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I have a counter-top water kettle that I frequently use to boil water for tea, hot chocolate, and powdered drinks (e.g. chai). I don't think anything of it when the water starts boiling and keeps on boiling for 20 to 30 seconds before the kettle automatically shuts off, then I almost immediately use the water. Should I be worried about:

  1. The taste of my water changing from boiling and thus changing the taste of the drink?
  2. The boiling water altering the drink's compounds and thus changing its taste?

Finally, if I should be worried about these, what method should I use to heat my water and what temperature should I aim for? Specifically, I most often make tea (mint, earl grey, etc.) and chai lattes (from a powdered mix).

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2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Hotter water leads to more caffeine release and a more bitter flavor as it cooks the leaves. If you're serious about the taste of tea, set up four cups and pour water into them: The first boiling, the next after 30 seconds, and on down. Use a cracker between each sip; the later teas should taste slightly lighter and sweeter, and the middle two especially should have a distinct delicate green tea taste. For loose-leaf you normally use a slightly lower temp, while typical teabags need more coaxing to get the flavor out. There are websites that actually list perfect temperatures and steep times for each individual variety, but it's also a matter of taste.

Green tea snobbery can be a little like wine snobbery, the sky's the limit for how sublime you want to go, but at the same time anyone can drink and enjoy it.

Black tea on the other hand doesn't have such delicate taste because it's already pre-cooked. (Oolong retains a little of each nature.) How hot you should make it depends only on how much you like the taste of Bergamot (for Earl Grey) or whatever additives are in your tea, how bitter you can stand it, and how much caffeine you want out of it. The hotter and more bitter it is, the more the tea will cover up the flavor of any additives. Steeping time affects bitterness as well, of course. I'm not entirely certain, but I believe that bergamot oil will also start to evaporate if it's boiled, but I assume you don't boil your tea.

I have no idea how it would change the taste of chai, as I've never made a really good one myself. I typically make them from the powders, and I've seen no difference at all in taste between hot, warm, or even cold water, though the texture changes slightly - it doesn't mix perfectly in cold water. Those powders probably have most of the variability processed out of them. I assume this goes double for hot chocolate, since most of the mixes don't even have real cocoa anymore.

Aside from the possibility of boiling off oils or partially burning green leaves into black, I don't believe the water can get hot enough to change the chemistry of the drinks.

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Thanks! Luckily, I make black tea 99% of the time, so it sounds like boiling water will be okay! I've never made a homemade chai latte. I've moved recently and can no longer find my favorite: Tazo Chai Latte liquid concentrate. It was very good in a 1:2 ratio with soy milk and was great both hot and cold. Having moved (to Europe), the only option I've found is David Rio powdered Chai Latte, specifically their "Tiger Spice" flavor. It's good but not as flavorful, convenient, or cheap as the Tazo. I would say the only noticeable flavor difference is when I reheat the chai in the microwave. –  Chad Jan 4 '11 at 10:37
    
Uh, I've never met a hot chocolate powder that didn't contain cocoa. It's not exactly something you can substitute with anything, cheaper or otherwise. –  Marti Jan 5 '11 at 14:35
    
I don't know, the last two that I looked at in the store listed something like "artificial chocolate flavor" as an ingredient, rather than cocoa. –  SilverbackNet Jan 6 '11 at 0:39
    
@SliverbackNet: All the hot chocolate powders I remember meeting (this has been in England, Pennsylvania, and maritime Canada) have still had some real cacao in them, but usually down as third or fourth ingredient, following some kind(s) of sugar and some kind(s) of milk solids. My approach is to buy the poshest drinking chocolate that’s reasonably affordable at the supermarket (eg Ghirardelli — mass-marketed, but not el cheapo), and then use a half-and-half mix of that and cacao powder :-) Green & Black’s is the only drinking chocolate I really recommend on its own. –  PLL Feb 9 '11 at 18:02
    
The "pre-cooked" claim on black tea doesn't make sense to me. Green teas are usually steamed or heated to control oxidation, but black teas "ferment" (oxidize, really) as the natural side effect of /not/ cooking them. –  JasonTrue Aug 30 '13 at 22:56
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Tea particularly requires water to be at a certain temperature, which varies by type, black tea needs to be at or very close to boiling point, as do most herbal infusions. Green tea should be a touch cooler, say 80-85C (176°-185°F).

Coffee should be at the cooler temperature, more like Green Tea, as it can make the coffee become overly bitter and unpleasant. Hot Chocolate is much the same I believe, both being beans.

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With hot chocolate you leave the chocolate in and it doesn't get bitter over time (unlike tea or coffee), so I'd guess it's not the same. –  Brendan Long Jan 4 '11 at 2:17
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This answer is incomplete. The OP asked if and how temperature might change the taste, and followed up with a question about heating methods and temperatures. You've stated some recommended temperatures but haven't actually answered any of the specific questions. Coffee was never mentioned in the question at all. –  Aaronut Jan 4 '11 at 3:39
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@Aaronut: I thought given that the question was on hot drinks, it might be useful to include other common hot drinks, so included coffee - as it differs from tea in temperature preparation. A great many answers are "incomplete", in that they do not address the entire question, but hopefully help along the way. The OP asked if they should be worried about temperature for a number of drinks I have mentioned, and I have stated that temperature is important (implying yes) and given target temperatures, so I would submit that I have answered some of the question. The upvotes would support that. –  Orbling Jan 4 '11 at 5:07
    
@Brendan Long: Perhaps not with regard to the over-extraction issue that tea and coffee suffer, but I wonder if the other issue coffee has with scalding may still effect chocolate? –  Orbling Jan 4 '11 at 5:09
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@Orbling - Thanks for the information. Yes, I would have liked more information related to chai rather than coffee, but your information was still helpful. I'm still hoping for an answer with tips on heating the water for the more delicate, green tea, preparations. –  Chad Jan 4 '11 at 10:40
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