I was partly inspired to write this post as a result to Rebecca Doverspike’s T Ching post and to answer her question – I don’t think coffee can ruin one’s ability to discern the nuances of tea. In fact, educating my palate to appreciate the variations among good teas, coffees, and wines is a continuing journey for me. My coffee journey was reignited after experiencing some amazing coffee in London and recently at Blue Sky Coffee in Brisbane. With my new-found knowledge of coffee, I thought I’d share some of the similarities between coffee and tea.
- Making tea and coffee
I was surprised by the similarities in the preparations of a good cup of coffee and a good cup of tea. It makes sense that it all starts with the quality of the leaf, on the one hand, and the quality of the bean, on the other. A few other similarities are outlined below, but whether you aim to make a good cup of coffee or a good cup of tea, it really is just a matter of following a few simple guidelines.
For tea enthusiasts, it is of no surprise that temperature is of paramount importance. One of the most common reasons people give for not liking green tea is that it tastes bitter. For most green teas, the optimum water temperature is between 70-85 C (158-185 F). I was surprised to hear that milk can burn at 96 C (204.8 F) and that the correct temperature for brewing coffee is 92-96 C (197.6-204.8 F). Coffee made with milk that’s higher than the optimum temperature will also lead to a bitter cup.
- Steeping time
A barista will check the grind in a coffee machine and if the grind is too fine, the water will seep through too quickly, which will have an effect similar to that of dunking your tea bag in hot water for 2 seconds – you’re going to get a watery brew. Coffee that has been left too long in a Cafetière will also produce a bitter brew. Tea enthusiasts are generally aware that some categories of teas (for example, oolongs) are more forgiving than others, but for green teas especially, if the leaves are steeped too long, a bitter cup will result.
- Preparing tea/coffee
Even non-tea drinkers might remember their grandma warming the teapot and cups before making a pot of tea, and I believe the same goes for coffee preparation. I’ve often seen lines of coffee cups placed on top of the warming plates of coffee machines. I initially thought this was solely for the convenience of the barista, but was pleasantly surprised when I was told about the warming aspect too. A good barista will run the implements he / she uses to make coffee under warm water before the ground coffee beans touch them.
I was told that a bitter coffee is a ruined cup, but people often confuse this for strength. So some people might not like an espresso (for example) for the wrong reasons. I’ve spoken to many people who’ve said they don’t like green tea because it tastes bitter, but they’ll drink it because it’s good for them. It all ties back to the previous points made about preparing the beverage and following some simple guidelines to make a good cup of tea.
In a good coffee house, people are often prepared to wait 3-4 minutes for a barista to make a good cup of coffee. I hope that customers of tea houses or coffee houses that serve loose-leaf tea are also prepared to wait a similar length of time, if not longer, for a good cup of tea. I was extremely privileged to taste a coffee that took 8 minutes to make! It was truly wonderful to share the moment with my husband while we discussed the mechanics of the syphon coffee and admired the beauty of it when the coffee was finally made and dripped slowly into our cups. It was an amazing experience.
- Size isn’t everything
It’s a real shame that we’re in the “Super Size Me” age where there are large cappuccino mugs and tea is served in mugs rather than small dainty china cups. People aren’t taking time with their coffee or tea breaks anymore. People are drinking the beverage as a function, as something to do while office gossip or politics is discussed. Wouldn’t it be great to go back to a world where time is taken to make tea or coffee, the aroma is admired, and the beverage is truly appreciated from the first sip down to the last drop? That’s what I aim to do with my tea tastings and I know that many enthusiasts out there are doing the same in MeetUp groups, tearooms, coffee houses, cafés, and restaurants.
In short, there are many similarities between a good cup of coffee and a good cup of tea. Although I drink more tea than coffee, I nevertheless have been educated enough to appreciate a good coffee and appreciating the nuances of coffee certainly hasn’t ruined my ability to discern the nuances of tea.