The Basics - Coffee & Tea
We've found that the more you know about coffee or tea, the more potential for pleasure there is in each cup. So here are some basics to get you started on getting the most out of your daily habits.
Freshness is real. You've usually got a few weeks to enjoy all the goodness the farmer and roaster conspired to put in your coffee beans. After this window, coffee flavor flattens out and becomes fairly generic no matter how well it is stored. Use the internet or proximity to a good coffee shop to buy fresh and optimize the pleasure in your purchase.
The ratio of coffee to water is one of the most important factors in getting a good cup of coffee. At home start with a ratio of 1 part coffee to 15 parts water. You can tweak this ratio based on how much stronger or weaker you like your coffee.
Tasty water makes tasty coffee (or tea!). This is obvious but is worth repeating.
The right grind is one that is suited for the amount of time the water and coffee grounds will be in contact with each other. Longer contact needs a larger particle size. Using a finer grind to get stronger coffee is usually a shortcut to bitterness.
Water temperature. The hotter the water the quicker and more thorough the extraction. If you want to taste all the coffee has to offer, don't skimp on water temperature by using a cheaply made coffee brewer. Brightness is the victim when the water isn't hot enough. On the other extreme, boiling water will scald your coffee. Let the water come off the boil before introducing it to your coffee grounds.
Enjoy. The whole point of this is pleasure. Being too fixated on the technical details or "doing it right" can get in the way of just enjoying the ritual of preparing and drinking coffee.
Making good tea is one of the easiest things to do. Water, temperature and time are your variables. Playing with them to suit your particular taste is rewarding. So go for it! Have fun!
Tea is the leaf and buds of the Camellia Sinensus plant. It's an evergreen shrub. Everything else is a Tisane. Cool huh?
The leaves and buds are picked at different stages of growth depending on what flavors the tea master wants in the cup. So only buds, first flushes of new leaves, more mature leaves, etc will all lead to different cup qualities.
So will how the leaf is manipulated after it is picked.
If the leaf or bud is unbroken and dried, it will be a white tea. These usually have very subtle and delicate flavors.
If the leaf is broken but dried before it starts to change colors it is a green tea. The flavor possibilities here are huge depending on how it is handled. Chinese green teas are usually dried in a way that toasts the leaves. Japanese green teas are usually steamed then dried. Each of these decisions leads to certain flavor characteristics.
A tea leaf that is broken and allowed to oxidize (like an apple turning from white to brown when you take a bite) will change colors and will ultimately end up either an Oolong or Black tea depending on leaf type and how far the oxidation goes before being arrested by heat. Chinese black teas tend toward smoother, cocoa, smoke and woodsy flavors. Indian black teas tend to be more "brisk" and pair well with milk as in a traditional breakfast tea.
How the leaf is rolled or shaped, loose or compressed will have a lot to do with how the flavors reveal themselves in the cup as well. This is a hugely interesting topic, but too sprawling for me to summarize here.
What about caffeine? Tea has caffeine, and measuring the exact amount in a given cup can be complicated. How much caffeine is available to extract is determined by how broken the leaf is (more broken equals more caffeine available to extract), how hot the water used to steep is (hotter water extracts more of what is in the leaf), and how long the steep is (longer contact leads to more thorough extraction). So if you'd like to limit the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea you can play with fuller leaf grades and/or shorter steeps at lower water temperatures until you find what you're looking for.
There is so much more to tea than is mentioned here, but we'd like to give you some broad (and overly simplified) context for your exploration of this wonderful beverage.