I'm a coffee addict through and through. But these frozen winter months have given me a serious appreciation for tea. Brewing a cup in the evening has become part of my routine before turning in for the night, not only because it warms my chilled bones, but because I've come to love the ritual of it all. Boiling the water, steeping the leaves, adding a drizzle of honey, and inhaling that comforting herb-y smell. So I was super excited to spend a recent afternoon with Taylor Cowan, co-founder of Spirit Tea, nerding out about the long standing traditions and ceremonies behind brewing tea.
Spirit is a local tea company bringing small-batch, seasonally curated harvests from family farms straight to your teapot. Seeking to honor the rare energy, craftsmanship and process behind the experience of tea, the name Spirit derives from a Latin word meaning "to breath". But in a clever double entendre, Spirit also references the volatile oils extracted from tea leaves by water— this is what we drink- the essence, the spirit of the leaves. You won't find overly sweetened or fruit infused teas here- the boys behind Spirit are total purists. They let the leaves do the talking and ohmygod do they make one smooth flavorful cup of tea! Below, Taylor schools us on how to brew the perfect cup.
How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea //
Before you begin: Water. The most overlooked step in brewing a great cup of tea. Tea is 99% water. This isn't to say that tap water isn't ideal—municipal sources are different everywhere—but if you want a consistent, more balanced cup of tea, carbon-filtered water is the way to go. I recommend the Soma pitcher.
1. Warm the water. Variable temperature kettles work wonders in this sense. I recommend the Bonavita.
Optionally, you can pre-warm the vessels: cup, teapot and pitcher. Fill them each with a bit (no more than 1/4 full) of warmed water. Let sit for a few moments, then empty. I like this step because it both creates a beautiful spectacle of steam and hot, clear water but also prepares your vessels for a more consistent brew. You'll notice when you place your dry leaves into a "warmed" vessel, that the heat and moisture will release delicate fragrances.
2. Dose your fresh whole-leaf tea. If you're not sure how much, start with the instructions it came with. Generally about 1 tablespoon of tea per eight ounces of water, or, weightwise, 1/2 gram of tea per ounce of water.
Tip: Give the leaves plenty of room to breathe. Tea balls, manatees, pens, etc (I can't keep up with the things they come up with these days) are cute but incredibly restrictive to leaf unfurling, if you can fit a good, whole-leaf tea in it in the first place. Any decent teapot, infuser, gaiwan (like what I'm brewing in below), or french press will do.
3. When the water reaches the correct temperature, remove lid and pour over leaves smoothly, steadily.
4. Replace the lid and brew for desired length of time. Use less time (1-2 minutes) for greens & oolongs, more for whites & blacks (4-5 minutes).
5. Once time has elapsed, decant infusion into another vessel (pitcher or large enough mug). It is crucial that you empty the entire infusion. Whatever you don't empty will continue super-steeping in the teapot.
6. Sip deeply, sip slowly. Savor tastes and aromas imbued in another part of the world.
7. Re-steep! It is criminal not to re-steep a well-made, whole-leaf tea. You'll also get more tea for your buck. Repeat steps 2-5, up to three or four times.
Not only is Spirit Tea bringing handmade traditional tea to the masses, they're also passionate about helping the environment through their Teas for Trees program. For every purchase of Spirit Tea, a tree is planted in the Au Sable National Forrest in Michigan. I love that!
You can find Spirit Tea in a few of my favorite local cafes, like Gaslight Coffee Roasters and Cafe Integral, or check out their selection here!