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(post, Sarah Price)
If you’ve listened to our show, particularly in the earlier days, you know that there are very specific amounts of time that you ought to be steeping your tea leaves. Usually, it goes something like this: four minutes for black teas, three for greens, and two to three minutes for white teas. Careful attention to these recommended times ensures a great tasting cup of tea, and when it comes down to it, it’s all about flavor. That’s why we drink tea, and presumably, that’s why you drink it too. At four minutes, give or take, the flavors in black tea are rich and bold, and they haven’t yet become bitter or offensive, as tends to happen as they continue to steep. But if you are drinking for specific purposes related to health, all of those instructions fly out the window. If you are drinking tea to strengthen your teeth and gums or if you are drinking to calm an uneasy stomach, the directions are as follows: steep the shit out of it. Leave the leaves to do their thing in the hot water for thirty minutes or more. Wait until that cup of black tea actually looks black, until you can scarcely stand to take a sip. That’s when tea is most concentrated with healthy constituents. Of course, flavor is still an issue—that’s why, in India, chai (which consists of strongly brewed black tea, much like we’ve described) is tempered with an array of flavorful spices, sugar, and milk. This is certainly an option for you, but suppose that all you want is tea, that you are consuming it for the sake of its health benefits and you have no desire to introduce other herbs and spices to the mix. You could, of course, just ignore the overly bitter flavor. You could pinch your nose and shoot it down, much like the way Scarlet in Gone With the Wind takes her whiskey. You could just choke it down—maybe someday that strong flavor will grow on you. But, there is another way… Manish describes this in a little detail in the third segment of this week’s show. In China, as he explains, drinkers use the same tea leaves over the course of five or six cups. The steep time increases with each infusion: the first cup is steeped for that typical three to four minutes, for example. After the cup is enjoyed, hot water is poured over the same leaves and left for four to five minutes, and the next, five to six. Eventually, the leaves will fail to add any color or flavor to your water. By that time, you have consumed every little bit of benefit that your tea leaves can offer—and you never once had to hold your nose to take a sip. And finally, in regards to old-time remedies, I’d like to pose a question to our dear host: might tea leaves have helped your stingray injury? ;) To listen to the episode that inspired this article, click here.