How to make an excellent cup of tea? First step into it would be to buy a grand quality tea of course, but that is not enough. As if you haven't mastered your tea brewing skills before, you may end up with murky fish pond in your cup, no matter that you purchased tea from an excellent source for about £22 per 50g.
Through my time I've heard lots of people saying “I don't like green tea”.... “of course you don't” I usually reply! “I won't like murky fish pond either”.... it is the secret of brewing which makes difference. Is it the same as if you pour 60 C water over black tea...you won't get much of it, will you? So let's look at the main rules when brewing great tea.
1) The first rule for tea making is quality of WATER! Water should be clear, pure with a minimal of mineral content, soft and mildly acidic if possible. As Lu Yu recommended in his book The Classic of Tea that ideally you should be using the same water which nourished the tea plant :) Well, that is nice but not always possible. So our next best thing is to buy spring water if you are in location of big city where water quality is towards the fact of “water of death” or use a filtering systems or jugs as Brita etc... if you live in purer more alive location.
There is a lots of impurities in your tap water such as lime scale, dissolved heavy metals, dusts, rusts, pesticides and even hormones. All these will dramatically alter the taste of tea.
Another important aspect in water is oxygen. If you boil out all oxygen in the water, your tea will taste dull and flat, trust me! Don't leave water in kettles standing (from this reason don't use pre-heated water as from the faucets etc..). Always use fresh drawn, cold, filtered water and heat only until 8 big air bubbles gently rise to the surface as at this point the water is sufficiently heated and still contains a lot of oxygen.
I would always heat the water to the boil point and then cool naturally in jug to suitable temperature for your tea. Boiling the water eliminates many harmful germs and bacteria.
Don't use distilled water – it is important for the water to have a natural content of minerals which may enhance the tea's flavour. Distilled water lack of minerals therefore will leave the tea flat as well.
2) Second rule would be a Quantity of tea. General rule is 2,5/3grams per 250ml water + an extra spoon for the teapot (so if you have 500ml of teapot with two cups you will add approx 7.5 grams) but it will vary according to the type of tea used, volume of teapot and personal preference as some people likes their teas lighter and some prefer strong heart breaker. As years go by, you are going to brew stronger and stronger....in retirement we will all meet for espresso size cup of tea with 20g of tea leaves in pot...and hopefully run some hill after or cycle to Ullapool.
3) Third rule is Water temperature. Water temperatures also vary for each class of tea, for different harvests of tea and also according to your brewing vessels. But if we should summaries:
60-75 C for Japanese green teas and for all other delicate teas (white yin zhen)
75-85 C for green and yellow teas
80-90 C for white tea type Bai Mu Dan, Shou Mei ...
85-90 C for spring Darjeeling teas
85-95 C for Wulong or rolled teas
95-98 C for black teas and Pu Erh teas
4) Fourth rule is length of infusion:) See it's not hard at all... I will summaries again here but the below times are for regular size tea pot (500ml approx) which utilizes a smaller quantity of tea in one single infusion for prolonged period rather than for smaller Yixing teapot or Gaiwan cup which usually allows multiple shorter infusions with greater quantity of tea.
Japanese spring delicate green teas 1-2 ½ min (Sencha, Gyokuro...)
Japanese summer green teas with stems 3-4 min (Bancha, Hojicha, Genmaicha...)
Chinese spring delicate green teas 3-4 min (Long Jing, Bi Lo Chun, Anji Bai Cha...)
Chinese larger, rolled or bulkier leaf green tea 3-5 min (Gunpowder, Chun Mee..)
Chinese yellow teas 3-4 min (Jun Shan Yin Zhen, Meng Ding Huang Ya)
Indian spring Darjeeling teas 3-4 min (1st flush Gopaldhara, Jungpana, Makaibari, Okayti...)
Chinese only bud white teas 4-5 min (Bai Hao Yin Zhen, Yue Guang Bai Cha)
Chinese White teas, bigger leaf – 5-6 min (Bai Mu Dan, Show Mei...)
Chinese/ Taiwanese Wulong teas 4-5 min (Tie Quan Yin, Dung Ti, Oriental Beauty...)
Bigger leaf black tea 4-5 min (Yunnan, Keemun, Jin Hou..)
Smaller leaf black tea 2-4 min (Assam, Ceylon, Java...)
Chinese Sheng Pu Erh (raw) 3-4 min
Chinese Shoug Pu Erh (cooked) 4-5 min
5) Fifth rule will be to choose the right vessel for tea. The union between certain teas and certain accessories will create harmony and highlight the aroma in teas. Therefore you will not be brewing a spring aroma peach blossom tea in Yixing teapot which has already earthy notes as the union would not be right.
Let's look at the teapots then.
- Yixing clay teapots – used for Gong Fu Cha brewing technique. They come from Chinese Yixing town in Jiangshu province. These teapots are entirely made by hand of Chinese craftsmen. Usually they have build in clay strainer inside around the knob. Clay teapots have the capacity to “remember” the teas that have been infused in them previously. They are called “memory teapots” and highlight woody, earthy notes of tea such as wulongs and some black Chinese teas. When they are hot the sides of Yixing teapot absorb the tannins in the tea, creating a deposit that builds up over successive infusions. This is how they acquires its coating. The more the teapot is used, the better it will reveal the wealth of aromas in the teas infused in it.
- Kyusu teapots – are Japanese teapots with hollow lateral handle, used for Senchado brewing technique. They are often made of sandstone clay fired at high temperature. They are usually equipped with fine mesh that is useful for infusing finely cut Japanese green teas as it keeps the leaves in the teapot. Hand crafted teapots have an integrated clay strainer similar to Chinese Yixing teapots. Japanese were making pottery originally from porcelain and only started to use local sandstone in the 19th century.
- Ceramic teapots – Are well suited to any kind of tea. They enhance aroma of tea well, therefore they are recommended for fragile, delicate Chinese green, white or yellow teas, which are renowned for their delicacy and subtlety.
- Glass teapots – They are very similar to ceramic teapots in matter of neutrality and versatility. They enhance aroma and flavour of tea, plus you can see the colour of liquor and leaves uncurling and floating peacefully, while drinking your tea.
- Enamel Cast-iron teapots – Originally used in China as kettles. They won't enhance flavour or aroma of your tea. Personally, I wouldn't recommend these for tea, even if they look very beautiful. You could use them for some black teas if you want a visual delightment instead of quality cup.
- Metal teapots – Metal teapots are traditionally used in North Africa for brewing mint tea (gunpowder with spearmint). Unfortunately, they will give any tea slightly metallic flavour. Again I would use metal teapots only in emergency or when camping. They will never enhance aroma or flavour of tea but instead diminish it.
Choosing the right vessel:
Clay teapots – Black, Wulong and Pu Erh teas.
Kyusu teapots – small leaf tea, Japanese teas (for suitable look)
Ceramic teapots – any types of tea – green, yellow more suitable
Glass Teapots – any types of tea – white, green, yellow more suitable
Enamel cast iron teapots – black tea
Metal teapots – not recommended
Smaller better than bigger. Always buy teapot according to sizes of cups. The best technique is to brew a tea and when its ready pour it all out (into cups or jug), then you can make second infusion if the quality and type of tea allows it. I always have at home a glass teapot for 4, ceramic teapot for 2 and a Yixing teapot for 1, and many more if you are a collector:)
I strongly disagree with any kind of egg type strainer or mesh strainer, plastic, metal or even cafetiere machine should be avoided. In a case of brewing great cup of tea, tea leaves has to be free, float and infuse in teapot, not to be squished in cage. Best to purchase teapots which have already build in ceramic strainer (near spout) or purchase a bamboo strainer or even paper filter if you wish to have your cup absolutely clean.
According to Chinese masters, you should infuse certain style of leaf in certain style of teapot. So if you are infusing Long Jing (Lung Ching) which is naturally flat and long … like a sword, you will use slightly wider and smaller teapot. When infusing Bi Lo Chun (Pi Lo Chun) which is naturally curly like a wild locks, you will use more likely taller teapot with narrower bottom.
When buying teapot, include all the above plus make sure: The spout is wide enough and has a good aerodynamic for pouring your tea. Make sure it has a strainer so you won't block your spout with tea leaves when pouring. Make sure that the handle is nice to hold, that the teapot has smooth finish and a tiny hole in lid for steam to go out. You should be able to try the teapot if buying from good supplier. When finish brewing you can easily pour water in your teapot and turn it over a big food strainer and use your leaves in your garden as a mulch :)
Tea Brewing guide in classic teapot
1) Heat your teapot and cups with hot water (for about 1min, when you touch the walls they should be hot)
2) Add the leaves into the teapot. Rinse the tea leaves by adding a bit of hot water in teapot for few seconds and pour out – this method allows the tea leave to open up and release aroma and prepare for brewing.
3) Pour the correct temperature water over you tea leaves
4) Let the leaves infused for 2-6min according to type of the tea. Small, broken leaves will infuse faster than bigger or compressed leaves.
5) Stop the infusion by pouring the liquid into your cups or same size jug.
6) Enjoy your tea