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Author Topic: What am I doing wrong with my tea?  (Read 844 times)

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Offline FaustusTopic starter

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What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« on: January 25, 2014, 07:37:15 PM »
Dearest Elliquiy,

I finally decided to brave the true unknown of the loose leaf tea world after being closed in by the pre-bagged lot that I can find at any grocery store. I hail from the south in the US, where sweet iced tea is something you drink with every meal, and formerly found myself quite in-love with certain bagged tea varieties that tasted quite nice to me. However, Adagio Teas drew me because, truly, a tea that gives me cinnamon, ginger, and more in the same bag? Angels sing, I have found my true love!

But when I brew it I get a cup of. . .water. Hot water and no flavour.

What could I possibly be doing wrong?

Now, I should note before I get into an explanation of my obviously-lacking tea technique that I am currently playing this in a most ghetto of manners, to borrow a method of speech. I own neither kettle nor teapot, so these methods have been. . .interesting. . .to say the least.

(also, when I mention water throughout here, please note I mean well water, not city water with chemical treatments)
Attempt #1
  • Pick tea and check requirements. Water needed to be at 210F, according to website.
  • Pop mug of 8oz water into microwave and nuke for 3min. Assume hot enough. Remove.
  • Place 1 tsp of loose tea leaf into teaball.
  • Place in fresh mug and pour water over.
  • Let steep for suggested 5min and remove ball.
  • Drink. . .And find no taste.

Here I thought - Aha! Perhaps teaball is not such a great idea. It is rather small, so maybe the tea isn't able to expand properly.

(it should be noted this microwaved water method works perfect for my bagged teas, which DO have flavour to me after steeping, so I went on that original assumption)

No dice on method one. Read a little, take some suggested notes, try again.

Attempt #2
  • Instead of microwaving water, place pot on stove and fill with water (cold, by the way) and bring to what I assume is a "rolling boil" - ie; my pot is boiling pretty darn well and I can no longer see the bottom from how disturbed the top is.
  • Place 1tsp tea leaf into large mug (16oz mug) loose and not in ball
  • Pour 8oz water over tea leaves
  • Let steep (covered) for suggested 5mins.
  • Uncover, drain in the most awkward fashion known to man.
  • Drink. . .and still find no taste.

And at this point I was at a loss for what to do. What is the problem I am encountering? Why does it still not have a flavour (one that many have stated in reviews to be a real punch in the face and/or almost too strong for them to handle)? Why is my cup of tea still nothing more than a cup of warm water with the vaguest HINT of black tea leaf?

In short : what in the world am I doing wrong? Does it all *really* boil down to needing a proper kettle and teapot/infuser to make this work correctly? Help from the tea drinkers, please?

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2014, 07:47:42 PM »
You don't really need a proper kettle, a pot on the stove brought to a rolling boil is fine. Temperature isn't terribly important at this point, you just want to get some tea out of it. 1tsp isn't really enough tea, in my opinion. 1.5tsp or 1/2 Tbsp is what I use per 1 cup(8oz) of tea. I use a tea master which has a screen in the bottom so it steeps in the tea master and then you set it on top of your cup to drain leaf free.

An option you can use instead is to stir the tea directly into the pot of water as soon as you remove it from the heat (use about 10oz of water to allow for evaporation) and then allow it to steep before pouring it through a mesh sieve into your mug if you have one. You might also be able to use your tea ball as one if you pour carefully.

Do note that tea is sort of a personal preference thing. Experiment with additional tea leaves and extra steeping time if you find you're not getting the result you want. The packaging can only provide a guideline, some people want their tea to be strong, some people prefer slightly infused water.

A teaball doesn't provide very good infusion because it doesn't allow the leaves and ingredients to fully open and allow all of their flavors out. They just expand to completely fill the ball and then sort of settle in there. I find you need to steep longer if you use a tea ball, though I try to avoid it at all costs if I can. I use a tea basket if I'm desperate (they're bigger and allow for more expansion). Proper open infusion has been much more delicious in my experience however.

Feel free to drop me a PM if you like, I feel like I'm rambling. >_>

Offline FaustusTopic starter

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2014, 07:58:21 PM »
Trust me, you are not rambling in the slightest! This is all very useful for me, so all the words you want to throw down are lovely. I'll bask in the glory of your tea knowledge.

I saw that notation about teaballs all over the place, which is what made me try without the second time. I have to admit, my hot water had the slightest more hint of flavour that time than it did before, and at least the leaves looked like they had expanded at all that time.  :-\ So that was a plus. The mesh sieve route is definitely the one I would prefer to go, though when I was last out I couldn't find one the right size for my desires. Fingers crossed when I go back out tonight that has changed, because trying to use the teaball was not a fun experience. The stove suffered.

All the teas I have ever enjoyed in my life have had very heady flavours, so I do wonder if, perhaps, the 1tsp trick really is just too little tea for me. The tea smells good, and it certainly has the colour consistency of what I expect from a black tea, but only a hot water taste. I'll be trying to add more leaves at the very least. I was convinced that 5mins steep time would be sufficient too, buuut. . . Who knows?

A lot of the experience was based on the pre-packed methods I used. 2 - 3 mins steep was plenty for a little package of Constant Comment tea, though I did always need to squeeze and wring the bag to get the flavour out of it I wanted.

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2014, 08:06:27 PM »
Bagged tea is pre-ground so that all the flavors are easily accessible as soon as you drop it in the water, but the oils are added and the flavors can end up being artificial, depending on the quality. It's delicious, but loose leaf teas are so much better in my experience.

*Sidethought - Cheesecloth would also work as an easy strainer if you can't find the right sized sieve, though any average size works as long as you pour into the center. Small ones might be more difficult. I guess for an extra step if you can't find anything but a small one you could pour from the pot into an easier poured item, like a measuring cup with a spout-tip thingy... *Ramble* and then pour it throught the sieve. I'll just hope you can find one lol.

Anyway, black tea will become bitter if you leave it to steep too long, so I would try with adding more tea first. I wouldn't be afraid to go up to 1Tbsp of tea per cup by slowly increasing the amount until you get the flavor level you want.

What brand/type of tea did you buy? If additional tea doesn't work there is potential it might be old/a bit dry or just not the best quality. If the natural oils have evaporated (or if the tea is low quality) then you won't get much flavor from the tea. Have you stored it in an airtight container? That's important to keeping the tea fresh and the natural oils contained.

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2014, 08:14:05 PM »
Ahhh, so that's the story behind the bagged tea versus the loose leaf. I'm actually kind of thrilled to have that explained to me now.

I'll keep the pouring/straining suggestions in mind, though I did just call up the store I have in mind and question about the sieve. They have a smaller one usually used for small baking items, which will work perfectly well, I think! I told her to hide it behind the cash register for me, so here's hoping she listened.

Yeah, the tea becoming bitter thing was what I had been concerned about periodically, and have seen such a high level of conflicting information as to steep-time regarding black tea. Seems most websites suggest 2-3 mins, whereas Adagio suggested 5 for this particular blend. I assume that has more to do with the other items contained within.

The tea in particular that I'm working with is this one from Adagio. It comes in a resealable container that is definitely airtight, so it shouldn't be that. .

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2014, 08:22:07 PM »
One teaspoon sounds a bit light by my experience.  I use a teaball for the little Oni's night-time herbals (which can steep as long as you want in many cases) and I fill the ball about halfway, which I'm sure is larger than my teaspoon measuring spoon.

You might check the coffee machine supplies for mesh filters - I know my little 4-cup machine has a permanent filter basket, which I could easily see using to let tea 'loose steep'.

And yes, roots and pods generally need to steep longer.  The 'chunkier' the mixture, the longer it takes to get the flavor out.  I notice that says to 'steep' at 212F for five minutes - that's close to boiling, if not actually so.  You might try just once putting the tea into water that is still boiling or very near boiling and see if that gets more flavor out of the chunks. 

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2014, 08:26:00 PM »
I have a couple of chocolate teas in my collection and have found that they required more steeping (and a little extra tea) compared to my fruitier ones, so perhaps give the additional tea a try and have a taste test on a spoon after 5 minutes and if it's not there yet let it go another 2 minutes at a time. That might help. :-) The additional flavorings (ginger root, cinnamon bark, cardamom pods, cocoa nibs) might take some additional time to really let their flavors out and they should compensate for any bitterness from the actual tea leaves themselves.

As far as I can tell it does look to be a high quality tea, so I doubt that's the trouble. More than likely just a few adjustments to how much tea per cup and steeping time will have you sipping on a perfect cup soon! Let me know how it goes, I'm curious!

Edit:
I notice that says to 'steep' at 212F for five minutes - that's close to boiling, if not actually so.  You might try just once putting the tea into water that is still boiling or very near boiling and see if that gets more flavor out of the chunks. 
I was also going to suggest just letting the tea boil in the water for a couple of minutes before removing it from the heat if just adjusting the amount/time doesn't work.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2014, 08:28:05 PM by Saffron »

Offline FaustusTopic starter

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2014, 08:32:02 PM »
Oniya-

It somehow went right over my head that maybe, just maaaaaybe when they mentioned steeping at that temperature it meant it needed to be that hot. Considering the ingredients, keeping it at that sort of temperature actually makes sense. When I brew raw ginger root tea at home, I certainly don't bring it to a certain temperature and then just remove the heat, I steep it at the higher temperature, so. .

Man, now I'm a bit embarrassed over that one, ha. Thank you.

Saffron-

Its somehow comforting to know that I'm not just being a total goose over this and that you have found extra tea and steeping might be needed over a fruiter mix. Thank you for your suggestions! I did kind of jump into this feet first without trying a nice, normal and easy tea for my first time.  ::) Thanks for the encouragement too! I really look forward to mastering this because I love tea to a ridiculous degree, and I'll be glad to update with my next attempts!

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2014, 08:38:39 PM »
Come to the tea-side, we have buiscuits?

Probably not necessary to say that I'm a fellow tea enthusiast. I completely understand the frustrations that come along with trying new teas. I've had my fair share of troubles with certain blends being too strong (as a note that might be useful in the future, if the scent is overpowering start with less tea) and too weak according to the general guidelines, so I certainly wouldn't feel bad about having some trouble getting started with any new blend.

What most companies don't account for in their guidelines is the additions they make to change the flavors. Certainly, a plain black tea would only be steeped 2-5 minutes depending on preference, but one with harder to penetrate ingredients will likely need a fair bit more time to steep.

Offline The Dark Raven

Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2014, 11:41:27 AM »
Just to add, I usually let my black teas sit for 7 minutes (no matter what the flavor--but timey wimey) after brewing.  I also use about 2 tbsp. of loose tea (I like really strong tea).  I steep it to a color (not a true time), and then add sugar and cream (2 tsp sugar and cream to color).

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2014, 12:49:13 PM »
This reminds me that I need to get back into my tea blog. *nods*

I always let my black teas steep for 5-7 minutes. I like it strong.

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2014, 06:23:45 PM »
Update :

Re-attempted this evening. Upped to 1tbsp of loose leaves and tossed them into the 212F boiling water. I did cut the tea down to a lower temperature (I didn't temp that. Went from HIGH on the stove to 4, so. . er. That) and let it simmer like this for ten minutes.

The colour was significantly different (it turned the same shade as most coffee).

The flavour was hot water.

 :-\ I am at a total loss for how I'm mucking this up.

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2014, 06:28:37 PM »
Is it possible that it's simply a bad batch of leaves at this point?

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2014, 06:30:51 PM »
Is it possible that it's simply a bad batch of leaves at this point?
Yeah, it kind of sounds like that's possible. If it's turning shade and you're not getting flavor, there's something up there. Do you have any tea shops locally where you can try before you buy sort of thing?

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2014, 06:33:34 PM »
Is it possible that it's simply a bad batch of leaves at this point?
For all of the teas I bought to do this?  :-\ That. . .would not be okay on so many levels.

Yeah, it kind of sounds like that's possible. If it's turning shade and you're not getting flavor, there's something up there. Do you have any tea shops locally where you can try before you buy sort of thing?
No. We have, like, one coffee shop and they recoil at the mention of hot tea. If you say tea in this area, it had better be sweet iced tea, otherwise they're clueless.

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #15 on: January 27, 2014, 06:36:08 PM »
For all of the teas I bought to do this?  :-\ That. . .would not be okay on so many levels.

Not unlikely if they are all from the same company and batched around the same time. Green, black, white, and oolong teas are all made from the same plant. If the teas came from a bad crop, then it will taste wrong, flavorless, or just bad.

Offline Caeli

Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #16 on: January 27, 2014, 06:37:26 PM »
It's still possible that it's the same batch of leaves, and that it was a bad batch.  There could be anywhere from a few to a couple dozen tins/boxes/whatevers that come from the same batch, depending on how large the retailer is and where the tea is from.

I would contact Adagio Tea and let them know, and see if they'll send you another tin or canister or whatever of what you purchased.

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #17 on: January 27, 2014, 06:56:28 PM »
My fiance' pointed out that it may have something to do with my water. My home (well, parents home) is well-water without a very sufficient filtration system. It just whatever is attached at the pump and my father changes once every. . .year, if we get lucky. I've never had anything but well-water, so I didn't know about a difference in things.

Like how our soap doesn't lather with water, or bubbles aren't made when you introduce it to the water. (Literally had no clue because its always been that way for me.)

He's picking up some distilled water on the way home to try and see if that changes anything. If not. . . Then I'll contact Adagio and let them know about potentially bad-batchings and see what happens from there. *fingers crossed*

I mean, the tea smells great in the bag and what is being brewed smells equally divine. But no real taste. So hoooopefully its this water issue. Will attempt again when he gets home and update with results.

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #18 on: January 27, 2014, 06:58:46 PM »
If the distilled water helps, pick yourself up a Brita filter pitcher.  Cheaper overall than distilled.

Offline Caeli

Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #19 on: January 27, 2014, 07:22:31 PM »
From that explanation, it does sound like the water might be the problem.  You won't know until you try!

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #20 on: January 27, 2014, 07:41:24 PM »
Just tried.

hooooooolyyyyy heeeeeeell this tea is good

It was my water, in the end, but all of your friendly advice made my experience all the better! Thank you, everyone! Consider me a delighted Faustus!

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #21 on: January 27, 2014, 07:54:04 PM »
Huh. I had no idea that was possible! Very glad you figured it out though!

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #22 on: January 27, 2014, 07:57:41 PM »
I suspect it's because the water can only hold so much dissolved stuff (including the essential oils from the tea ingredients).  It's like if you mix sugar into water until no more will dissolve, you can't then go and pour salt in it and expect that to dissolve.  Poorly filtered water has minerals and whatever else taking up the spaces that the tea stuff would want to go into.

Offline mia h

Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #23 on: January 28, 2014, 09:05:18 AM »
Ahhh, so that's the story behind the bagged tea versus the loose leaf.
Actually bagged tea was a complete accident, there was a New York tea seller who normally sent samples out to his clients as loose leaf in small metal tins. But one day he ran out of tins so his wife suggested they send the samples out in small silk bags and his clients very happy about this new, convenient and strainer free method and couldn't wait to buy more bagged tea.

And if you want to try something that seems really silly, try drinking tea out of wine glass it'll taste different to the same team served in a cup

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Re: What am I doing wrong with my tea?
« Reply #24 on: January 28, 2014, 09:21:22 AM »
That's because of the shape of the wine glass.  Wine glasses are curved to trap/concentrate the vapors from the wine around the nose - and smell is a huge portion of what we ordinarily consider 'flavors'.  More aroma = more intense flavor profile.  Less aroma (try drinking that tea when your nose is stuffed up) = less intense flavor profile.