One would think the proper method to brew green tea would be a simple technique. What’s there to know? There are only two ingredients, hot water and tea leaves. Combine the two. When the water changes color, hey baby, it’s a nice cup of tea. Wrong, think again. Disappointing results range from tasteless to a pot of tea bitter enough to shrivel your tongue in sixty seconds or less.
Not to worry my friends, help is at hand. Green tea is an elusive fickle maiden. However, a wee dosage of attention will charm her and thus insure a delightful tea experience every time. So let’s break the process down.
This is an easy one to remember. Odd or bad tasting water produces odd or bad tasting tea.
In ancient times the tea scholar, Lu Yu, recommended the best water was from the center of a swiftly moving mountain stream. Obviously a Plan B is in order for most of us.
If your tap water is suspect, a simple water filter will often work.
If not, use bottled water.
Do not use bottled mineral water, it’s too hard.
Do not use bottled distilled water, it’s too soft.
Do use quality bottled spring water, it’s just right.
Are you reminded of Goldilocks in the Three Bears story checking for just the right bed?
Fresh water is best. During the boiling process water loses its oxygen content and the flavor of the tea is diminished.
TEMPERATURE TEMPERATURE TEMPERATURE
Temperature is mentioned three times, because it’s such a critical factor in producing a quality cup of green tea. If the water is too hot, bingo, bitter tea. Green tea brewing temperatures are lower than other teas in order to bring out its complex flavors. However if the water is too cold, the full flavor of the tea leaf will not be extracted. Bummer.
The overall flavor and sweetness of green tea is determined by a combination of its natural sugars and amino acids. These factors are dependent on the growing conditions the tea plant experienced during any single year and vary according to variety and growing location. For example Japanese green teas which are processed only by steaming require lower temperatures than other green teas. On the other hand scented or rolled/shaped teas like Jasmine Pearls are brewed at a slightly higher temperature.
So what is the best overall temperature? This isn’t as easy to determine as choosing the right water. The average temperature fluctuates between 160 degrees F and 185 degrees F.
The best way to determine the temperature is with a thermometer. Imagine that, a normal answer. There are some wonderful kettles on the market which have built in thermometers. However, if you are ‘thermometerless’, there are two alternate methods:
1) Bring the water to a boil and then let it cool down for 5 minutes or
2) Watch for tiny preboil bubbles to appear.
Method 2 is preferred. Remember what was learned in the water section, boiling removes the oxygen in the water which decreases the flavor.
The steeping time depends on your individual preference and taste buds. On average 2 minutes is the choice. For those desiring a stronger cup of tea, 3 to 4 minutes is recommended.
The lower the temperature, the longer the tea can steep. For multiple infusion teas after the first infusion the steeping time is shorter. Once the leaf is unfurled, more surface is available for flavor extraction.
Green teas multi layered flavors are delicate. Many tea drinkers reserve a pot exclusively for green teas to avoid residue contamination from tannins left from the stronger black teas. If you heat the water in a kettle and serve the tea in a second pot, it is recommended to pre warm the serving pot.
Tea pots are made from a variety of materials such as pottery, porcelain and metal. Only plastic and aluminum is to be avoided. Has anyone seen a plastic teapot except in a child’s dish set? Well if you find one, don’t use it for brewing tea.
Don’t be daunted by the do’s and don’ts. Green tea is worth it. In a short time brewing will become effortless.
Here’s the bottom line: The basic guidelines have been presented, but it’s your call to experiment. This is one of the extraordinary aspects of tea brewing, the ability to individualize even a single cup to tantalize you and only you. What a lovely way to be reminded how uniquely special we each are.