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Dark tea isn’t the most popular of teas. A quick, casual Google search would reveal various results, from black tea (which is a different kind of brew) to pu’er tea to kombucha. This tea is known as hei cha (literally “dark tea” in Chinese), which may help you distinguish it from other similar teas. What sets this kind of tea from others is the fact that its leaves are both oxidized and fermented for a long period, ranging from months to years, before it is ready for brewing. Teas like oolong, green, white, and black tea are prepared through oxidization and not fermentation.
Hei cha can come in in the form of bricks, discs, and balls, much like pu’er tea. Unlike pu’er tea, though, hei cha comes from Hunan Province and is aged for a shorter period. Hei cha also has a lighter and sweeter taste compared to that of pu’er tea.
Making Your Tea
The Chinese and other Asian people have a way of brewing hei cha that differs from the Western way. Though the Chinese method is more traditional, it also has a lot of variations, especially in other Asian countries. The result probably won’t be the same if you use different ways to brew hei cha, but you can use this guide as a starting-off point. It can also probably help if you have hei cha brewed for you first, so you can familiarize yourself with the taste before you make it for yourself.
Making hei cha the Chinese way
Asian tea pots are usually—and traditionally—smaller than Western teapots. The teapot has a capacity of under 10 ounces. You can use a glass pot, or you can also use the more traditional Gaiwan teapot set or the yixing clay pot. Remember that hei cha is stronger than other teas, so you only need a small amount. Typically, you’ll only need to use about 0.75 grams of tea leaves for every six ounces of water. This means that if you’re using a 10-ounce pot, you need to use one and one-quarter grams of dark tea leaves.
It’s easier to work out the tea-to-water ratio using weight, though you can also measure how much tea you need by sight. If you notice that the tea leaves are compressed more densely, you should use a smaller amount that if the leaves are compressed more loosely.
Before you start brewing tea, you need to rinse the leaves first. Place the clump of leaves into the tea pot you’ll be using. Pour in just enough boiling water to cover the leaves. Immediately discard the water after rinsing. You can now pour in the water for brewing.
Your water should have the right temperature. For hei cha, the water needs to be hotter compared the temperature needs of other kinds of teas. You need to bring the water to temperatures between 200 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. If you go any lower than these prescribed temperatures, the tea might not brew well. It’s best to invest in a good tea kettle that has temperature control or a thermometer. However, you can also figure out just by looking that the water is ready. If the water is at a rolling boil, take it off the heat.
Pour the water into the tea pot to begin steeping. Steep the tea for about four to six minutes. The great thing about hei cha is that it can be re-brewed for multiple times after the first brewing. Just make sure that you steep the leaves for 10 to 15 seconds longer than the last time.
Making hei cha the Western way
If you’re brewing hei cha the Western way, you can use a much larger tea pot. A capacity of 24 to 32 ounces is recommended. To make sure that you have the correct tea-to-water ratio, divide the volume capacity of your pot by six. There’s a prescribed amount of hei cha for every six ounces of water, as detailed above. So, for example, you have a 24-ounce tea pot. That’s four six-ounce measures of water. This means that you will need 3 grams of tea leaves for the entire pot.
Boil water in your tea kettle until it has a temperature of 200 degrees to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the tea into your pot and pour just enough hot water to cover the leaves. Pour the water out immediately, then start brewing.
As you can see, the preparation and brewing process of the two regional ways to make hei cha is very similar. The difference lies in the proportions and amounts used. The Western way to make dark tea involves a lot more tea leaves and water, so you’ll have to do the math on how much tea and water to use in the right ratio.
Benefits and Risks
You’ll probably hear and read a lot about the health benefits of hei cha. Most are probably true, but some probably have yet to be scientifically proven. However, several these health benefits have been tested to be true. Hei cha has a lot of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and it can supplement your diet. It can also aid in the digestion of greasy and fatty foods, which makes the tea a must in populations that have protein-heavy diets. It’s also proven to reduce fat and has anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties. It can help prevent conditions like cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Of course, all things must be taken in moderation. You can drink hei cha regularly, but don’t drink too much. You should also buy newer and higher-quality tea leaves. Older and less good tea leaves can cause fluorosis, which can affect your teeth and bones. Buying better hei cha leaves can get rid of this risk entirely.
Though hei cha may be a little more difficult to acquire and brew compared to other kinds of teas, it has a lot of benefits that you can’t ignore. Dark tea is one of the best kinds of tea when it comes to the benefits it can give you.
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