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Oolong or Orange Pekoe: Tips on Tea

posted in Beverages, Breakfast and Brunch, Pantry by Lisa Freeman

Cruising the tea section of your grocer store can bring on a dizzy spell — there are so many varieties to choose from these days! But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to stick to only those you already know. This primer will try to help you understand (and experiment with) a wider range of this delicious beverage.

Loose or Bagged?

Most people are familiar with bagged tea, which comes in a little pouch, either on a string or without. The bag keeps the leaves contained, while allowing the flavor of the tea to seep into the water. Although bagged tea is the simplest to use, loose teas have come back into style.

To brew loose tea, you need to use something to keep the tea leaves from fluttering about in the mug. There are many types of tea “infusers” in many different price ranges.

Black, Green and More

The most popular teas are:

Green: Green teas have zoomed in popularity because some studies suggest that regular consumption of them can keep heart disease and certain types of cancer at bay. Green tea is processed less than other teas, and remains richer in antioxidants (and has the least amount of caffeine). From a taste perspective, people say it has a “flowery” or “spring” flavor. In China, green tea is the most-consumed beverage — an average of 3 cups per day per person. Drink green tea plain or with just a hint of sugar.

Black: Here’s a tea that has some backbone. The stuff is flavorful, and tea newbies sometimes find it comes on strong. It has a higher concentration of caffeine than other tea varieties, and it is the most popular tea in the U.S. Some examples of black tea are: Orange Pekoe, Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Darjeeling. Researchers are now saying that black tea has health benefits similar to those of green tea. In the cup, it has that familiar reddish-brown color that most folks associate with tea, and most folks drink it with milk and sugar or lemon.

White: This variety is one of the newest to western culture, and it has a very pale yellow color and is quite subtle in flavor. It is the least processed of all teas and is rarer. Adding a little sugar or keeping it plain is the way to go.

Oolong: It’s a funny name for a very pricey kind of tea. Most people think that oolong teas taste something like peaches. The flavor can best be described as a cross between green and black tea — not too strong and not too wimpy. Drink it straight or with a shot of sugar. There’s lot of talk about oolong promoting weight loss, but that’s yet to be proven.

Flavored/Herbals: These are not really true teas, but rather a mixture of flowers, herbs and spices. Herbals are thought to have medicinal properties; for example, Chamomile is often recommended for good digestion. Flavored teas have also gained popularity, and the varieties are endless: peppermint, banana, vanilla and anything else tea-preneurs have invented.

Making Hot Tea:

  • You can use a tea pot or a small cooking pot. Tip: Make just enough water for the cups you want to brew; the more water you have, the longer it will take to boil.
  • Always start with cold, fresh water (never reuse water you’ve already boiled for a previous pot of tea). Don’t use hot water straight out of the tap, either.
  • Put your tea bag (or infuser) into the cup and then pour your boiling water into your mug. Let it brew for 3 to 5 minutes, remove your teabag (infuser) and give it a gentle stir.
  • For black tea, you may add milk, sugar, cream or even lemon to flavor. Most folks don’t add any flavoring other than a bit of sugar to the other tea varieties. But hey, your tea is up to you!
  • If you like your tea iced, simply let it cool down a bit and add a few ice cubes for a refreshing summer drink.

And just so you know, tea leaves can actually be used to make cookies. Check out this tea cookie recipe.

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George said:

Good blog! I personally enjoy Orange Pekoe the best. It reminds me most of the PG Tips I used to drink in England. However, it really is more of a dinner tea, not that that is a bad thing! For morning teas you really can’t go wrong with Earl Grey, or an Earl Grey – Lavender blend…..awesome.

Kathy Maister said:

My husband is from London and grew up on PG Tips. It is a wonderful tea and I am delighted that it is now available here in Boston. I believe years ago they included collectable “cards” in each box. Those were the days…

Jon (Sacker) said:

Useless and probably OT post, but did you know that there is still an Earl Grey. It is a hereditary peerage and the tea was named after the second Earl Grey (we’re now up to the 6th).


Kathy Maister said:

That’s sooooo cool! I had no idea! Good to know if I’m ever a contestant on Jeopardy!

Andy2 said:

Nice post. I don’t drink tea very often (I just never really have), but you may have inspired me to try one. I probably drink too much Mountain Dew anyway.

April said:

What is the logic behind not reusing water that’s been previously boiled? I have an electric kettle and will often not use all the boiled water in it and reboil it later when I want another cup of tea. As a scientist, I can’t think of a reason why this would be a problem, especially since I use only filtered water.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi April, there was a great article in the NYT not too long ago about not drinking hot tap water. They also stated that re-boiled water may have an increased lead concentration.

“Scientists emphasize that the risk is small. But to minimize it, the E.P.A. says cold tap water should always be used for preparing baby formula, cooking and drinking. It also warns that boiling water does not remove lead but can actually increase its concentration.”

I am not a scientist, but my guess is that if the water is filtered than re-boiling itshould not be a problem.

Personally, I just boil enough filtered water for one cup of tea or coffee at a time.

Irene said:

As with all food, freshest is the best for taste. The freshest water and tea leaves will make the best pot of tea! The same goes for coffee. Irene, KozeeLady

Dagny said:

I went to this “gathering” once, and they showed you how to make tea. They said that if you use clay pots or cups, don’t wash it with soap. The soapy flavour will still remain when you drink the tea.

By the way, I’m Chinese.

Jessica said:

Hello Dagny,

Yes, you’re right — there are certain types of clay tea pots that are not meant to be washed with soaps or detergents.

They are made of porous clay that is supposed to absorb the flavor of the tea and intensify it over time.

Thanks for mentioning that!


Charlotte said:

I love your blog. I come from Asia where Tea is a very popular drink. I have a blog on How to cure a cold with tea.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Charlotte,

Ah… if only I did know the secret to curing the common cold! :-)

Inhaling the steam from mint tea can certainly help with a stuffy nose.
Green tea is full of anti-oxidants which are great for the immune system.
Tea with cinnamon always makes me feel better just because I love cinnamon!

Does anyone else have a tea that makes them feel better??


ChoY said:

This is an excellent post. I hope you don’t mind if I tweet this I know it will be appreciated by my followers

Steve said:

I agree with April. I’ve read many times that reboiling water is bad for taste, but scientifically I don’t know what the difference would be, and I can’t really tell a difference.

Also, how does the concentration of lead go up when you boil? Maybe if you convert most of the water to steam, you leave the same amount of lead, and therefore the concentration has gone up?

Steve said:

Oh, as a bit of trivia, Orange Pekoe is actually a grade of loose leaf tea (typically used on black teas). It’s not a flavor, although some tea companies market it as such (it does sound cool).

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