The “Right” Way to Brew Tea

Presentation of ISO standard brewing setI recently got my first International Standard tea tasting set. I’d used them before, of course, but I didn’t have any of my own. I did a little more research and found that they are specified in ISO 3103:1980 which also includes the standard method for brewing tea in them.

You can’t really see it in this picture, but the “pot” behind is kind of like a mug (the handle’s in back) with a lid.  There are several serrations along the edge opposite the handle which allows the tea to pour out with the lid on, straining the leaves.  The infused leaves are then dumped into the inside of the lid and presented behind the tea liquor in the bowl.

If you’re curious, the “right” way to brew, or prepare tea liquor for use in sensory tests (according to the International Organization for Standardization), follow the procedure below. I’ve done some conversions for 8-ounce cups, to make it easier to brew correctly at home:

  • Use 2 grams of dry leaf per 100 ml of water, weighed to an accuracy of +/- 2%. Since a measuring cup is 8 ounces, or 236.6 ml, that comes out to 4.64 to 4.82 grams per cup. No more, no less. Or else. I’m serious.
  • If the tea is to be tasted without milk, the leaf is added to the ISO standard pot, and “freshly boiling water” is added, filling the pot to within 4-6 millimeters of the brim. Be sure to measure. Steep for exactly 6 (!!) minutes.
  • If the tea is to be tasted WITH milk, the milk goes into the bowl first,* using 4.1 to 4.2 ml (or .83 to .85 teaspoons) of raw or unboiled pasteurized milk per 8-ounce cup. The tea is brewed the same way as without milk.
  • If possible, use water as similar to the drinking water where the tea will be consumed for maximum similarity between the sensory test and actual drinking conditions.
  • A test report should be written, including any variation from the above procedures (like, <your favorite deity> forbid, putting milk in after you’ve poured the tea in the bowl). Be sure to include: mass of the tea used, volume of water, duration of brewing (if not 6 minutes), source of the water, whether or not milk was used and if used the volume and type of milk, when the milk was added, and all details of the experience necessary for complete identification of that exact sample of tea.

…and people think I’m a geek because I know a Keemun from a Yunnan.

* Note: on the rare occasions that I add milk to tea, I do it WRONG! I add the milk after and I don’t write it down. Take that, International Organization for Standardization! Ha!

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