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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brewing it, Western style

The flavor of oolong teas improves with multiple infusions, but it's possible to enjoy the teas brewed just once. Here is a simple guide.

• Examine the leaves: They should be whole and of a consistent size, preferably about an inch long. Importer Michael Harney says that if the leaves are less than a quarter-inch long, the tea is inferior. Small, chopped leaves lead to a blunt, brisk taste. The leaves should also have a delicate fragrance.

• Measure the tea: For an 8-ounce cup, measure 1 rounded teaspoon of leaves (about 2 to 3 grams). Use filtered or spring water; the chlorine and other chemicals in tap water can affect the taste. For oolongs, the water should be between 205 and 212 degrees. It's best to bring the water just short of boiling, or boil the water and let it cool about two minutes before pouring over the leaves.

• Brew the tea: Every tea requires its own brewing time, which usually will be specified on the package. On average, a pot of oolong, brewed Western style, will take between 2 and 4 minutes. When made in small, traditional Chinese pots, the leaves steep for a maximum of 90 seconds.

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