But where is the sugar?
I introduced my 12 years old nephew to black tea over the thanksgiving holiday and his initial response after taking one sip was “ tastes good, but where is the sugar”? I laughed and brought out the honey jar (because it’s obviously healthier than sugar) and added a spoonful to his cup. He took another sip, nodded his head and practically gulped down the tea!
So why is regular black tea bitter?
All tea from the camelia sinensis tea plant contain some level of tannin which produces the antioxidant and great health benefits we get from tea but also is the source of astringency in tea. Tannin levels in tea varies depending on oxidation of the tea. Black tea goes through the most oxidation and thus contains higher level of tannin which is the source of the bitterness found in teas. Purple and white teas on the other hand go through minimal oxidation and thus contains lower level of tannin. Caffeine is also another source of bitterness in tea. Teas that are higher in caffeine tend to be naturally more bitter.
**Note that herbal teas (such as chamomile, mint, ginger tea) are infusions and not real teas, hence do not contain tannin and are usually not bitter
How can one reduce bitterness in tea without compromising the health benefits?
- Use high quality tea leaves
- Whole leaf and loose leaf teas are usually higher quality than the broken tea leaves used in tea bags. Most of what you’ll find in tea bags are crushed tea leaf leftovers called dust and fannings, which have increased bitterness
- Do not over-steep
- Ideally, most loose-leaf teas can be steeped between two to four minutes for full flavor. This also depends on type of tea and whether it’s a first, second or third steep. Whole leaf teas are usually steep for four minutes to get full flavor while broken leaves only need to be steeped for two minutes to achieve the similar level of flavor. Steeping your tea the first time for longer than five minutes will result in unnecessary tannins and bitterness. And if you’re worried about not getting the most of the
- Do not use too much tea
- You only need one to two teaspoons of loose leaf for an eight ounce cup of tea. Whole leaf teas may require two teaspoons due to the size of the leaves, whereas broken loose leaf teas only require one teaspoon
- Add honey or lemon
- Honey and lemon are high in antioxidants and will give your tea drink a nice boost, not only in taste but also in health benefits
To sweeten or not to sweeten?
Well, who doesn’t like sweet tea-ns? Hardcore tea drinkers (especially those who drink for the health benefits) would probably say no to sweetening their tea but hey, never feel bad for having a sweet tooth. If you must, then simply add honey instead of sugar. Also, note that different teas have different levels of tannin/astringency. Black tea has the highest level of tannin followed by green tea. Purple tea has low levels of tannins and caffeine, yet contains the highest level of antioxidants than other teas due to its uniquely high anthocyanin content.