I want to approach brewing as many people new to the world of tea approach it. Very few people go from drinking tea bags to gongfu style. If you’ve gotten a full setup based on my last education post, Getting Started with Loose Leaf, you already have a mug, an infuser, some tea leaves, and a way to heat your water.
A Note on Standards
They’re bull crap. I can give you some guidelines on where to start, but it’s ultimately your palate you’re aiming to please. The high priest or the premiere sommelier of tea can tell you to steep all black teas at 212 degrees, but if you prefer them at 205, brew them at 205 and enjoy without guilt. Be unapologetic in your preferred tastes! This is actually pretty decent advice for life as well. I feel like I could go on an entire philosophical rant about this, so I’ll just leave it at that.
But the suggestions I am going to give here are good places to start if you’re unsure of how you like your tea. Feel free to make adjustments as necessary. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to play around with temperatures and steeping times. Though you can get a general sense of what certain types of teas will do with you play with steeping temperatures and times, teas can sometimes surprise you and improve outside of traditional parameters.
Each tea type has different optimal brewing methods to bring out “the best” of their flavors, but these are highly subjective. It’s possible to turn a tea from “meh” to “wow” just by adjusting how you’ve steeped it. Brewing a tea for hotter or longer can give the brew a stronger flavor, bring out more bitterness or astringency, or highlight different flavors. Shorter or lower temperature steeps subdue certain flavors, reduce bitterness and astringency, and highlight other flavors. Even the material, size and shape of the vessel you’re brewing in can affect the taste of a tea, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The reason I’m being so vague in is because each tea is going to react differently. It’s best to play around and find out for yourself.
So you have your tea leaves, and your preferred infuser is all set up in your mug and ready to go. How much leaf should you put in your infuser? If you have a small infuser, like the snappy spoon or a noveltea infuser, the decision is already made for you. Fill it up about half way to allow for room for the leaves to grow as they rehydrate. There’s not a lot of room for experimentation with these types of infusers. Otherwise, start with a teaspoon per 6-8 ounces. I like my tea to be a bit stronger, so I will usually do 1.5–2 teaspoons per 6 ounces.
Heating the Water
If you have a kettle that tells you the temperature of the water, congratulations! You can skip this section. If you’re using a less precise method, such as a stovetop or a microwave, and you don’t have a thermometer, you’re going to have to make a guess. And that’s okay if you’re just starting out and deciding if you even want to be a tea drinker. But once you’re hooked, I recommend at least getting a thermometer—a kettle if the bug has really bitten you.
Anyway, if you’re using a microwave or a stovetop and you don’t yet have a thermometer of some sort, it’s easiest to start from boiling. Then take the water off the heat (or out of the microwave) and wait for it to cool some. The amount of time to wait for it to cool is obviously going to vary greatly depending on what vessel you’re holding the water in, but you’ll want to wait 1-3 minutes for it to cool down. I know that newbies especially are obsessed with “getting it right” when first starting out, but going by feel and instinct is really the best thing for you (she says as she sits down next to her electric kettle that has a continuous reading of the temperature of the water). It’s how the Chinese did it for centuries before electricity.
Times and Temperatures
So here are the temperatures and times I am recommending for these teas. For the ten millionth time, feel free to adjust these to your taste. I find that sometimes I even go outside these parameters based on how a tea looks. Greener teas tend to prefer the lower and shorter end of the spectrum while darker teas tend to prefer the higher and longer. For second steeps and beyond, I use the same temperature and add 30 seconds to a minute to the steep time. And use your nose! The aroma will tell you when the leaves are ready to be pulled.
I’ll definitely go into greater detail about each type of tea in a later post. For now, we just want to get you steeping!
- Black: 205º-212ºF for 2.5-4 minutes
- Green: 140º-170º for 1.5-3 minutes
- Oolong: 180º-195º for 2-4 minutes
- White: 160º -180º for 1.5-2.5 minutes
- Mate: 190º -205º for 3-4 minutes
- Puerh: 180º -212º for .5-3 minutes
- Rooibos: 212º for 4 minutes
- Herbal: 212º for 4 minutes
There are other teas, like yellow and purple teas, but the beginner is unlikely to casually run across those. And don’t forget that you can always look up the suggested brew time and temperature on the vendor’s website to see what they recommend.
Now enjoy your tea until the next post comes along!