Tea 'sommelier' brews the best cuppa in the world

The right temperature, right amount of tea, and the correct steeping times were some of the methods used by this year's Tea Infusionist Champion, a title bestowed on the "sommelier" of teas.

There is a craft to brewing the perfect cup of tea, experts say, one that involves understanding the subtle alchemy that takes place when pouring hot water over delicate, fragrant tea leaves.

And the tea brewmaster who best understood this equation was Steven Downer of Sipping Streams Tea Company in the US state of Alaska, whose matcha was brewed at the right temperature, was the "perfect balance of water and tea," and gave off excellent aromas, judges said.

Competitors were given 15 minutes to brew four cups of tea, including a Darjeeling, matcha, oolong and a puer tea from China. Cups were judged on the quality of infusion - color, taste, smell and 'leaf agony' (the term used to describe how the tea leaves unfurl in agony once hit with hot water) - and technical skills, like timing, volume and overall presentation.

"It's not just about water temperature or steeping times," said Kim Jage, executive vice president of World Tea Expo. "It's about moving beyond the basics of tea. The contenders of the event, all tea experts, approach tea methodically and imaginatively; they embrace the tea's nuances."

The World Tea Expo wrapped up in Las Vegas last week, and also awarded the best bottled iced teas this year.

In the category of Ready-to-Drink-Flavored green tea, Snapple Green Tea came out on top, followed by Gourmetti Brands' Chaitea Passion Fruit.

Numi's Earl Grey Pu-erh tea was awarded the top prize for being the best Ready-to-Drink-Flavored Black tea, and the Ready-to-Drink-Flavored sweetened black tea award went to Milo's No Calorie Tea Gallon.

The highest marks were given for teas that were unique in flavor and for boasting a distinctive taste "with brilliant style."

Meanwhile, in a bid to reduce the art of tea brewing to a science, the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK created a formula they said resulted in the perfect cup.

Among some of their more "controversial" recommendations, was to pour the milk in the cup first to achieve a color that's "rich and attractive."

Here are some other tea brewing tips, courtesy of science:

Avoid hard water

For optimum results, use a ceramic tea pot with loose tea.

Two grams or one teaspoon per cup of water is the general rule for loose tea

Tea infusion needs to be performed at a high temperature and that includes a pre-warmed tea pot. Fill the pot at least a quarter full of boiling water and keep it there for half a minute. Or, heat water in the tea pot in the microwave.

Steep tea for three to four minutes.

Add milk before pouring in the tea. The reasoning behind this is that the heat from the tea is liable to degrade milk proteins.

Add sugar to taste.

The perfect drinking temperature is between 60 C (140 F) to 65 C (149 F). Any hotter, and this leads to the very uncouth habit of "slurping" one's tea.

If the tea is too hot, an effective cooling method is to leave a teaspoon in the tea for a few seconds.

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