Q. We often are asked, why does the tea taste better at Windy City Tea, even though it is the same tea that I buy in the store?
A. A good cup of tea is a combination of various factors, inculding the tea, the water and the brewing time. Generally we'll use a tablespoon of tea for 16 oz of tea. However, we do vary it slightly depending upon the tea. Some teas are heavier than others (like gunpowder) and some are lighter (like silver needle). So volume is not always a good gauge of the amount of tea to use. If you want to weigh it, use .4 oz of tea per cup.
However, using too much tea is not a problem because you can always add water to tea that is too strong for your liking.
We are using filtered water at Windy City Tea. It's one made by Woder (www.woder.com). The Woder 10K-Gen3-DC is great because it selectively filters the water we use. The filter removes 99.99% of the contaminants while leaving in all essential minerals, including calcium, potassium and magnesium. Lead, heavy metals, chlorine, odors, mercury and other stuff is filtered out.
Tea made with water that has everything filtered out, for example, distilled water or water using a reverse osmosis method (ROM) will taste flat. The same is true if all of the oxygen is boiled out of your water. This happens if you over-boil or repeatedly boil water over and over again. It's the minerals and oxygen that gives tea life!
And finally temperature and brewing time. We using different water temperatures for different tea. For white and green, water around 180 degrees. For oolong, pu'erh, black and herbal, water around 206 degrees. White and green teas are steeped for 2 to 3 minutes, the darker (meaning black, oolong and pu'erh) the tea, up to 4 or 5 minutes. For herbal infusions, 5 to 10 minutes.
Delicates teas (green and whites) shouldn't use water that's too hot, and the resulting cup of tea could be bitter. Herbal infusions, made of flowers, grasses, bark and other natural ingredients usualy can take the hotter water and needs to steep longer to get the flavor out.
It's not rocket science to get a great cup of tea at home. There room for adjustment in many ways. Too many tea leaves, use less brewing time. Not enough tea, steep it longer. Water too hot? Wait a few minutes before using it.
Q. How many times can I re-use my tea leaves?
A. It's a matter of taste. White and green teas can be bitter on multiple steepings. Some people like the bitterness (bitterness is not always a bad thing). Black teas can usually hold up to a second steeping. Sometimes it means you are using too many tea leaves, and there is plenty of flavor for the seconf cup.
Oolong and pu'erh are great on the second or third steeping! When the tea is dried in a humidified room it ferments (not a alcohol type of fermentation) and the process changes the composition of the tea leaf so that it has plenty of flavor throughout multiple steepings. Some people like the progression of flavor through multiple steepings.
Also some people like to rinse their oolong and pu'erh tea leaves to get to the second steeping. Swish hot water around the leaves for thirty seconds, and discard the water. This washes the surface of the leaves, getting you to the rich flavors below the surface! Some people can taste a difference between the rinse water and the second steeping. (If you can't, don't worry about it and skip the rinse!
For herbal infusions, once the flavors are brought out, there's nothing left to extract, so second steepings probably don't have much to offer.