By Jane Pettigrew
Tea may still be brewed at home using kettles and traditional teapots, but in the catering environment, new inventions are taking over. Jane Pettigrew discusses a few new products.
Brewing good tea is not a straightforward business and all around the world, tea lovers are constantly coming up with new inventions for heating and delivering water at the right temperature, for steeping tea for the correct amount of time, for serving perfect liquor to the customer’s cup. As the tea bar finds its place alongside the traditional tea room, the fast and efficient brewing of loose leaf specialty tea is becoming easier with the introduction of some inspired new equipment.Water for tea
Kettles are perfect for more successful tea brewing at home and today’s temperature-controlled versions of the tried and tested electric kettle are programmed to heat the water to a wide range of temperatures. In catering outlets, wall-mounted or counter-top water boilers are essential and these can be set to a specific temperature. Most tearooms and cafes have two boilers, one set at 96?C-98?C (205?F-208?F), for black and puerh teas and the other set at 70?C or 75?C (158?F or 167?F) for white, green, yellow and oolong teas. But those teas demand different temperatures ranging from 60?C (140 F) or less to 90?C (194?F) and staff must be trained accordingly. Water must be drawn from the high temperature boiler and allowed to cool; or cold water must be added to the hot; thermometers are required; customers must wait and staff must explain the delay. It all takes time and effort, which in a busy brewing scenario, adds to staff problems and potential lack of customer satisfaction.
Enter the Uberboiler! Originally designed for coffee brewing by Marco Beverage Systems, a small, Dublin-based designer and manufacturer of hot water appliances, the inventors immediately recognized its potential for tea. The Uberboiler is a precise, hot water system that can deliver an exact amount of water at an exact temperature. It consists of an under-counter, 6 liter, 2,800 watt water boiler and a counter-top unit with a drain-surface, a water-delivery tap (a little like a beer tap), built-in digital scales, a live temperature read-out and a timer.
The development of the Uberboiler came as a direct result of a need to provide large quantities of hot water for beverage brewing in the intervals of football matches when thirsty, sometimes chilled crowds demand instant service. So, in early 2009, James Hoffman, world barista champion 2007, Anette Moldvaer, winner of World Cup Tasters Championship 2007, Stephen Morrissey, world barista champion 2008, and Paul Stack, operations director at Marco, sat down together and started sharing ideas and sketches for a boiler that would provide a solution. Those discussions led to the manufacture of a prototype Uberboiler which was showcased in the UK in May 2009 at Caffe Culture, with John Kennedy of Tea Smith, London, demonstrating how the new piece of equipment suited loose leaf specialty tea as well as coffee.
Coffee baristas have long demanded control of weight and water temperature in order to brew the perfect cup of coffee every single time, and now the tea world is beginning to recognize that the same demands should be a standard requirement in tea brewing. The boiler is accurate to within 0.1?C and to operate, the brewer or barista sets the required temperature, places a tea pot, cafetière, or similar on the scales, tares the scales, presses a ‘boost’ button, directs the water into the brewing pot, checks the quantity of water by reading the digital scales and stops the water flow when the desired amount of water is in the pot. Once the boost button has been pressed, cold water is locked out of the boiler and flow pipe, thus ensuring that the temperature of the water remains the same throughout the system during delivery.
Since the launch of the boiler in 2009, the Marco team has met with more tea people, in particular Kasim Ali of Waterloo Gardens Tea House in Cardiff, Wales, to discuss any necessary adjustments in the control and delivery of wider ranging water temperatures than are required for coffee. The Uberboiler is already in use in the US at Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea in Los Angeles, at Counter Culture Coffee in Durham, and at Stumptown Coffee Roaster’s new brew bar at their Red Hook roastery in Brooklyn.
Espresso brewers for tea
Another adaptation from the coffee world is the Teapresso machine which has been in use in Asia, particularly in Taiwan, for several years. The machine, which looks exactly the same as a small espresso coffee machine, allows tea bar staff to brew a shot of tea to mix into popular lattes, frappes and iced tea drinks. Apparently going against all the golden rules of perfect brewing, the technology forces steam and/or very hot water through tea pods or loose leaf tea to extract a surprisingly good quality brew.
However, the machines are expensive and need an after-care service, as is the case for espresso coffee machines in the coffee world, and a satisfactory network of suppliers and engineers has to date not been set in place outside Asia. But that could soon change as Bob Krul of Brewt establishes the necessary service and supply chain throughout Canada, North America and the UK. He knows that the Brewtesso, the Brewt version of the machine, is not the ideal equipment for a traditional tea room, and so intends to market it as the answer to tea brewing in coffee bars, restaurants and bars.
“Coffee people and chefs are creationists,” Krul said, “and they’re innovative and forward-thinking. They want to serve tea, but in fun, trendy ways to suit a younger market. They want to make cocktails, frappes, lattes, flavored teas, iced drinks with tea, pulped fruit, ice cream, etc. Whenever I’m in Taiwan, I see kids endlessly queuing up for iced teas made with the teapresso machine and the only way anyone is going to make money in the West from tea is to brew 15 cents’ worth of tea in a similar machine and mix it into creative new, tea-based drinks. It’s clean, there’s no waste, no bags, no powders, no carbon footprint! All the waiter or waitress has to do is measure the CTC type tea into one of the tea portafilters, fit it into the machine, and press a button,” he said.
“But tea people in North America don’t understand machines and therefore we have to leverage barista talents into this tea technology,” Krul added. “And the machine needs customizing. It needs to have a presence and to shout ‘tea’ rather than sit hidden at the back of the tea bar or restaurant looking like an out of date coffee machine. But once it’s in place, it’s very easy to operate and brewing staff can create unusual tea drinks as easily as they brew coffee.”
Some tea and coffee bar owners are already adapting their existing espresso machines to create exciting new brews. At North Tea Power in Manchester England, Wayne Lew and Jane Spindler use their Marzocco coffee machine to make strong tea extractions using CTC teas and high pressure. “We have added a very fine mesh screen to the portafilter in one of the machine’s head and we brew the tea in exactly the same way that we prepare espresso coffee. The tea fluid is less thick than the coffee but works well in Americanos, cappuccinos and lattes. One of the favorites is strong Kenyan tea with a shot of marmalade.” English Breakfast in a cup, perhaps!
Alternatives to the teapot
At North Tea Power, large loose leaf teas are brewed in a teapot with an in-built infuser basket. But in many tearooms and tea bars today, traditional and filter teapots are being replaced with pour over jugs or pots that have a mechanism that, at the push of a button or the release of a valve, deliver a stream of tea that pours down into a cup, mug or serving jug. The Taiwanese company Paio I has won prizes in Japan, South Korea, Germany, and Taiwan for design and invention since its pots were launched in 1984. Their goal was to make brewing more fun for young tea lovers and the pots are now sold in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the US, Europe and Australia. They are fun and efficient, and their attractive contemporary design suits tea bars, coffee bars, restaurants, bars, and spas. Adagio’s Ingenuitea, Teaopia’s Tea Master and Brewt’s Tea Infuser all work on a similar principle.
Given that teabags play such an important part in the brewing of tea in the service industry, the very latest cube-shaped version is bound to grab a lot of attention. In fact, when LuLin Tea of York, England, launched their innovative cube bags at the Speciality Fine Food Fair in London in September this year, retailers and caterers ranging from farm shops and independents to nationwide supermarkets all expressed an interest.
The little see-through boxes of tea each carry 3 grams, are made from food-approved nylon, are heat sealed and have a string and tag connected at one corner. Where did the idea come from? LuLin’s founder and inventor of the cube, Hans Verhoosel, explains, “Tea Cubed grew out of my personal frustration with available tea bag tea and the lack of quality certification in the tea world. I wanted to combine the experience of loose leaf tea together with the convenience of a teabag. A lot of people still see brewing loose leaf tea at home with a filter as too complicated and difficult. So, from a business perspective, to widen our potential market, I wanted to add a teabag to our range. I found that silk pyramid bags often burst open when filled with our large leaf teas, but then I met a producer of different filter cloths in China who was experimenting with different shapes using heat sealers.”
The cubes are currently being hand built in China using a mould and a heat sealer to fuse the edges, but subsequent batches will be machine-made to allow for greater volume. The bags contain the same large leafed teas that LuLin sell in their loose tea packs and provide more room for expansion of the leaf than any other teabag. When submerged in hot water they hold their shape and each can be brewed three times or more, depending on type. The range currently includes Long Jing Green Tea, Jasmine Dragon Pearls, Fujian Oolong, Ginseng Oolong, Puerh, Puerh with Lavender, Keemun Breakfast and Lapsang Souchong. Verhoosel explained, “We are currently trying to produce a range of smaller tea cubes for mugs by using 1-1.5 g of tea. Obviously, we would lose quite a bit of volume but first tests with a cube of 2.5cm x 2.5cm show that it would still give us more volume than a pyramid teabag.”
Lulin (which means Green Forest in Chinese) springs from the Belgian coffee and tea house in York that Verhoosel established with co-director Amy Gallagher in 2006. The coffee bar and shop aim to recreate a ‘continental café experience’ to the riverside at the Old Motor and Toll House of Skeldergate Bridge in York. Lulin Chinese teas add an Asian twist to an otherwise European ambience.