Preparing tea is an exercise in simplicity that, to paraphrase the words of the Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu, consists of nothing but boiling water, making the tea, and serving. While these words indeed capture the spirit of tea, preparing any of the hundreds of teas available requires attention and knowledge. Making a delicious cup of tea is a play of tea leaves, the amount of water used, water temperature, the time of infusion, and the vessel the tea is brewed in. Following the correct directions for a tea can make even an
Following the correct directions for a tea can make even an ordinary tea satisfying, while brewing a rare, expensive tea incorrectly can lead to a bitter, undrinkable infusion.
Always use freshly drawn, cold water to prepare tea. Purified and spring water are best because they are relatively free from pollutants and other substances that can dramatically alter tea’s taste. On the other hand, it is preferable for the water to have some natural minerals content, as they may enhance the tea’s flavor. For this reason, distilled water should be avoided since the lack of minerals will leave the tea tasting flat. Similarly, one should never use pre-heated water-as from the faucet, for instance. This kind of water has mostly likely been overheated, thereby losing oxygen content while picking up possibly harmful substances from the water pipes.
Traditionally, in Asia, water is always brought to gentle boil before one prepares tea. Boiling water eliminates many harmful germs and bacteria. Though water quality has improved vastly, boiling in the water in this fashion can help to bring out tea’s flavor. The water should be heated until a steady stream of air bubbles gently rise to the surface. At this point, the water is sufficiently heated and also has a preferable oxygen content. In contrast, using water that has been held at a fierce, rolling boil can leave tea tasting dull and flat.
Temperature is critical in making good tea. The popular conception that boiling water can be used on any kind of tea is actually incorrect. In fact, each variety of tea, from green to black, needs to prepared at a different range of temperature. Because of its more delicate processing, green tea often needs a cooler temperature to bring out the right flavor. Conversely, black tea, which has been fully oxidized, needs much hotter water to bring out its characteristic baked sweetness.
Duration of Infusion
Similar to water temperature, different kinds of tea need to brewed for different lengths of time. Generally, delicate teas such as green tea need to be brewed for shorter times, while heartier black teas and earthy, fermented pu-erh teas benefit from longer infusions. Of course, the duration of the infusion varies with culture and personal preference.
Material of Teapot
While seemingly unimportant at first, the material of the teapot being used also affects the quality of the infusion. When considering a teapot, it is important to consider the variety of tea and the temperature at which it is prepared. Materials like iron or Chinese yixing ware are excellent at retaining heat over long periods of time, while glass or porcelain are more likely to release that heat. Therefore, iron and similarly heavy materials are better for teas that need to be prepared at high temperatures, such as black tea or yixing. A teapot made from iron would keep the water hot enough to extract the teas full flavor. Green and white teas, on the other hand, needs a vessel that stays cooler, such as porcelain. Mentioned below is an elaborate explanation of the best way to brew each kind of tea.