Steeping Times & Temperatures
Like everything else in life, tea is easy to make adequately, but takes practice and a bit of mindfulness to make it perfectly. Many feel daunted by the process, but there are really only a few crucial guidelines to understand and one’s tea experience is then greatly improved!
Think of your green tea as a fresh, nutrient rich vegetable, like spinach. When you steam or blanch your spinach, you certainly want to avoid over cooking into a slimy, yellowed version. Instead, you want a vibrant, flavorful, green vegetable, achieved by not over blanching or steaming. This same idea applies to green tea. To avoid bitterness, you’ll want to use water heated to a lower temperature, around 180F, well below boiling. Use a thermometer for ultimate accuracy, or, once the water has boiled, wait 3-5 minutes before brewing. If you have a moment to pay close attention, wait until a medium steam is rising from your kettle and the water is about to boil, with small bubbles appearing, then turn off the heat. Depending on the green tea, you would want to steep the tea for less than 1 minute usually. If you are using a teapot, be sure to use one made of porcelain, like our ForLife Bell Teapots, or glass, such as our Kinto ‘Cast’ or Eilong ‘Teamaster’ pots, and not cast iron or some kind of metal. Teas never interact well with metal and you’ll end up with bitter astringency, and of course, an unpleasant metallic taste.
With darker teas like oolong or black teas, our cooking analogy continues. Think of these teas as a delicious roast: for best results, you need a nice hot oven and a vessel that retains its heat. With the darker teas, it’s important to use materials like earthenware, porcelain, or best, Yixing ware to keep the heat consistent throughout steeping. You will also need water heated to a much higher temperature than green or white teas, (about 205 F, just under boiling), to get the most flavor out. But beware, just like with roasting, you should not overdo it, or your turkey or steak comes out like leather! If you oversteep your darker teas, the bitterness will be intolerable.
With most oolong or black teas, one minute to 1.5 minutes is more than adequate. For tightly rolled but greenish oolongs, about 1 minute steeping time is sufficient. With darker rolled oolongs, you need about 1.5 minutes. For twist type leaves like Wuyi or Phoenix oolongs, about 45 seconds will do the job. Decant the tea completely after each steep so there is no remaining water in the teapot. Always steep with the lid of the teapot covered so the aroma doesn’t escape, and the heat is retained adequately. You would not bake with your oven door open, but many people have steeped tea in a paper cup without a lid…. But that’s another story, altogether!