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Tea vs Coffee: brewing comparison

January 8, 2012

I’ve always enjoyed tea as well as coffee, but I never took the step up to “TeaGeek” like I did with coffee. That’s something I’m in the process of fixing.

I’m still very early on in this, but I’ve already developed my tea brewing a long way from where I was a few months ago. As I was thinking through what I’ve learnt, it occured to me that it made an interesting comparison to coffee brewing technique – so here are my thoughts!

Extraction Strength & Extraction Quality
For both tea and coffee, the amount of flavour extracted into the brew is important. For both of them, there is some variation between what tastes best for different coffees/teas, between different palettes and between different brewing methods. At the same time, for both, the range of tasty strengths is relatively small. For coffee there are guidelines (60g/l, <4 mins) that provide good starting points. For tea that is not so true – the guidelines for a black tea are very different to a rolled oolong, for example, because the rate of extraction depends on the surface area available. In coffee, that is controlled by the grind used, but in tea it depends on the leaf size and processing style, taking it out of our control.

Over and under (and bad) extraction is a problem in both tea and coffee brewing as well. The perception of these differs between the two. For me,

Over extracted coffee is chiefly bitter, under extracted is chiefly sour.
Over extracted tea is chiefly astringent, under extracted is chiefly bland.

The general consensus is that coffee is best brewed between 85 and 95 degrees Celcius. In contrast, teas vary much more widely, from about 60 degrees Celcius for some green and white teas up to a rolling boil for Pu-erh.

For both tea and coffee, brewing at the wrong temperature can cause some major off flavours. Possibly the most common mistake I have found (and been guilty of) in tea brewing is using too hot water for green teas. I have found that over 70 degrees Celcius tends to bring out a harsh, vegetal flavour that overwhelms and which I find very unpleasant. In contrast, the same teas brewed at about 65 degrees Celcius are mellow, floral and complex.

Coffee is very dependent upon freshness. Green coffee tends to degrade in less than 18 months (at most), roasted coffee see a big drop within a couple of weeks of roast. In contrast, tea lasts much longer. That said, it is still a seasonal product and many types of tea degrade within a year of pluck.


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One Comment
  1. Mike Haggerton permalink

    Makes me happy when I read of other coffee folk enjoying good teas and wanting to learn. I’m right at the beginning of my own tea education, but after almost giving up hope on finding a great tea supplier I met one by accident and was give the three best cups I’ve had in my life all in one day, so I’ll be learning from him! But do you have any recommendations for books or websites, Roland? How are you going about building up your knowledge and brewing skills … other than just making tea of course 😉 ?

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