The Art of Brewing
Author: Candie Yoder
Achieving the perfect cup of tea takes the correct tea, water temperature, brewing equipment, and timing. If you do not know the proper technique for the type of tea, you are likely to end up with bitter unpalatable cup. Each type of tea has it's own temperature, timing and method. There are some basic pieces of information that are important. It may sound difficult but it is actually quite simple.
One major thing to know is that loose-leaf tea will give you a much better cup of tea than even the highest quality teabags. Dust or fannings are often used in teabags making them lower quality. A strainer is preferable when brewing loose-leaf tea in a teapot. The leaves should have room to expand so small infuser balls and spoons are not ideal. A large removable infuser is ideal for teapots so that the brewing can be stopped at the correct time by removing the tealeaves in the infuser. Glass teapots are beautiful and allow you to watch your tea leaves expand but they do not hold heat well and need warmers or cozies to keep them warm.
The water you use should be freshly drawn cold water so that it has as much oxygen in it as possible. Do not let you water boil for and extended period because this draws out the oxygen. If your water is suspect, try using bottled or filtered water. IF you have city water then you are advised to use bottles water because the added chemicals will affect the flavor. Many teas have subtle flavors that can be masked or destroyed by poor water. The correct water temperature is also important. Many think that all teas should be brewed with boiling water. Not so and this is the reason for many a bitter brew. Only blacks are brewed with boiling water. Oolongs are best with water that is just below a boil and Greens teas should be brewed with water no hotter than 180 degrees F. For Greens the cooler the temperature the more the subtle flavors will be apparent.
In general one heaping teaspoon of tea per 6 oz cup is a good rule. Tastes differ and some like more or less it is up to your taste buds to tell you the correct amount. Some say add an extra teaspoon of tea when brewing in a pot but this is unnecessary with high quality teas. Most tea vendors have brewing suggestions on their packaging to give you a place to start from. Each tea is unique as is each tea drinker so there is no right our wrong amount of tea.
Steeping time depends on the type of leaf and its grade. Many teas yield pale liquor and should always be brewed by time not color of the brew. Blacks are steeped from 3-7 minutes, Oolongs are steeped from 1 -4 minutes and Greens are steeped from 2-3 minutes. Never allow your tea to steep beyond the recommended time it will make it bitter. If you want a stronger cup of tea add more tea rather than additional steeping time. Under steeping your teas will result in a cup of pale water. The tea must have the proper timing to provide the correct flavor.
One method that tends to bring out the very best of teas is the Gongfu tea method. In China the formal presentation of tea is known as gongfu which, like the guywan method of tea preparation, dates from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). In general, it is a sequence of repeated short infusions in small Yixing or other small teapot that has been halfway or more of loose tea leaves. The teapot is warmed first by filling it with hot water and then draining it. The tealeaves are then placed into the warmed teapot. The teapot is then filled with water heated to the correct temperature for that tea and it then immediately drained to rinse the leaves. Skip the rinsing if you are brewing a Green tea. The teapot is then filled again and it is allowed to steep for the proper amount of time. Oolongs are steeped for about 1 minute; Green teas are steeped for 2-3 minutes and Blacks for about three minutes. Then immediately drain into a serving teapot or vessel. Some methods use two sets of cups: the tea is poured into the first cup and then poured from that cup into the second cup. One then smells the aroma left behind in the first cup, and drinks from the second cup. Subsequent steepings should use the same water temperature but longer steeping times, usually at least an additional half-minute. The first infusion will have the best aroma but the second infusion will have more flavor than the first. Some teas can be infused as many as five times. You will need to experiment to find out what the number is for you favorite teas. Since this method requires a large amount of tea and several small cups (typically four), it is best done for a group of tea lovers.
The Guywan (also spelled Gaiwan; also called "Chung") is a simple but elegant system used in China to brew green and oolong teas. A Guywan is a covered Chinese cup. It consists of a straight-sided porcelain cup (without a handle), a lid, and a saucer. It can be used like a teapot to brew tea, which is then decanted to a cup; or one can infuse the tea and then drink directly from the guywan. The lid is used to strain out the leaves and keep the tea warm. First the cup is to rinse the cup with hot water which purifies the cup and warms it in preparation for brewing. The hot water should be poured from the guywan into the serving pitcher and then into the cups to warm them and then be discarded. Immediately place your tealeaves into the guywan while it is still warm. Teas with tightly rolled leaves or Puerh teas are usually flushed or rinsed with hot water to ready them for brewing. If the tea does not need rinsing then just a few drops of hot water are added to release the aroma of the tea. After the tea has either been rinsed or the aroma released you can then add your water for steeping. Follow the time and temperature rules above to guide you. When the tea is ready the guywan should be covered and drained into a serving vessel and then served. You may resteep your leaves until the flavor diminishes.
You now have been taught the fine points of brewing tea. I hope that you have figured out that it is not complicated and is actually quite simple. Just remember what you have read and check the package your tea came in for suggestions and you will be on your way to the perfect cup of tea.
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