Tea preparation can, if you aren’t careful, become a stressful experience. As one is learning about different types of tea, you can be overwhelmed by the choices and complexities.
Some common questions are:
- What type of water should be used to steep my tea?
- What water temperature should I use?
- How much water do I use?
- How long should I steep the tea?
- How many times can I steep this tea?
- What vessel should be used for this particular type of tea?
A quick Google search will only add to your stress, as there are many different opinions on the answers to these questions. Relax! This article will attempt to summarize our opinion at Bamboo Mist Tea LLC. We will blend what we have learned over many years of drinking tea and offer subtle differences that may enhance the quality of your tea flavor, smell, and color. Our advice is based on a lot of research, as well as insights gained from tea masters in Asia. It is likely you will discover things here you haven’t heard elsewhere, as some of these insights, like premium artisan teas, don’t leave their respective countries or require translation to make them understood!
Please remember, at the end of the day, the right answer is the one that is right for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different steeping temperatures, times, and even vessels. Tea should be a relaxing experience and if you stress out about the water temperature or steeping time, it isn’t a good start.
My Chinese and Japanese care deeply about the tea experience. For example, they care about the peacefulness of the venue, the aroma of the tea, and the beauty of the tea cups. In fact, the cups used to consume tea are small in China in part because it creates many opportunities to serve your guest. The gesture of serving your guest is an important part of the tea experience. This is probably not something we often thing about on this side of the planet. I would encourage you to enjoy our tea in a nice venue over a nice conversation with family or friends.
Please share any insights you glean from your experiences and experiments with our tea community on this blog. While we may know a lot about tea, we are certain that the collective wisdom of the group is always greater than the wisdom of a few individuals.
For premium quality loose leaf tea, water becomes a critical ingredient. While a flavored or cheap tea might mask the water, you will notice a difference between the types of water used for a delicate white tea. The Chinese tea masters will tell you the best water to use with a particular tea is water sourced from the area where the tea is grown. In this way, the tea and water will already be familiar with each other. Of course, this is completely impractical for all of us, who don’t live in China’s tea growing regions.
Our recommendation is you use Spring water, tap water (if you are fortunate enough to have awesome tap water), or to filter your tap water with a Brita filter. If you don’t like drinking your tap water, you aren’t likely to enjoy it in your tea. I have a cabin in the mountain of Oregon, which has the purest water on the planet coming out of the tap. It produces wonderful tea without any filtration. If you too are lucky enough to have a well or pure tap water, try it with a delicate white tea. If you like it, then you are likely good to go with all types of teas.
In Seattle, the tap water tastes horrific. I am not sure why, because if you go to the Seattle.gov website it says “Seattle Public Utilities closely monitors all taste and odor problems reported, in addition to performing flavor profile analyses on a regular basis. Flavor profile analysis uses a group of trained panelists to identify flavors and/or aromas in raw and treated waters.” Really? A group of trained panelists? You would think surrounded by those pristine mountains, we would have delicious water. It is so heavily chlorinated, I feel like I left my mouth open, while diving into the swimming pool. It doesn’t taste good out of the tap and a Brita filter is essential. My first choice in Seattle is Crystal Geyser Spring Water. It seems to be fairly neutral and goes well with all teas. I buy the gallon jugs to try to keep the price down.
Distilled water is best avoided as it will leave the tea tasting bland. Some degree of mineral content in the water will enhance the flavor of the tea and distilled water lacks minerals. The water should be cold or at room temperature. We suggest you don’t use hot water. If you have doubts about these recommendations, I would encourage you to experiment in order to form your opinions on how to make the most flavorful tea at your location.
In many Asian countries, they boil their water in a cast iron teapot. The cast iron will add minerals and flavor to the water. It softens the water making ideal for tea. Even if the teapot is rusty, it won’t harm you and will enhance the tea. The more seasoned the cast iron teapot the better. The water boiled in these cast iron teapots tastes delicious and many of my Asian friends will boil their drinking water in a cast iron teapot. Cast iron teapots are expensive. You don’t need to buy an antique heirloom. If you search, you’ll find many heirlooms, which sell for thousands of dollars each. To get something of decent quality and craftsmanship, you’ll probably need to spend in excess of $150.
Personally, I use a Japanese cast iron teapot called a tetsubin. Below is a picture of my 1.2L (40 ounce) tetsubin. If I were to buy a second one, I would probably buy the 1.8L version…or larger. My reason for wanting larger is because you can only fill the water to the spout hole. It is easy to boil over if you fill it above the spout and you have to monitor it carefully.
I bought my tetsubin from Japan. My rationale was the Japanese are perfectionists and the quality of their craftsmanship is exceptional. My tetsubin is beautiful to look at and I leave it out on my kitchen counter. The Chinese make cast iron teapots too, Zhu Tie Hu (铸铁壶). If we find a Chinese craftsman who meets our quality standards, we might offer them in the future. For now, we would encourage you to buy a Japanese tetsubin. We intend to carry Japanese tetsubins and expect an entire blog post soon on their merits. In the interim, if you need to buy one, I suggest you consider the brand Oigen. It is a Japanese manufacturer of cast iron products, including teapots. I use one personally. It is beautiful and the quality is first rate.
Japanese Tetsubin Iron Kettle 1.2L OIGEN Kangetsu-Arare H-159S | eBay
One question you might wonder about is how to you keep the lid on when you pour the water out of the tetsubin? The cast iron lid will get hot. The handle will be cool, but sticking your finger on the top of the lid will burn you. When you first start pouring the water it doesn’t matter, but when it starts to empty and your angle changes, the cast iron lid might fall off and shatter your tea pot and cups! I solve this dilemma with the doohickey pictured to the left. One hand holds the handle of the tetsubin, the other hand holds this doohickey which keeps the lid firmly in place. I suppose I could use a hot pot mitt, but then I wouldn’t be able to use the word doohickey in my blog post!! 🙂
BOILING THE WATER
No doubt, you are wondering how to boil your water. Along with a traditional stove top teapot, here are a few options. I will share what I use in the following few paragraphs. It is definitely not my intent to sell you anything, but figured I would share with you what I personally use. Of course, I have included eBay links for these items. Amazon was too complicated to join Amazon Affiliates and Amazon prices have not been the best recently and I should know, since I have been an Amazon customer since 1997. In full transparent disclosure, if you do buy something on eBay after following these links, they will give me a small commission. My promise to you is I will donate 100% of that commission to my favorite charity, Room to Read! I will keep and post a tally on this website of any money contributed.
For boiling water in my tetsubin, I purchased an induction cooktop. It has worked well and I am a 100% satisfied customer. In fact, I have two of them; one for my house and one for traveling, which I take in my Airstream or cabin.
If your lotto tickets have recently been winners, you might consider the Breville One Touch Teamaker. I have one of these at the Oregon cabin and have been quite impressed with the reliability and accuracy. It takes a lot of the guess work out of tea preparation, with an ability to set the temperature by type of tea and the flexibility of custom settings. You can select whether you want your tea strength to be light, medium, or strong. It automatically adjusts the steeping time to accommodate. Anytime I want a reliable, quick cup of tea I use the Breville, but anytime I am going for maximum quality and tea experience I will always use the tetsubin.
There are also a number of kettles, which can be used for boiling water. I use a T-Fal kettle in my office. It is a cheap and cheerful water boiler. There is a setting on the water temperature, but it isn’t overly precise. Usually, I just guess and will let the water cool in a glass pitcher, before steeping teas that require a temperature below boiling.
Another option is an electric kettle with more precise settings and a reminder for common tea temperatures. My Mom has a Cuisinart and has been quite happy with it. I will probably end up buying one of these for the office, so I can have a little more precision, as I inevitably end up making a lot of tea for my colleagues.
Generally speaking, teas that are processed less (white and green teas), which are in a more natural state and haven’t been fired as part of the processing, require less temperature to bring out the tea. If the temperature is too high, it can frighten the tea! OK, maybe frighten is the wrong word, but it does convey that the intent is to encourage the tea to release its flavors without scalding it. Teas that have been processed more, like black tea, require a higher temperature to pull out the flavor and smell. Aged teas, like aged white teas, will require a higher temperature than young white teas (spoiler alert: this tip is not widely known in the US).
If you search, you might find articles that warn against double boiling the water you use for tea. I’ve read some, which imply double boiling could increase the mineral content to harmful levels. The theory sounds pretty absurd to me. You can experiment for yourself, as to whether it impacts the tea flavor or smell. For me, I haven’t noticed any difference when I double boil the water in a tea kettle. I never double boil in the tetsubin, but mostly because I use it all.
Naturally, you may wonder how you know the temperature of the water. There are a multitude of factors, which can influence your temperature and how quickly boiled water cools, including the altitude of your boiled water, the vessel used to boil it, the type of vessel you are cooling the water in, the ambient temperature, etc… I have done tests and if I take boiled water from my cast iron tetsubin (212F) and pour it into a small glass pitcher inside my Seattle home at ambient room temperature and at approximately 395 feet above sea level, the temperature drops about 1 degree Fahrenheit for every 10 seconds. My assumption (probably false) is that the temperature drop is linear and I can easily calculate the approximate temperature based on the time I let it cool.
The most precise way to determine your water temperature is to use a thermometer. It is the only way to know for certain. In addition, as mentioned above, you can buy tea machines or kettle, which help set the appropriate water temperature. Depending on the situation, my personal preference is to 1) approximate the temperature by letting the water boil, then putting it in a glass pitcher to cool, 2) use a thermometer, or 3) use a tea machine. Also, I would recommend bringing the water to a full boil (212F), then, if required, let it cool to the appropriate temperature for your tea type.
Of course, the ancient Chinese had another way of knowing the temperature of their tea. They called it the five boils:
- shrimp eyes – small bubbles starting to appear at the bottom of the pot, which means the water is around 160F.
- crab eyes – larger bubbles than shrimp eyes and the first hint of steam coming off of the water, which indicates the water is around 175F.
- fish eyes – larger bubbles than crab eyes. Steam will be coming off the water and the water is around 180F.
- joined pearls (string of pearls) – the bubbles should be rising to the surface of the water and it should be just below boiling at about 205F.
- surging spring – water has reached boiling temperature, 212F (depending on your altitude), and there is a rolling boil.
Naturally, it is hard to see these five boils in an enclosed kettle. You need to be able to see the water. Have some fun and use a thermometer to get to these temperatures and examine the bubbles.
|TEA TYPE||WATER TEMPERATURE|
|FIVE BOILS (Ancient Chinese)|
|Dian Hong - Chinese black tea from Yunan||190F||87.8||Joined Pearls|
|Green Tea - Japanese||160F||71.1||Shrimp Eyes|
|Green - Chinese||175F||79.4||Crab Eyes|
|Matcha - Japanese||212F||100||Surging Spring|
|Puer - Raw (Sheng) - Aged 10+ years||212F||100||Surging Spring|
|Puer - Raw (Sheng) - young||180F||82.2||Fish Eyes|
|Puer - Ripe (Shou)||212F||100||Surging Spring|
|White - aged||190F||87.8||Joined Pearls|
|White - young||170F||76.7||Shrimp or Crab Eyes|
|Wulong||185F||85||Fish Eyes or Joined Pearls|
|Yellow||170F||76.7||Shrimp or Crab Eyes|
QUANTITY OF TEA
The quantity of tea you use will depend on your preference and it is definitely another area of potential stress. You are trying to balance tea flavor and aroma while avoiding bitterness or an astringent harshness caused by tea tannins. Personally, my Chinese friends and I no longer precisely measure the amounts. We know for the type of tea, the vessel we intend to steep it in, how much tea we want to make, and our palate preference, approximately how much tea to use. We have included a table at the bottom covering typical quantities, steeping times, and preferred steeping vessel.
For our 2012 White Peony tea, we tried to make it easier by putting .25 ounces in a packet. We believe this is about right for steeping in a gaiwan (Chinese steeping vessel) and of a tea of this quality, it should yield at least 100 ounces (3L) of tea.
For our Puer tea cakes, you can break off a small piece and get 10 cups (6 ounce) of tea. The yield is in part due to the quality of the tea. I have had other Puer teas where after a few steepings it starts to lose its complexity and aroma. Not the ones we sell. My friend, Xiaoping, who is an expert in Puer teas, has really outdone himself to procure Puer teas of this exceptional quality. I dare you to have a blind taste test with your tea connoisseur friends of our Puer teas against any others at any price point.
RINSING THE TEA
The teas sold by Bamboo Mist Tea LLC are naturally farmed teas. We are confident you could drink the tea without rinsing, but would advise you to get in the habit of rinsing all teas. It helps warm up the tea cup and the wafting aroma of loose-leaf tea will help set the mood for your tea drinking experiences. If you are unsure of the specifics of a teas origin, I suggest you rinse it 2 to 3 times. For quality organic teas, a single rinse should be sufficient. Use the same water temperature you plan to use for steeping the tea. Simply pour the water all over the tea, wait a few seconds and pour the tea into your glass serving pitcher, then into the tea cups, then out.
Steeping times are more art than science. While we have provided some guidelines in the table below, what separates tea masters is the art of bringing out the most flavor and aroma from the tea. The broad formula is tea type + quantity of tea + water type + quantity of water + water temperature + length of steeping time + material of steeping vessel = flavor and aroma of tea. This may seem scientific, but the art comes in how you combine these variables.
One hint on the length of time to steep is to monitor the color of the tea. You will fairly quickly get a feel for whether it has steeped long enough or too long by the color produced. Thus, if I let the first batch I pour into a glass holding container is too dark for the tea type, I will reduce the steeping type of the second batch in the gaiwan. When I blend it in the holding container with the tea I just made, I’ll get something closer to what I wanted to achieve. The converse is also true.
Again, speaking in generalities, you will want to steep tea a shorter time to start and to gradually increase the time. For some teas like Puer or Japanese green tea, the second steeping might be shorter than the first, before increasing it from the third steeping on. I do this because the tea seems to really open up on the second steeping and is easy to get it too strong, if you aren’t careful. With our Bamboo Mist Tea LLC 2012 White Peony Tea you would want to start with a 20-second steep, then gradually increase the steeping time to 3 minutes. As we we launch new teas, we will post the steeping times here. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what you like.
If you have steeped our 2012 White Peony tea to the point of exhaustion, we can offer one unique tip. Place the tea in a vessel and boil the water. I like to use a pot on the stove. I let the tea get to a good boil, then let it steep with a low boil. There is no set time you need to let it boil. Leaving it for 20-30 minutes is fine. A wonderful grassy white tea smell will permeate the room. Also, you can strain and drink the tea which will have a much different character and taste than the tea you just consumed. My Chinese friends consider this brew medicine. They believe if you have a cold and drink this boiled white tea broth before you go to bed, you’ll wake up feeling better!
You can use many different types of vessels to make tea. With a few caveats, the vessel matters less than the water temperature, water source, and steeping time.
One caveat relates to tea brewed in Chinese Yixing pottery, which have been used for thousands of years to brew tea in China. They are a porous type of clay, which will absorb the flavor of a type of tea. The photo is of two of the Yixing teapots I have in my collection. Usually, you need several Yixing teapots, because you will want to use one teaport with each type of tea. I have one for Puer, one for Black tea, one for Dian Hong, and a smaller one I use with Yellow tea. We will post a video and some advice on how to season an Yixing teapot, if you are fortunate enough to procure them.
Old Yixing tea pots command a huge price, because they get better with age. These beautiful and flavorful teapots are considered heirlooms and will be passed down from one generation to the next.
The Japanese use a small teapot with a handle called a Kyusu. I have several in my collection and often use them with Japanese green tea. The clever handle design makes it easy to pour without burning your fingers. The photo is typical of a Kyusu and I’ll snap a few photos of mine shortly.
For white and green tea, we recommend a porcelain cup with lid and saucer. In Mandarin, these are called gaiwan. The photo is of my go-to gaiwan. It is handmade by a famous gaiwan maker and I purchased in Beijing on one of my many visits.
Finally, you might consider using this type of Gongfu Glass Tea Infuser. I sometimes use it with my Puer teas in my office. It will keep the tea separate from the tea leaves after steeping. For all steeping techniques, you don’t want to steep it too long or it will get bitter or too strong.
Naturally, there are lots of people who use tea balls, like the one on the right or a tea cup strainer (below). These work fine too. You will need to adjust the quantity of your tea to fit the size of your ball or cup. For example, for our 2012 White Peony Tea, we would recommend you use 1/4 (one quarter) to 1/5 (one fifth) of the packet if you are using a tea ball. My Mom has an Yixing teapot, gift from her son, but she often makes our white tea using a tea ball. She’ll get about 5 tea balls out of one packet. Also, she’ll use one tea ball to make 3-4 cups throughout the day with the first steep being shorter at about 1 minute, assuming you let it sit and don’t bounce it up and down. Gradually increase the steep time for subsequent steepings.
If you use some type of tea strainer in a tea cup, like the one on the left, I would reduce the amount of time for the steeping. If the tea ball is 1 minute, I would probably go for 45 seconds for the first steep. For premium grade teas like the ones we sell here at Bamboo Mist Tea LLC, they will infuse quickly. The more porous the strainer the more rapidly it will infuse. Try it with your particular set up to see what works best and produces a tea that suits your taste.
|TEA - LOOSE LEAF||QUANTITY|
|STEEPING TIME||MATERIAL||IDEAL STEEPING VESSELS|
|Black||1-2 tablespoons||.18 to .35 ounces|
Ideal: 8 grams (.28 ounces)
|30 seconds to |
|Dian Hong||1-2 tablespoons||.18 to .35 ounces|
Ideal: 8 grams (.28 ounces)
|20 seconds to |
|Green Tea - Chinese||1-2 teaspoons||.11 to .175 ounces|
Ideal: 5 grams
|Gaiwan (Chinese steeping cup)|
|Green Tea - Japanese||2 teaspoons||.175 ounces|
|1 - 2 minutes||Clay|
|Kyusu (Japanese tea pot)|
|Matcha - Japanese||1 teaspoon||1 minute||Earthenware||Matcha bowl|
|Puer - Raw (Sheng) - Aged 10+ years||1-2 teaspoons||.11 to .175 ounces|
Ideal: 5 grams
|1-3+ minutes||Clay||Yixing teapot|
|Puer - Raw (Sheng) - Young||1-2 teaspoons||.11 to .175 ounces|
Ideal: 5 grams
|Puer - Ripe (Shou)||1 teaspoon||.03 to .11 ounces|
|30 seconds to |
|White - aged||1-2 tablespoons||.18 to .35 ounces (5-10 grams)|
Ideal: 7 grams (.25 ounces)
|30 seconds to |
|White - young||1-2 tablespoons||.18 to .35 ounces (5-10 grams)|
Ideal: 7 grams (.25 ounces)
|30 seconds to |
|Wulong - heavy - loose leaf |
(Da Hong Bao or Dan Cong)
|2-3 teaspoons||.11 to .175 ounces|
Ideal: 4 grams
|Wulong - light - balls|
(Tie Guan Yin or Ali Shan)
|2-3 teaspoons||.11 to .175 ounces|
Ideal: 3 grams
|Yellow||2-3 teaspoons||.11 to .175 ounces|
Ideal: 5 grams
TEA PREPARATION CONCLUSION
In conclusion, we hope you found our tea preparation guide useful. We would welcome your advice on how to improve it. The most important thing is to relax, avoid stress, and experiment until you find what works best for you. Enjoy!