All Things Tea

PREPARING Tea

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 unextraodinary tea satisfying, while brewing a rare, expensive tea incorrectly can lead to a bitter, undrinkable infusion.

Water

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

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.

General Guidelines

The following instructions will allow you to make a good cup of any kind of tea. Also included are suggestions for amount of tea leaves, time of infusion, water temperature, and material of teapot for the general varieties of tea. Of course, there are more detailed instructions for any kind of tea. To find out more on how to prepare a specific kinds of a variety of tea, click on the kind of tea below.

  1. 1. Bring freshly drawn, cold water to a boil in a kettle
  2. 2. When water is at a gentle boil, remove heat.
  3. 3. Pour hot water into teapot and teacups and pour off. By warming the cups in this way, the water temperature will be more consistent.
  4. 4. Add the proper amount of tea leaves per person to the pot.
  5. 5. Allow water to cool to the proper temperature, if necessary, and pour over the tea leaves.
  6. 6. Steep for the proper length of time.
  7. 7. Strain completely into another teapot or directly into the serving cups.
TYPE OF TEAAMOUNTTIME OF INFUSIONTEMPERATUREMATERIAL
WHITE 2-3 tsps 3 minutes 176° - 185° F Glass, porcelain
GREEN
Japanese (Steamed)
Chinese (Pan Fired)
1-2 tsps
2 tsps
1-2 minutes
2-3 minutes
158° - 176° F
176° - 185° F
Glass, earthenware
Glass, porcelain
OOLONG
Light (Green)
Heavy (Dark)
2-3 tsps
2-3 tsps
2-3 minutes
3 minutes
185° - 203° F
203° F
Porcelain, yixing
Yixing
BLACK
Broken Leaf
Full Leaf
1-2 tsps
1-2 tsps
2-3 minutes
3-5 minutes
203° F
203° F
Porcelain
Porcelain
PU-ERH (FERMENTED) 1-2 tsps 3 minutes 212° F Yixing
TISANES/HERBAL 1-2 tsps 3 minutes 212° F Glass, porcelain

Suggestions are made for a 6 oz (20cc) serving.

Grading OF Tea Leaver

In the tea trade, black teas are often graded by the size and quality of the leaf. Below are the general classifications for orthodox black tea, meaning tea that is processed by means based on traditional Chinese processing methods. Orthodox manufacture continues to produce the world's top quality black teas. Keep in mind, however, that these terms are used mainly for teas from India, Sri Lanka, Africa, and Indonesia. The great black teas of China, for instance, are rarely graded along these lines.

As a side note, the other manufacture method gaining prominence is done by machines that basically pulverize the leaves. Known as CTC (Crush-Torn-Curl), this method produces uniform, pellet-like tea leaves, generally used in tea bags. In general, this processing yields higher volumes of tea at the expense of quality.

After the leaves are finally processed, they are sorted according to several specific criteria. First, the size of the leaf is determined: full or broken. Secondly, the quality of leaf is evaluated. Namely, the kind of tea leaves used is determined. The finest leaves are the youngest, while more mature leaves yield a less satisfactory flavor. An important factor is the presence of tips, which indicates that the youngest shoots have been used. And though tips alone do not make a great tea, their presence often foreshadows finer, sweeter notes in the actual infusion. Such teas are often denoted with the term "tippy". By the end of the sorting, the different lots from the production are graded with one of the terms below, which indicate certain basic qualities to brokers and buyers.

FULL LEAF TEAS
OP ORANGE PEKOE

Made from the top two leaves as pekoe and orange pekoe

FOP FLOWERY ORANGE PEKOE

Composed of the terminal bud (tip) and the top two leaves

GFOP GOLDEN FLOWERY ORANGE PEKOE

FOP with golden tips

TGFOP TIPPY GOLDE FLOWERY ORANGE PEKOE

FOP with a high proportion of golden tips

FTGFOP Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

FOP of outstanding quality

STGFOP SPECIAL FINEST TIPPY GOLDEN FLOWERY ORANGE POEKE

The very best FOP

A '1' added to the end will indicate the finest quality within that grade, i.e. FTGFOP1.

BROKEN LEAF TEAS
BOP BROKEN ORANGE PEKOE
FBOP FLOWERY BROKEN ORANGE PEKOE
GBOP GOLDEN BROKEN ORANGE PEKOE
TGBOP TIPPY GOLDE BROKEN ORANGE PEKOE
GFBOP GOLDEN FLOWERY BROKEN ORANGE PEKOE

Included under the broken leaf category are fannings, which is made of extremely fine leaf pieces and makes a very brisk breakfast-style tea, and dust, a lower grade which is used exclusively for
tea bags.

It is important to note that full leaf teas are not necessarily superior to their broken leaf counterparts. Broken leaf tea infuses more quickly into the water, making them more invigorating and, hence, ideal for the morning. Full leaf teas take a longer time to infuseand are often subtler in taste. Also, broken leaf teas also can contain tips, though the grading is not to such an intricate degree.