WATER, TEA & UTENSILS
Water ~ Use the freshest water possible. Preferably filtered, but if the tap water is good in your area it will do. If the tap water has a perceptible odor or taste, that will be imparted to the infused brew, and will compromise the quality of the tea. Tea ~ Of course, use the best loose leaf tea you can find. Utensils ~ One could do a whole class on tea utensils and accessories, but for the bare minimum information, avoid using the stainless steel tea balls or metal infusers. Use a nylon mesh basket, paper filter, tea sock, or just do it the old fashioned way and put the leaves directly into the pot.
HEAT THE WATER TO THE DESIRED TEMPERATURE
This step is more important that you’d first think, but many of the finest green teas and oolongs are actually “Cooked” by too – hot water. Here’s a basic rule of thumb to follow:
Rolling boil, best at 212° Do not boil the water too long, as it boils out some of the oxygen and can leave the tea tasting “flat”
Green Tea and White Tea:
180°. I try to watch and listen to my kettle, and pull it when the bottom is full of bubbles, but before they start to release to the surface. Boiling water on green tea will actually “cook” the leaf and result in a bitter brew, losing all the subtleties of the tea. Some do it the other way, and allow the water to cool just a touch after it boils before pouring.
Oolong and Herbal Tea:
195 -210 degrees°, depending on the level of oxidation in the case of oolong, or depending on the type of herbs used. (Roots and barks need to be boiling to extract their properties, while flowers and delicate petals use a lower temp)
WARM THE POT AND MEASURE THE TEA INTO THE POT OR BREW BASKET
Pour the hot water into the empty pot for a minute to warm it. Pour it out and then measure the tea. The general rule is 1 teaspoon of tea for each 6oz cup. This varies by leaf style, as some leaves are much bigger and thus take up more volume. Technically, the amount is 2 grams per 5.5 oz cup. Of course, you could always measure your tea with a scale. I don’t find this a very contemplative practice, however, so I’ve devised a sight plan. I use the teaspoon rule for small leaf, black teas. I use a heaping teaspoon for green teas, oolongs, and herbals. This is probably the place where you can best “customize” your tea. You don’t want to mess with the water quality or temperature, or the steeping times too much, as the result of that is often not stronger tea, but a more bitter brew.
POUR THE WATER OVER THE TEA AND STEEP FOR THE APPROPRIATE TIME
This is most likely the most imperative step, in my opinion, along with water temperature. Follow these guidelines carefully:
Black Tea: 4 – 5 minutes
Green Tea: 1-3 minutes
Oolong Tea: 4 – 7 minutes
White Tea: 1 -3 minutes
Herbal Tea: 5- 15 minutes
Remember Lu Yu’s famous quote from the Ch’a Ching – “Goodness is a decision for the mouth to make”. You are the best judge of tea the way it most suits YOU. Take these guidelines and experiment and find the perfect method for yourself. The best way to you, may not be best for me. This is easily seen by the many different tastes of cultures around the globe, from the Germans preference for the teas of Darjeeling, to those of Moroccans for the gunpowder, to the Middle Eastern preference for teas of Ceylon. Each step in the preparation of tea offers the chance to slow down, focus on the task at hand, and commune with one of the greatest gifts of nature.