"Tea is nought but this: first you heat the water, then you make the tea. Then you drink it properly. That is all you need to know."

Sen Rikyu
 

 

Techniques for steeping tea

Keep in mind that the perfect cup of tea is the cup that you find most enjoyable. It's also important to understand the variables involved in steeping tea in order to begin to develop your own taste. We recommend that you start with the guidelines used for each tea and then play and experiment with the variables to find the taste that appeals the most to you.

The 4 variables are:

The water. Both quality and temperature.

The vessels used to steep, present and/or pour the tea.

Amount of tea. More or less to taste. If you want more flavor, add more tea not more time. 

Time. More time makes a stronger tea. Stronger teas can be more astringent or bitter not more flavorful.

Water

Tea is 99% water. It is in the water that the tea begins to form it’s flavor and it is therefore essential that attention be paid to the quality and the temperature of the water.

Use fresh water each time you prepare tea. Artesian spring water is preferred over tap water. Tap water should be avoided due to municipal water treatments, which add chlorine and fluoride and can greatly affect the true flavor of your tea. Try to avoid using water that has been boiled multiple times. Boiled water tastes different because it loses dissolved oxygen, and the boiled water contains more minerals, because only pure water can evaporate/boil away, leaving the same ammount of metals/minerals in less water.


The temperature of the water is important. You don’t want to burn the delicate leaves of the white, green and oolong teas while the hardier roasted oolongs, blacks and pu-erhs can handle and need the hotter water to bring out the tea flavor.

White teas: 165°F (Well before it boils)

Green teas: 170-185°F (Just as steam begins to leave the spout of the teapot)

Oolong teas: 180-205°F (After cooling for a few minutes off a boil)

Black teas: 205°F (After cooling for a minute off a boil)

Pu-erh teas: 212°F (When boiling)

Chinese scholars visualize the four primary temperatures of water used for brewing teas as follows:

“Column of steam steadily rising.” A visual pillar of steam materializes. 160° - 170°
“Fish Eyes.” Large lazy bubbles start to break the surface. 170° - 180°
“String of pearls.” The moment, almost at a boil, when tiny bubbles appear to loop near the perimeter. 180° - 190°
“Turbulent waters.” A full rolling boil, when the water becomes highly oxygenated.  200° - 212°

The Vessel

While there are many different types of vessels used to steep tea, there are a few basics to keep in mind.

The Regular Tea Pot. It can be difficult to steep a perfect cup of tea in a large tea pot but it can be done. White, black, pu-erh and some of the Wuyi Oolongs do well. If you are looking to taste the finer qualities of a particular tea it is best to use smaller vessels. Larger tea pots work well for many common black teas.

The Glass teapot is the perfect vessel to use when you want to see the tea leaves “dance”. These teapots are perfect for white and green tea leaves and the show that they put on. A really good oolong or green tea can handle being in the water for prolonged period of time without becoming astringent (the most common complaint for over steeped tea!). Therefore, you can use a tall glass and drop a few leaves in and then gently pour the water over and under the leaves. Once the leaves have opened and dropped to the bottom of the glass, you can drink this tea directly from the glass without removing the liquor or the leaves.

Cup/Mug – A vessel used mainly for it’s size and convenience. Don’t knock till you’ve tried it. Certain teas are traditionally made in a similar vessel, for personal drinking. Green teas from Fujian, Anhui and Zhejiang province are most often seen being prepared by dropping a few leaves in a glass, pouring water and then served. So using a mug, dropping in some green tea leaves and then enjoying is perfectly fine. Very convenient and greens, whites and pu'erh hold up well to the mug-steeping method!

Clay teapots, known as a Yixing Pot in China, are generally good for heartier teas. It’s also good to know that because of the porous nature of the clay these tea pots can take on certain flavor characteristics of the tea. For this reason it is best to have one clay teapot for each different tea, i.e. one pot for Da Hong Pao, another for cooked pu'erhs, one for tikuayin and finally a pot for most common black teas.To get the best out of your tealeaves, be sure to allow room for the water to circulate between the leaves regardless of which brewing apparatus you choose.



The Gaiwan, a porcelain teapot, can be used for many different types of tea. The large wide mouth allows you to see the tea leaves and pour the water perfectly over and/or under the leaves for a perfect steeping.

To get the best out of your tealeaves, be sure to allow room for the water to circulate between the leaves regardless of which brewing apparatus you choose.

Measuring Amount of Tea

Tea tasters, when cupping teas to taste, generally use 3 grams of tea per 6 oz. cup of water.

The proper amount of tea to use is determined by weight not volume. Some rolled teas are denser and therefore require only 1 teaspoon of tea per 6 ounce cup of water while some loose leaf pu-erhs are lighter and require 1 tablespoon per 6 ounce cup of tea.

If you don’t have a scale there is this rule of thumb - use 1-2 teaspoons per 6 ounce cup and gradually add more tea to achieve the briskness and body of your choosing.

Steeping Time

White tea – 90 seconds to 2 minutes (several steepings)
Green tea – 2-3 minutes (several steepings)
Oolong tea – 90 seconds to 2 minutes (several steepings)
Black tea – 3-5 minutes (one steeping only)
Pu-erh – 2-5 minutes (several steepings)