Most often, the teacup used to serve brewed tea is chosen based on its appearance. However, a less known fact is that choosing the right teacup to serve you brew is almost as important as choosing the tea leaves. Factors such as the size of the teacup and the material it is made of play an important role in influencing your tea drinking experience.
How to choose the perfect cup
Qualities of a good teacup :
- The material should not be porous. Porous teaware will retain flavours and aromas which will interfere with the taste notes of you brew.
- The tea should cool at a steady pace. Tea served in a wide-rimmed cup will cool faster, while a narrow cup will help in heat retention, keeping it hot for longer while concentrating the aroma of the blend. If the walls of the cup are thin, it will cool at a faster rate. Ceramic material will retain heat for a longer period of time than glass.
- The lip of the teacup should be thin. A thin lip will ensure that the drink rolls easily from the edge of the cup onto the tongue.
- The material should be chemically safe. It is not recommended that you drink tea in a plastic cup. If it is necessary, ensure that they are free from BPA (bisphenol A).
Materials used and how they affect the tea:
A large number of the teaware available in the market is ceramic. They are made from baked clay pottery in kilns. Their popularity is due to their aesthetic appeal as well as their benefits for usage. Ceramic teaware retain heat for relatively longer periods of time as it is porous and resistant to high temperatures. The material does not interfere with the taste of the tea.
Porcelain and Bone China
Bone China has been used in the manufacture of most British teaware. Porcelain is a non-porous material with a vitrified glaze that made it non-reactive. Scientists are of the opinion that the smoothness of Bone China and Porcelain cups prevents tannin present in the leaf from sticking to the side of the cups. This preserves the body of the tea.
Glass cups are ideal for serving tea. Heat retention will depend upon the thickness of the glass. Vitrified glass does not cause any reaction with the tea, while borosilicate glass is known to be almost as good a choice as porcelain and it is less fragile. Double walled cups are gaining popularity, due to the favourable appearance of the tea through the two glass layers. The inner wall retains the heat given out so it is easier to hold the outer one.
These cups are the most durable, but scratched stainless steel cups can at times lead to leaching of iron and nickel. Another issue with stainless steel is that these cups heat up too quickly, making it difficult to hold and sip from them. Due to its conductivity of heat, it becomes rather inconvenient to drink from them as the metal transfers heat at a fast rate.
It is not recommended that you drink tea from a plastic cup, as some plastics can leach toxic chemicals when exposed to heat. Plastic cups also lead to a piling up of toxic waste once the tea is consumed, harming the environment in the long term.
How to store tea
The quality of tea is affected by external conditions to which it is exposed. Factors such as humidity, sunlight, temperature, air and odors have a large role to play in preserving the freshness of the leaves.
In order to keep you tea fresh for longer and preserve the flavour, follow the below mentioned guidelines.
Store the tea in an airtight container. It is important that the packaging is completely airtight, to shield the tea from external elements such as moisture that may expedite its deterioration. Exposure to air may also result in adulteration of tea if impurities find their way into it.
Ensure that the tea is kept away from direct sunlight. Transparent containers that are exposed to tea may result in a lightening of the tea leaves, which can in turn change the flavour and taste notes.
Avoid storing the tea at warm temperatures. Proximity to high temperatures can affect the physical and chemical attributes of the tea, and can even cause degradation of the flavour.
Tea absorbs moisture and other surrounding aromas easily, thus, avoid storing them in close proximity to items with strong aromas such as coffee and spices.
Keep the teas away from humidity. Dried tea leaves absorb moisture very quickly, which can also lead to the growth of mold. Moisture affects the intensity of flavour as well.
Cleaning and maintaining your teaware
Even if you have a wide range of teaware to brew and present your perfect cup of tea, keeping them clean and in a good condition can be a challenging task. Kettles, tea cups, tea pots, and infusers are some commonly used teaware that should be kept clean and hygienic.
The care required and methods of cleaning differ based on the material of the item. Some commonly used materials are glass, ceramic, porcelain and metals like stainless steel. Below are a few pointers that will guide you to keep your teaware as good as new.
Glass teaware may get stained over time, specially when dark teas are used.
- Rinse the item immediately after use, and avoid keeping it without rising for long periods of time.
- Wash all items thoroughly with soap and warm water after every use.
- Wipe the item dry with a soft damp cloth to prevent water stains from remaining on the item. Cleaning with brushes may result in scratches on the glass.
- Baking soda is useful in removing tea stains from glass, and toothpaste can be used in case of stubborn stains.
- In case of water marks, soak the item in warm water with lemon slices.
- Vinegar can be used to remove strong flavours or tastes that are retained in the glass.
You may find that residue from teas leaves or powders are retained in ceramic teaware and care must be taken to remove these after consuming the brew. Light coloured ceramic teaware can be stained easily as well.
- Rinse the item immediately after use, and avoid keeping it without rising for long periods of time.
- If the interiors are glazed, the item can be cleaned using soap and warm water. In case the interiors are unglazed, do not use soap as the walls may absorb and retain the soap.
- Wipe the item dry using a soft cloth.
- To get rid of any residue, dampen salt on the residue and then use a soft toothbrush to scrub it.
Porcelain teaware stains minimally and is usually relatively easier to clean. As in the case of ceramic teaware, residues may be retained at the bottom of the item or in places such as the spout of the teapot.
- A mild detergent can be used to scrub the teaware after which it should be rinsed with warm water.
- In order to remove strong stains, mix a little vinegar with corn starch. Once it has mixed well, use this mixture to scrub the stains. Alternately, a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda can also be used, or just plain salt.
- Keep the water temperature neutral while washing the item.
- Avoid the use of bleaching agents or other harsh chemicals while cleaning.
Metal teaware includes items made from silver or stainless steel. Due to oxidization, metal items may turn black easily. Silver teaware may need to be de-tarnished at regular intervals.
- Rise stainless steel items with warm water immediately after usage.
- A few drops of lemon juice or vinegar can be used to clean metal teaware. Prepare a solution and soak the teaware for approximately 2 hours, after which it can be brushed.
- For strong stains, make a solution using 4 teaspoons of baking soda and warm water. Pour this solution in / on the teaware and scrub the item.
- If maintained well, iron teaware can be used for long periods of time and passed on to generations.
Tea Tasting & Glossary
Tea tasting is an art, much like the tasting of wines. It is important to direct one’s attention to the nuances of the infusion, in order to complete the experience. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and it is only with time that one’s senses can be refined to appreciate the details in the flavours and aromas.
Aromas are the first to reach our senses, helping us make the first evaluation on the tea. On tasting the tea, specific qualities should be identified from the tastes and other sensations in the mouth. ‘Taste-notes’ are references to the aromas and flavours or a particular infusion. At times, tastes notes of a particular fruit may be identified even without the fruit existing in the blend.
Sensory evaluations may differ from person to person, as each individual forms a unique opinion on the profile of the tea. The more we have tasted different kinds of spices, fruits and cuisines, the better will be our ability to evaluate the taste notes of the tea.
Tea cupping is an exercise for the senses, allowing us to discover the qualities of a particular tea such as the flavour, aroma, colour, and clarity of liquor. Cupping is a more objective exercise when compared with tea tasting.
The three stages across which the sensory aspects of tea are documented are:
Dry Leaves: Appearance and Aroma
Wet Leaves: Appearance and Aroma
Tea Liquor / Infusion: Appearance, Aroma and Taste
Steps involved in tea cupping
- Identify the type of tea hat is being tasted. This can be Black, White, Green, Oolong or Blends.
- Closely examine the dry tea leaves. Factors that should be noted are appearance, colour and aroma. Check for the leaf grade and note the presence of buds and tips. Note the shape, colour and smell of the leaf.
- Prepare the infusion as recommended. The temperature of the water used is crucial to the brewing process. This temperature differs based on the type of tea used. Ensure that fresh water is used while brewing.
- Once the infusion is prepared, strain the tea leaves from it.
- Before you put them aside, examine the wet leaves and note the appearance, colour and aroma. Note the size of the leaf at this stage. A vegetal aroma is considered to be a sign of fresh, good tea.
- Now examine the tea liquor and note the aroma, colour and transparency. Move the cup close to the nose, paying careful attention to the first aromatic notes. The aroma of fresh tea is usually brisk and definite, lacking humid odour.
- Taste the liquor by taking in a sip together with plenty of oxygen. Rolling the liquid in the mouth will allow you to classify the taste as sweet, bitter, acidic or umami. Inhale and then drink the tea. Note the level of astringency from low to high, the pungency, texture (creamy or velvety), the length of flavours ( short, medium or long), the complexity of flavours and the astringency.