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It’s Tea Time

Posted by Groennfell Meadery on

It's Tea Time - Groennfell Meadery - Camellia Sinensis (tea) illustrationKöhler’s the Best

Maybe it’s the cooler weather or maybe it’s just in vogue this week, but we have been getting tons of questions about making mead with tea recently.

Like, four people have asked us.

That doesn’t seem like a ton now that it’s written down, but it’s an awful lot for a single weekend, and we’re not going to exaggerate since we believe that hyperbole is the absolute worst thing that has ever existed anywhere on the planet since time began.

Anywho, before we get into the technical details of brewing – or double-brewing – with tea, let’s get this out of the way: There is no agreed upon name for a mead made with tea. It’s a mead, subclass metheglin, but beyond that there’s no consensus.

Camelliamel has a certain euphonious charm and tea mead is definitely straightforward. Teaglyn should be abandoned immediately since we don’t like to mix roots and there’s probably a first grader somewhere in the Hartford School District with that name already. For this article, we will just refer to it as Brewing Mead with Tea, since we’re discussing the process more than the final product. Please feel free to bicker about the name in the comments and on Facebook.

For the purposes of this article, we will also use the term “tea” to refer to anything commonly consumed like camellia sinensis (aka true tea). This would include yerba mate, rooibos, and chamomile to name but a few. We are not talking about other spices which are sometimes referred to as a “spice tea” in brewing, since we’ve talked about that before.

Now, the million dollar question: How do you make a batch of mead with tea? 
(We’re totally ignoring the why.)

There are several ways to add tea to a batch of mead: Dry, Steeped, or a Combination. And there are several times to add tea to a batch of mead: Before, During, or After Fermentation, or adding it throughout the fermentation process.

How to add it:
As a rule, we don’t recommend putting dry tea into your mead at any stage of the fermentation. The reason for this is more pragmatic than aesthetic: Tea is covered in microbes, some of which are pathogenic. This is one reason to always steep your tea at 160˚F or above.

Although no known pathogen that can harm a human can survive a mead fermentation, chances are pretty good that you’ll be introducing a souring bacteria if you just dump the tea leaves right in. The aesthetic reason is that alcohol extraction of tea doesn’t usually yield an agreeable product.

Our tried-and-true is to brew up a pot of strong tea. The Rule of Thumb[1] is roughly 1 oz. of leaves per quart of water, triple the steeping time, but follow the standard water temperature. Now pull out the tea leaves, and dump in the liquid (which is confusingly also referred to as “tea”).

When to add it:
Here there is substantially more flexibility. With more delicate flavors like tea, we tend to err on the side of later. This gives the yeast less opportunity to scrub out the flavor compounds you’re looking for.

Then again, there’s an old adage that says that you “taste it when you add it.” This means that if you put it in at the beginning of the fermentation, you’ll taste it as soon as it hits your mouth, but it will fade quickly. If you add it at the end, you’ll get it at “the back” of your palate. Whether this is true or not, many people believe it and follow the practice religiously. This would imply that tea should be added at multiple stages of fermentation for the full flavor experience.

Caffeine in mead:
If it’s True Tea or Mate[2], then yes, but not very much. Assuming you add a whole pot of strong tea to a 5 gallon batch, you could anticipate about 8 mg of caffeine in your glass of mead. That’s 1/12th the amount of caffeine in a similarly-sized cup of coffee, or the same as a cup of decaf coffee.

Tea varieties:
This is entirely up to you. It’s your mead. In fact, why don’t you experiment and let us know! There are lots of ways you could do it, and you can read more about experimental batches here.

That’s it! Go out and brew, and… well, brew some more. Shoot us an e-mail with your results or leave a message in the comments.

[1] This is not offensive. Google it. 
[2] Yes, there is caffeine in mate. No, it is not a similar compound called “mateine.” Yes, I know your local tea shop told you this. No, they are not scientists. Google it. Also, you can’t “wash the caffeine off tea” with a quick dunk.


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