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.
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 mineral 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. Please download our PDF to learn more.
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 be 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.