In “What’s Your Cup Size” I noted that the water capacity of a teacup could compromise the flavor of bagged tea: Teacups and mugs can hold anywhere from 6 to 16+ ounces of water, yet many people always use just one teabag per cup, resulting in tea that is either too weak or too strong.
I recently considered the problem of measurements from a different angle: What is the best way to measure loose leaf tea?
I set about doing some experiments, and here is what I discovered:
1. It is wise to be wary of generic “formulas” for measuring tea leaves.
Two common formulas tell tea-lovers to use either one teaspoon or three grams of tea leaf per 8 ounces of water. These aren’t bad formulas, actually, but they have their pitfalls.
For example, in each selection of the tray below is 1 teaspoon of tea:
As you can see, the amount of tea that fits into a teaspoon varies considerably by the shape and size of the tea leaf.
Now let’s look at the same three teas, this time measured by weight. Each sample of tea shown weighs three grams:
While Dream About Tea’s Ginseng Oolong (a very heavy rolled tea) weighs in at three grams per level teaspoon, 1.5 teaspoons of Amor Assam is need to reach three grams. Three grams of Shou Mei, on the other hand, was about 4 difficult-to-measure teaspoons, which brings me to my next point. . .
2. Some teas simply cannot be measured properly in a teaspoon, and are best measured by weight.
Shou Mei, for instance:
As you can see in this photograph, the Shou Mei leaf is simply too large and varied to fit in a teaspoon. Plus, there is nothing uniform about Shou Mei, so even a larger spoon/scoop wouldn’t work well.
3. Each Tea Requires its own Standard of Measurement
Let’s say that you buy TeaGschwendner’s Yunnan Downy Pekoe, and you determine that three grams of leaf per eight ounces of water is the best ratio. Then, you find that one teaspoon of Yunnan Downy Pekoe is exactly three grams.
(Since measuring by teaspoon is easier than hauling out the scale, you find this to be very convenient.)
But be careful! You can’t apply the same measurement conversion to other types of black tea without first weighing them out.
The Yunnan Downy Pekoe is a very tightly rolled long leaf tea, so three grams fits neatly into a teaspoon measure. But other similarly named Chinese black teas are not quite so dense: It took two teaspoons of Yunnan Gold Silk and two-and-a-half teaspoons of Golden Monkey to reach three grams.
A Word About Pearl Teas
An interesting situation is posed by pearl teas, particularly those that are scented or flavored. Jasmine pearl teas (sometimes known as Dragon Phoenix Pearls) are beautiful teas that can easily become bitter and disagreeable due to mistakes in preparation (such as using too many pearls).
Narien Teas makes one of my favorite Jasmine Pearl teas, and they take a sensible approach in composing their package instructions. Instead of advising either a volume or weight measurement, Narien suggests using 6-8 pearls per 8 ounces of water, a ratio that works well and produces a lovely tea.
I decided to see how many pearls are actually in a teaspoon of Narien Jasmine Pearls. So I scooped out a teaspoonful:
There are about 20-22 pearls in each teaspoon. Using a teaspoon of jasmine pearls in a cup of tea will not only produce a bitter and disagreeable brew, but it also wastes the tea!
Moral of the story: When working with pearl teas, always read the package directions in order to avoid disappointment!
Lainie’s Tips For Proper Tea Measurement
1. To make the best tea, use standardized measurements: Eyeballing a tea for measuring purposes can be unreliable.
2. Teaspoons work well for measuring out smaller leaf teas, as well as tightly rolled oolongs, while larger leaf teas are always best measured on a scale.
3. When working with a new tea, try out different leaf amounts and measure it on a gram scale. When you come to a good water/tea ratio, then see if the tea can be easily and accurately measured out with measuring spoons.
4. Pearl teas require special handling, particularly if they are scented. Try counting out pearls instead of measuring by volume or weight.
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Samples Provided by Manufacturer?: In some cases, yes.