Rinsed

This guide is designed to help anyone interested in tea brew tea well. Tea people have a tendency to answer brewing questions with, "its all about feel," "take out or put in more tea depending on how you feel," and so forth. This is good advice once you have a good footing and general idea of what each tea category can taste like. Tea brewing is a lot like cooking rather than baking: it is not a science and rules should be bent and played with. But, everyone needs a good place to start or you end up with a mess. Especially in the west where most people come into good tea via the internet and do not have a basis of what it can taste like, the above advice can be misguiding and discouraging to someone new.

So I attempt to go through, category by category, all the ways to brew tea and brew well. I stick exclusively to camellia sinensis; or the plant where all green, black, oolong, puerh and white tea come from.

OVERVIEW

Gong fu versus western

This guide does prefer brewing tea in the style of gong fu. I do believe that gong fu steeping is almost always more interesting and flavorful than western steeping. You get to see the tea evolve and taste its many complexities as well as savor how the tea makes you feel. You can always scale this guides parameters up to a larger brewing device - I have given the amount of tea in a simple grams of tea to volume of water ratio - but you might just need a lot of tea depending on your brewing device. To brew 'western style' follow the guide similarly but multiply the volume of water by two and increase the steep time by about one to two minutes depending on tea type and desired strength.

gong fu basics

Gong fu is a long standing brewing style that is becoming more common in the west where the brewer typically uses a small vessel, large amounts of leaf and shorter steeps. Vessels include gaiwans and tiny teapots, the latter often made with specific porous clay like Yixing teapots are. The basics are preheating your vessel, rinsing your tea with a flash brew (where your heated water goes in and immediately back out as quickly as you possibly can) and then steeping from there. Sometimes you can pour from your vessel into a pitcher and then smaller cups (good for sharing) or into any cup and just drink.

I have also detailed throughout this guide teas that are good to mug and bowl steep which is when tea leaves are indefinitely suspended in water the duration of time you are drinking.

One last thing

If your tea is too strong following this guide reduce the leaf amount as your first step, rather than water temperature or volume. This is because changing the leaf amount does not affect the flavor of the brew as much as the amount of water or temperature, which dilutes the tea itself. If you are still having trouble adjust the other parameters.

Green Tea

Gongfu (non-japanese greens)

Simply place 1g/40ml in a pre-warmed gaiwan or other small brewing vessel. No need to rinse. Brew for a minute with 175 to 185 degree water, the latter producing a heartier and potentially astringent brew. I prefer to brew without a lid on, or at least ajar, because delicate green leaf should not be steamed. Add on twenty or thirty seconds to each subsequent infusion. If you are using a gaiwan or similar brewing device, you can finish off your green tea session by pouring in your water and drinking from your gaiwan as it cools. This can be done after the third or fourth steeping.

jAPANESE GREEN

Japanese green teas, which include sencha and gyokuro, are brewed at a lower temperature than Chinese greens and will need to be brewed inside a teapot with a mesh or very fine filter -  like a kyusu - because these teas are very fine. I always follow O-Cha’s brewing guide for these teas. Typically use 0.6 grams per 30 grams of water. Use 160-170 degree water and steep, depending on the degree of steaming, for 30 seconds to a minute and a half. Gyokuro would have even lower temperatures, brewed at 140 degrees. Make sure to know your steaming level as a deep steamed sencha will not need nearly as long to steep as a light steamed sencha. If your vendor does not know the steaming level, find a new vendor.

Japanese Green Tea Iced

There are two pretty simple ways to make Japanese green teas iced. The first is a cold brew which works well for a wide range of Japanese greens from gyokuro to houjicha. Simply place 1g of tea leaves to 50g of water and let infuse anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. Strain and drink.

The second option is even quicker. Start with two vessels and follow the gram to water ratio as detailed above - 0.6 grams to 30 grams of water. Put your sencha or gyokuro (I am sure this would work with genmaicha, houjicha, etc. but have not personally tried that) into a brewing vessel of your choice. Put just enough water on the leaves to cover. The temperature of your water for sencha will be 160 and gyokuro 140. Now fill your brewing vessel with ice and a separate cup with ice. Pour room temperature or cooler water over the vessel with your leaves and ice in it and after about ten to twenty seconds you can strain off that liquid into your cup filled with ice. To easily know your gram to water ratio fill the water to the top of your brewing vessel for this last step using the above ratio. The amount of liquid is imprecise because of the ice and hot water so just know from the get go your amount of tea and water. For example if your vessel can hold 200 grams of water you’ll use about 3.6 grams of sencha. You can get about 3 infusions doing so.

MUG STEEPING (ONLY CHINESE GREENS)

Chinese greens are not the only tea commonly steeped in a mug or bowl. This style of brewing is where smaller amount of leaves are left to float indefinitely in hot water. I do think that green tea is the only tea where every quality of green tea get this treatment and produces a brew that tastes and feel equal to gong fu brewing. Simply put a pinch of your tea into a mug, thermos (not the vacuum kind) or bowl and let steep until cool and use your teeth to filter out the little leaves that have not settled onto the bottom. To be more precise, use 2 grams for 8 ounces of water and use 170 to 180 degree water.

Gong Fu

Black Tea

Use 1g/25ml. Definitely use boiling water! You don’t have to rinse. Start around 15 to 30 seconds. I would go on the lower end for a Darjeeling* and strong Assams and the higher end for those smooth malty Yunannese and Wuyi blacks. Add around 15 to 30 seconds to subsequent infusions.

*Darjeelings are not strictly black tea. My understanding is that the tea producers of India and China have created their own unique production methods throughout history and tea drinkers feel forced to wrangle every tea into a neat category. Darjeelings are more oxidized like an oolong (anywhere from 20 to 90%) whereas the rest of the processing looks similar to black teas (oolongs important rolling and bruising stage is ommited). From personal experience, the oxidization also depends on the flush.

Oolong Tea

Dancong

Dancong, or phoenix tea, comes from the Phoenix Mountains in China’s southeastern Guangdong province. With strong aromatic qualities, tea bush varietals destined for Dancong are named after their most striking olfactory feature, like peach, almond or ginger and so on. They are also the trickiest tea to brew, where striking the balance of a tasty brew is seconds away from either bland wateriness or an astringent mess. There are two ways of brewing this tea. The first is the Chaozhou gongfu tea brewing style, which you can read more in depth following the link but will get a quick run down here. Fill your brew vessel (really nothing larger than about 150ml in capacity here but the smaller the better - this style of brewing will hit you like a ton of bricks anyways!) about most of the way - 80%. Just eyeball this. Use boiling water, drink the rinse. One of the most distinct flavor changes, for this style of brewing as well as the following one I detail, that make the brew tastier is pouring water around the rim of the entrance of your vessel instead of directly over the leaf. I am not sure why, and I do not find tiny, finicky changes like this usual ever affect the resulting brew, but this one does. With the Chaozhou style the steeps can basically be flash steeps (pour water in and then immediately back out) for about 10 to 15 steeps yielding rich and rewarding brews. Now, this way gives lots of astringency still but it complements the brew. This is more simple than the instructions on the link above but I have found it works nicely. It is a matter of taste. If the astringency is too much take out some leaf and proceed as below, adding the leaf back in once the strength has lessened.

For a more standard and less extreme style of brewing use 1g/30ml. Use boiling water, drink the rinse if you want and start with very quick steeps, flash or no more than 3 seconds. Do not forget to pour water around the rim of your vessel here and not directly on the leaf. For the first few steeps you can retain this time and slowly increase. Around steep 6 you might find yourself at ten to 15 seconds, waves of aromatics and light rocky bitterness in a dance on your tongue.

Wuyi tea

Wuyi tea, or rock tea, is the cream of the crop for oolong. Coming from the oft romanticized Wuyi Mountains in the Fujian Province, this tea needs no introduction to the serious tea drinker steeped in lore and ideal in obsession due to its specific protected gardens and numerous varietals. Fortunately, it is a super tasty tea without regard to any of its lore. Use 1g/15ml and boiling water. Drink the rinse if desired. First three steeps brew anywhere from a flash brew to about ten seconds. Subsequently add 10 seconds to the next few brews then increasing for desired strength.

Any oolong that is in the strip form like a Wuyi or Dancong that do not have these geographical markers, like oolongs from India or Thailand or anywhere, can be brewed similar to the above. By stripped I mean long spindly leaves and not like the rolled oolongs - which are clearly in a balled up and rolled form - that I detail below. Most of these stripped oolongs will brew more akin to a Wuyi than a Dancong, at least in my experience. But if it is too bitter or astringent, use less leaf.

Green rolled oolong

Rolled oolongs most famous examples are from Anxi, China - called Tieguanyin - and Taiwan which produces both roasted and non-roasted (green) oolongs. Green oolongs typically come from mountains in Taiwan like Alishan and Da Yu Ling whereas roasted teas come from lower elevation areas like Nantuo. Recently across both China and Taiwan oolongs have gravitated towards a greener style due to popularity among consumers, even affecting the strip style oolongs. More devoted tea fans in the west seem to prefer the roasted type and, at least from my view, there is a discernible niche of farmers and thus vendors that happily offers this. The green popularity stems from the high mountain teas of Taiwan that are not roasted to emphasize the floral and misty qualities of the tea and is seen as a modernization of tea because Taiwan started harvesting higher and higher up their mountains only relatively recently.

For green oolongs I use boiling water and cover the bottom of my brewing device, typically 1g/25 ml. First steep is a minute long and the second and third are both ten seconds. From there I work back up, a minute, a minute and a half and so on. Without a roast the leaves fully expand and that is why the first steep is long, opening the leaves, and the next two are quick because of the now expanded surface area the water is touching.

Roasted Rolled Oolong

Personally, roasted rolled oolongs receive the least strict brewing methods. 1g/25ml and boiling water, rinse only if the tea is deeply roasted and smoky smelling and brew for around thirty to forty five seconds. Increase fifteen to forty five seconds depending on your desired strength.

Mug and bowl steeping

All oolongs take well to mug or bowl steeping except for dancong. I would use 1g/50ml and boiling water.

PUERH

Puerh

An easy one! All categories - aged, ripe, raw - get the same treatment I believe: boiling, 1g/15ml. This might be a little controversial when it comes to raw young puerh which can be bitter. I highly suggest backing away on the leaf, trying 1g/20ml or somewhere around there before leaning off the water the water temperature. The boiling water is extracting more flavor in general, so if you lower the water temperature you might have a less bitter brew but it will have lost some good flavors that make puerh so interesting. Aged and ripe tea can potentially go even higher in the gram amount here like 1g/10ml because they might have lost their bitterness and astringency yielding intense syrupy cups that are not negatively overwhelming. Use flash steeps to start out for all categories and increase steep times by five to ten seconds to your desired strength.

Aged and ripe will also take well to bowl and mug steeping as well as boiling on a stove! 1g/50ml and boiling water for the bowl or mug and the same amount of tea and water on the stove. If boiling on the stove boil for about twenty to thirty minutes, strain and drink.


WHITE TEA

Gong FU

To a recently minted tea drinker this might be the most surprising section: a lot of white teas can take - and will taste best - with boiling water! It is a misnomer to think of white tea alongside green tea. When we are talking beyond silver needle whites (the tips of the leaf only) white tea is typically very burly, especially if you get into ‘lower’ grades that include the oldest and coarsest leaf like shou mei and gong mei. Silver needles I would not boil but try 185-195 degree water. Otherwise, I would boil, use 1g/25ml and start with two ten seconds steeps, then thirty seconds and add on twenty to thirty seconds for the next few steeps depending on your desired strength. Occasionally I will have a white that tastes good with boiling water, but it also tastes good with cooler water and longer steeps, say starting at 30 seconds. So definitely experiment within a range of 190 to 212 here.

BOILING

White teas are also great for boiling. You could either split up a session, transferring from your small vessel to your convenient boiling setup or from the get go place leaves directly in water, in a pot or kettle, and letting it go at a boil for thirty to forty minutes. Use 1g/50ml. Strain and drink! Especially aged white tea, 3 or 4 years at least, will take to this as less of a green astringent taste will come out.