck. I love chai lattes but only with the powder, not from the tea.. I’m a terrible adult. We do make masala tea at home and I like that!

        Also while I think of it, a book recommendation: The Power by Naomi Alderman.

  16. Pranita 3 months ago

    Even the mere thought of tea makes me smile, so I couldn’t not read the post 🙂 I love that you love tea!

  17. Love this post, Carly. I am both a tea & coffee drinker. My faves are English breakfast, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, French Earl Grey, Green tea, Oolong tea, Jasmine, as well as Chamomile for herbal tea.

    Great tips for the tea preparation ??

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