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It's tea time: Making it right doesn't mean it's always in the bag

Sunday morning is Vicky Jo Bogart's favorite time to drink a cup of tea. She started exploring different kinds of tea when she quit drinking coffee a few years ago.

Sunday morning is Vicky Jo Bogart's favorite time to drink a cup of tea.

She started exploring different kinds of tea when she quit drinking coffee a few years ago. At a weeklong natural food workshop in Massachusetts, she continually drank cleansing teas.

"That's when I realized tea didn't have to come out of a tea bag," she says.

So now, on those Sunday mornings, you won't find a tea bag next to her saucer.

Loose leaves are always better, she says, and it's not that much work to brew a good cup of tea from scratch.

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Bogart, who will teach a class on tea tasting through Moorhead Community Education on April 28, says the biggest mistake most people make when serving tea is not having the water at the correct temperature.

"My British friends, when I have tea with them, they complain Americans don't have the water boiling for black tea," she says.

Water for black tea should be at a full boil -- 212 degrees. Water for oolong tea should be just a bit less, 190 to 205 degrees. And water for green tea should reach 160 to 180 degrees.

Bogart says that if the water is boiling, removing it from the heat for 30 seconds will get it to the correct temperature for oolong, or one minute for green tea.

The water should also be of high quality. Straight from the tap is best if the water is clean and clear. Otherwise, filtered or spring water should be used -- never distilled.

The water should be boiled in a glass or stainless steel saucepan or kettle. Aluminum or enamel pans should be avoided because they can add a metallic taste to the water, Bogart says.

Warm the teapot by swirling a small amount of hot water in it and then pouring it out. Then add tea leaves. The general rule is one rounded teaspoon of leaves for 8 ounces of water. The leaves can be put directly in the teapot or in a strainer basket.

The tea leaves need room to swim around, as they often expand in the water. Bogart avoids tea balls because the leaves are packed too tightly in them.

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When water is added, the teapot should be brought over to the hot water. If the kettle were removed from the stove, it could cool down too much.

Black teas can steep longer than green teas. The general time guidelines are 4 to 6 minutes for black and herb teas, 3 to 4 minutes for green and 3 to 6 minutes for oolong.

As soon as that time has passed, the tea leaves should be removed from the water. Leaving the leaves in the water while you sip will cause the tea to taste bitter.

"It will start to take on flavors you won't want," Bogart says. "If you want your tea to be stronger, you should use more tea."

Light finger foods are appropriate to serve with tea, including tarts, scones, shortbread and fruit. Open-faced sandwiches add heartiness to a tea serving, but rich desserts like cheesecake might be too heavy.

"I always think of something flakey and light," Bogart says.

Healthy alternative

Tea doesn't outsell coffee at owner Nancy Nerland's three local Moxie Java outlets, but she says customers often turn to it as an alternative.

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Some customers don't care for the taste of coffee. Others turn to tea for its lower caffeine levels.

"A lot of people will have coffee and have tea in the afternoon," Nerland says.

Moxie Java serves its tea in bags. While it does come in loose leaves, Nerland says the bags provide a consistent-tasting product.

Nerland adds that many people turn to tea for its purported health properties. A book in Moxie Java explains what different teas do for the body.

"A lot of people like to sit and read that," Nerland says.

For those people, Nerland points them to Red Mellow Bush tea, the most popular seller among teas now.

"That has the most antioxidants in it," she says.

Bogart also emphasizes the good tea can do for the body. According to Mayoclinic.com, it can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, and fight against cavities and gum disease.

"You're not only getting a great beverage, but it's benefiting you as well," Bogart says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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