Homebrewing with Tea

The exciting thing about beer is that brewers are always innovating, attempting to create products to delight our taste buds.  But the good thing for us as homebrewers is that we can piggy-back on any innovation from the commercial brewers.  We can experiment with any new techniques to see if they give us something distinctly different for our homebrew.  That is why I was interested in this latest innovation and wanted to see how I could utilise it with my own homebrewing.  The innovation I am talking about is homebrewing with tea.

I have been reading a lot about brewers who have been using tea as an ingredient in their beers.  Brewers such as New Zealand based Yeastie Boys and Arizona brewer Four Peaks Brewing Company have both started to use tea in their brews and both have received a lot of praise for their tea brews.  That has got me thinking about homebrewing with tea.

In some respects, using tea as an ingredient in brewing is perfectly understandable.  The mix of malty, herbal and floral aromas combined with their natural bitter astringency makes tea an ideal match for beer.  It is perhaps surprising that we haven’t thought of it before.

The question is how can you spice up your homebrewing with tea?

For me you can view tea in a similar way to hops.  Where you add hops you can add leaf tea.  That means we can add tea at the wort boiling, whirlpool and fermentation stages.  However, it is important that this is done correctly otherwise the results can be less than palatable.

Tea is very high in tannins and as you will know tannins can cause haze.  But perhaps more importantly tannins have an over-powering bitter astringency which can upset the balance of your beer flavour.  It is therefore important to add the correct amount of tea, at the right time, to avoid over extraction of the harsh tea tannins.

One other thing to consider is that those wonderful tea flavours are very delicate.  Again by adding them at the wrong time or getting your recipe wrong you can totally lose the tea flavour.

Bearing that all in mind let’s get started with the recipe

When homebrewing with tea – basic is best.  As I mentioned above the flavour of tea can be quite delicate.  By over doing the malt recipe or chucking in loads of aroma hops you will completely lose the tea flavour.

It really is a case of keeping the recipe simple.  A basic malt bill with a majority of pale ale or lager malts will allow the tea flavour to shine through.  Forget the crystal, black or chocolate malts we want a simple malt palate upon which we can over-lay our tea flavour.

In terms of hops many brewers pull back on the aroma hops and also drop the bittering hops down as well.  I have talked with some brewers who have reduced their bitter hops by up 15 – 25%.  They say that by reducing the hop bitterness it takes into account the bitter/astringent character of the tea and stops the beer from being overly dry.

When do you add the tea?

There are two stages of the brewing process where you could consider to add tea.  If you look at tea in the same way as your hops then the boiling stage and after fermentation as part of the conditioning process are the natural choices.

However, when I talk about the boiling stage it is very much at the end of boiling.  In fact it is better to add the tea at the whirlpool stage if you have this as part of your homebrew set-up.  Tea leaves are delicate and so if you boil them for too long you greatly increase the tannins that you will extract into your wort.  Keep the contact between the tea leaves and your hot wort to a minimum.  Therefore add the tea leaves during the whirlpool to maximise the tea flavours but minimise the extraction of tannins.

What about secondary fermentation?

Once fermentation is complete tea can be added as part of a conditioning step.  Again the idea is to maximise the tea flavour but minimise the tannin extraction.  I have seen brewers use a French press or cafetiere to prepare a tea extract by adding cold beer to tea leaves and leaving it overnight.  This cold concentrated beer/tea extract can then be added into the fermenter to achieve the desired flavour.

Alternatively brewers also add tea directly to the fermenter in a similar way that they would dry hop their beer.  Again it really is a case of experimentation.

I like the idea of a cafetiere because you can experiment on a small scale to get the correct balance of tea leaves to beer.  However, this can cause problems if you are not scrupulously clean.

How much should you use when homebrewing with tea?

This is very much down to choice and experimentation.  However, I have seen figures suggesting around 0.4 kg of tea leaves per 100 litres of wort in the whirlpool or a similar quantity in fermented beer.  Once again experimentation is the key to getting it right.

What tea should you use?

Well that is the joy of homebrewing – experimentation.  Think of the typical flavours of tea and then try to consider how you would use these to complement the beer that you are brewing.  For example the citrussy freshness of Earl Grey tea comes from the use of the oil from the rind of the bergamot fruit.  If you are looking to brew a fresh citrussy IPA then you could consider using Earl Grey leaf tea instead of your normal aroma hops.

Do the same with other teas.  Think about the core flavours of green tea, black tea or black tea blends such as Lapsang Souchong with its characteristic smokiness.  How would their flavours complement the beers that you want to brew.

So there you have it, a quick guide to homebrewing with tea.  I would love to hear if you have experimented with tea in your homebrewing and if so what has worked for you.  Let me know in the comments below.

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