photo: www.flickr.com/photos/36940699@N03/4348245604/

Whoever coined the term “Browning Garlic” almost got me in a bunch of trouble. It was my first day in culinary school and my first project was to make a dish with 4 other people. My job was to cook the mushrooms. The first thing that I was supposed to do was brown some garlic in butter.

Now, at that point I had cooked quite a bit, but it was never from a cookbook. So when I used garlic I cooked it until it turned gold. When I was told to “brown” the garlic I thought it was some super fancy trick that only chefs knew about. I did what I thought was the right move, I cooked the garlic until it was brown. I mean really brown and almost black.

Needless to say, the mushrooms were ruined and my cooking team was none too happy with me. What ended up happening was when I cooked the garlic too long, it turned really bitter.

The next time I had a really bitter cup of tea, the first thing I thought was the tea was overcooked, much like the “browned” garlic. However, in the tea world, it isn’t overcooked, it is oversteeped.

Steeping Your Tea Too Long Will Make It Bitter

When you place your tea in the hot water, this is called “steeping.” As the tea steeps, it releases a bunch of tiny particles called “tannins.” It is these tannins that give tea its astringency.

The Longer Tea Steeps, the More Tannins it Releases.

As the tea steeps, tannins continually flow from the leaves. Tannins are not necessarily a bad thing as they are what make tea exceptionally healthy and they are prized by people who like a brisk cup of tea. But, like most things, you want to keep tannins at a moderate level.

Too Many Tannins will Make Your Mouth Pucker Up

Have you ever had a really sour grape or a cup of tea that makes your gums dry up? Well, that is caused by… you guessed it, tannins! This can be avoided by simply steeping your tea for the proper amount of time. Each tea has its own ideal steep time, but as a general rule you should steep your teas as follows:

– Black Tea – 4 minutes
– Green Tea – 3 minutes
– Oolong Tea – 2 minutes (but steep it a bunch of times)

Note: Tannins are NOT the same as Tannic Acid

A large misconception is that the tannins found in teas are the same compound that people use to stain wood. What people use to stain wood is tannic acid, whereas what is found in tea are tannins. While they sound the same they are different substances.

Summary

If you want to make sure you tea isn’t bitter, make sure you don’t oversteep it. And if you want to brown garlic, make sure you cook it to a golden brown. I’ve made both mistakes and neither of them taste good.

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