What’s the difference between various tea styles? How long should you steep your tea? We asked Ahmed Rahim, CEO and chief alchemist for Numi Organic Tea, about all of that and more.
theFashionSpot: Do you find that there is a difference in the teas people gravitate toward depending on what city they’re in?
Ahmed Rahim: The difference in tea preference is indeed subtle and something I haven’t considered before! Thinking on my experience, it seems like fruity and floral teas are popular in Southern California with requests for Berry Black and White Rose, whereas the Pacific Northwest likes bold, strong teas like Aged Earl Grey, Chinese Breakfast and Breakfast Blend. As for the Bay Area, we’re an experimental bunch who tend to like more exotic flavors. But, to each their own!
tFS: Why is organic important?
AR: Organics are so important to us because they protect the health of farmers, the planet and you. Conventional tea is routinely treated with a broad range of agricultural chemicals that are potentially harmful to people and the environment. On top of that, while most produce is washed prior to consumption, tea is usually air-dried without first being washed. That means that if any harmful chemicals were used at the tea gardens, they could potentially be released right into your cup when you pour hot water over your tea bag.
tFS: What are some of the key things to consider when shopping for tea?
AR: Look for a fuller leaf tea and real ingredients, rather than “natural” or artificial flavorings. Low-quality teas use tea dust and fannings rather than large leaf pieces, and release tannins quickly, which leads to a bitter and astringent taste that often needs to be covered up with fake flavorings. And of course, look for organic and non-GMO tea as well!
tFS: What does it mean when a tea says, for example, Russian style? What are some other styles?
AR: Over the course of many thousands of years, tea culture has grown unique to the different parts of the world enjoying it, resulting in different flavors, varieties and serving methods. For example, Russian tea is often brewed strong and served with a bit of jam or sugar to offset the bitterness, traditional Indian spices were blended with black tea to create the now popular masala chai, pu-erh tea is often served in tiny pots with a ceremony known as gongfu cha, and Tibetans prefer to brew their tea with butter and salt.
tFS: How long should you steep tea? Does it depend on the kind?
AR: It depends on the tea variety, but here are some general guidelines:
- White Tea: 2 to 3 minutes
- Green Tea: 2 to 3 minutes
- Oolong Tea: 2 to 3 minutes
- Black Tea: 3 to 5 minutes
- Pu-erh Tea: 2 to 3 minutes
- Herbal Teasan: 4 to 6 minutes
tFS: Do health benefits dissipate if you steep too long or too quickly or is it just a matter of flavor?
AR: The health benefits of tea (antioxidants) do play a role in flavor and help give body and astringency to green tea. It’s a trade-off, though. Steep it too long and it won’t taste good, and steep it too light and it will be too weak. It’s best to brew for your personal flavor preference.
tFS: What tea do you find is the best for skin? For weight loss? For overall health?
AR: Rooibos is an herbal teasan that is great for skin. Pu-erh has been known anecdotally throughout Chinese history to aid in weight loss. Our new Savory Tea blends are great for a cleanse or diet, as an afternoon snack alternative or a low-sodium base for cooking as well.
tFS: When making iced tea, what is the best way to proceed? Should we put the tea in hot or cold water and for how long?
AR: We generally recommend steeping two tea bags in a cup of hot water according to the normal steeping instructions, then simply pouring over a cup full of ice. It’s quick and easy!
tFS: What separates “good” from “bad” tea?
AR: Tea leaf quality (the larger the leaf, the better) and real versus fake ingredients. If you do a side-by-side comparison of tea that uses real ingredients with a tea that uses “natural” or artificial flavorings, you will definitely notice that real tea and herbs have a fullness of flavor that thin and cloying flavorings don’t.
tFS: What are your thoughts on using tea to make cocktails?
AR: We love it! We often host tea cocktail happy hours at our trade shows and have a whole book of tea cocktail recipes. Check it out!
tFS: What sets Numi apart from other brands?
AR: Numi only uses real ingredients, no “natural” or artificial flavorings or perfumes, so our blends have a pure, authentic taste. We also source high-quality tea and herbs, and have direct partnerships with all our suppliers. Almost all of our blends are Fair Trade Certified or Fair Labor Verified.