We often get asked the question: how do you brew this tea?
The real answer is: However it tastes good to you!
The reason we don’t put written instructions on our tea packaging is because we think the way you drink tea should be up to you. For us, brewing isn’t about following a recipe, it’s about showcasing a tea’s character. Everyone has different tastes, and that’s the beautiful thing about tea, there’s something for everyone! We do understand though, tea can be a confusing world, so this post is to give you the knowledge and the tools to brew your favorite tea just the way you like it.
For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to stick with the Tea plant, Camellia sinensis (dipping into herbals is a whole ‘nother blog post!)
Tea is a naturally bitter plant; all tea can be bitter, but no tea has to be bitter. Ensuring that your tea is or isn’t bitter is a practice that will take time. That being said, we find it important to brew according to the tea itself. We don’t use a standard method for all our teas at the teahouse, each one requires special attention. This blog is based off of our experience at the teahouse and it’s important to bear in mind that tea is going to taste different due to any number of things. Even uncontrollable things like atmospheric pressure or the mineral content and taste of your water. Brewing a lovely pot of tea is about learning all of these variable and working with them.
So, with all that in mind, here goes our little crash course in brewing tea!
How to brew a tea depends on these five things:
1. Type of tea
2. Amount of leaf
3. Amount of water
4. Temperature of the water
5. Time of the steep
1. Let’s start with types of tea!
How does the tea type effect what’s in your cup? All tea leaf when picked is green…it’s what the tea farmer does after plucking that determines the type of tea. Whether it’s green, white, black, or oolong depends on the level of oxidation of the leaf (wow, another potential future blog post!). This changes the appearance and composition of the tea, hence changing the flavor profile. Just see the photo below…they look quite different right? Of course there are other factors, such as leaf/stem/bud content, tea tree cultivars, cultural & ecological differences. But the body, bitterness, & hue are all drastically effected by oxidation, hence it’s important to consider the type of tea when you brew. Look at your tea leaf, and it can tell you so much about how to brew it before you even add any hot water! (pssst…that’s why we ONLY sell loose leaf tea!). Here are the main types of tea we sell at the teahouse:
2/3. Amount of leaf and water.
These two variables largely have to do with brewing style. For this post, we will use two main methods. The first is based on ‘Gongfu-cha’ which means “brewing tea with skill” and it entails multiple steeps brewed in a small brewing vessel. The second is ‘Big Vessel’ style which can look like a big teapot or mug with only one infusion done using a tea bag or strainer.
When we measure out tea, we like to do it by weight because some teas are very compressed, such as Japanese senchas or compressed puers. With these, what looks like a tablespoon actually could be 10 grams of tea, meaning that when you steep it, it could end up really bitter. Similarly, large leafed teas could be too light if we don’t put enough in. Doing it by weight instead of volume helps us avoid this.
3-5 grams / ~1 tablespoon of leaf in a small vessel (3-8 oz of water)
3-5 grams / ~1-2 tablespoons of leaf in a large vessel (8 – 16oz of water)
At the teahouse, we brew most gongfu-cha style so we can reinfuse them. Single infusion teas are our English style black teas and most herbals.
4. Temperature of the Water
For many of our teas, we like to steep with water that has boiled and then we let the bubbles subside. It should still be steaming, but it is not at peak boil. However, steeping with cooler water is a great way to bring out more depth and sweetness before the bitter compounds take over. We find that many green teas like water that is cooled slightly off the boil. How to? Let your water boil, turn it off, and pour it into a cup/pitcher to crash cool it before pouring it on your tea. This keeps it still very hot, but knocks it back a bit for a gentler steep. Japanese sencha, with its fine, dense leaf, likes cooler water, anywhere from the 70-80 Celsius range (and that includes matcha!) Most everything else can be steeped with water that is settled after it has boiled in the kettle. “Wicked hot” in the chart below will refer to this.
Options to refine your temperature: use a thermometer (digital ones work quite well), or a water kettle with a temperature gauge built in (to note however, we prefer to always bring the water to a boil at the teahouse!). Experiment and you can really dial down your steeping method!
5. Time of the Steep
Here’s the last variable, and this one depends on all the other variables. So, here’s a handy little chart that’ll hopefully make it all a little simpler. Also, you can steep most tea more than twice! You can re-steep as much as you want until it loses its flavor (at home we even sometimes find ourselves brewing just “for thirst”…enjoying the warmth of the tea and/or company). Subsequent steeps are included here as a guideline because particularly Japanese greens and puers can get really bitter the second steep if you let it go too long.
Gongfu-cha (re-infusion “small teapot” method)
|Type of Tea||Temperature of Water||Time of Steep||Subsequent Steeps|
|White||Slightly cooled (85-90c)||30-45 seconds||add 1 minute each time|
|30 seconds||15 seconds second steep|
add 30 seconds after
|Chinese Green||Slightly cooled|
|1 minute||add 1 minute each time|
|Oolong||Wicked Hot (~95c)||30-45 seconds||add 30 seconds each time|
|Black||Wicked Hot (~95c)||45 seconds||add 45 seconds each time|
|Puer||Wicked Hot (~95c)||20 seconds||add 20 seconds each time|
Big Vessel Style (Single Infusion)
|Type of Tea||Temperature of Water||Time of Steep|
|White||Slightly cooled ~(85-90c)||3 – 5 minutes|
|Japanese Green||Slightly cooled ~(85-90c)||3 – 5 minutes|
|Chinese Green||Slightly cooled ~(85-90c)||3 – 5 minutes|
|Oolong||Wicked Hot (~95c)||3 – 5 minutes|
|Black||Wicked Hot (~98c)||3 – 5 minutes|
|Puer||Wicked Hot (~95c)||3 – 5 minutes|
Bear in mind, these are just guidelines, not rules! Steep your tea however you want to. As long as it tastes good to you, that’s all that matters.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send us an email…this is what we do!
Hey, what about Iced Tea? If you’re looking for how to make iced tea, this blog post will hopefully answer all your questions!
2 thoughts on “How to Brew Tea”
How do you reccommend preparing japanese Hojicha?
Hi Dennis! Hojicha is a good one that is resistant to getting bitter, so you can bring the water to the boil, let it rest (take a breath or two), then fill your pot. Since this is not your typical japanese green tea, if you use our charts in this blog, i’d go with the “black tea” instructions. Any other questions, feel free!