Brewing the Perfect Cup of Tea

You’ve dropped a mini-fortune on hand-painted porcelain teacups. You can recite the provenance and flavor profile of every high-mountain oolong you’re adding to your collection. As soon as your tea arrives in the mail, you set water to boil. You refrain from drinking your tea immediately, instead taking the time to marvel at its translucence, its luster, its resemblance to various semi-precious stones. You sip—no, slurp—it, making copious amounts of noise as you “aerate” the liquid and throw it across your tongue—only to find it tastes like sewer water.

Yeah, we know that feeling, too.

The problem isn’t that your teacups aren’t sufficiently fancy (they are) or that you didn’t aerate the tea enough. (Trust us: if you’re even thinking about aeration, you’re two steps ahead of the game.) Quality of tea aside, the single most important factor in your tea-tasting experience is how you brew it. Brewing is a skill that requires practice, but it’s worth it; even the most exquisite tea will taste like garbage if it’s oversteeped.

Just as some prefer their black teas to their green teas and others their whites to their oolongs, there’s no singular way to prepare tea. We’re not giving you a definitive guide—with experience, you’ll find what works best for you—but we are giving you the basics. Here are five ways to get a better brew from your leaves.

Water Temperature

White

170-175°F

Green

170-175°F

Oolong

195-200°F

Black

200-205°F

Brewing Methods

 

Gaiwan

Gai means “cover” and wan means “bowl,” so the gaiwan is, unimaginatively, a covered bowl. Though originally intended for green and white teas, this versatile item is actually suitable for other tea types as well.

To the bowl, 1 add 3-5 grams of tea and 2 gently pour 150 milliliters (or the capacity of your bowl) of 170°F water down one side, which will cause the leaves to swirl. Cover with the lid and let steep for a minute. To decant, tilt the lid to create a fissure wide enough for the tea, but not the leaves, to slip through. For subsequent brews, pour the water directly over the leaves to flip and 3 disperse them, maximizing the surface area exposed to water.

If you’re brewing oolongs, black teas, or pu-erhs, give the leaves a quick rinse with boiling water. Enjoy the aroma and proceed to pour over boiling water.

gaiwan-method-tea-brewing

 

Gongfu

The gongfu tea ritual is an eighteen-step process steeped in the arcana of Chinese tradition. Luckily for you, we’re offering a “gongfu lite” ritual instead. The basic premise is to brew a lot of leaves in a little water over a series of infusions, revealing more of the tea’s nuances with each one. And hey, if you end up falling in love with gongfu and want to try the full-fledged version, be our guest!

1 If using a rolled tea, generously cover the base of the clay teapot with leaves; otherwise fill 1/3 to 1/2 of the teapot. 2 3 Rinse the tea with boiling water to open up the leaves and warm the pot.

4 5 The literature dictates steeping the tea for 5 seconds for the initial brew, then 3-5 seconds for each subsequent one; however, we suggest the more generous approach of 10 seconds for the first brew, 20 seconds for the second, 30 for the third, and so forth. Decant into a small pitcher and serve in small cups.

Gongfu brewing is not recommended for green tea; clay teapots, with their superior heat retention, are not ideal for the delicate leaves.

gongfu-tea-brewing-method

 

Grandpa Style

“Grandpa style” is the common name for this brewing process, but “screw it, just brew it” might be more fitting. Ironically, the most casual process is the one that most resembles competition-style brewing, in which teas are submitted to multiple steepings to test how well they resist becoming bitter over time.

1 Add 2-3 grams of tea into a tea bowl or large mug and 2 add boiling water—no attention to steep time necessary. As you come to the final quarter of the first brew, refill your vessel with boiling water: pour from a height to stir up the leaves and mix the old tea with the water. If tea leaves float to the surface, blow gently to submerge them. Let steep for a couple minutes, drink, and repeat until all flavor has been extracted.

This method works best for robust teas such as oolongs and blacks, as well as teas with larger leaves, since the leaves sink more readily to the bottom of the vessel.

 

East Meets West

Whereas Asian tea-brewing methods follow a disciplined approach to temperature, time, tea-towater ratio, and choice of vessel, Western methods prioritize large servings and convenience, oftentimes allowing the tea leaves to brew continuously in a teapot as cups are refilled. Can’t decide which method you prefer? Combine a bit of both!

1 Put 3-5 grams of tea in an infuser or steeping basket that rests on the rim of a mug. 2 Add hot water (between 170°F and 205°F, depending on the tea) and let steep for 1-2 minutes. 3 Set aside the infuser, tea leaves and all, until it’s time for a second brew.

 

Cold Brew

Cold brew isn’t just for coffee hipsters anymore. This process yields a much sweeter tea than hot brewing methods. Furthermore, some research claims that adding ice extracts less caffeine and, particularly in the case of white teas, more antioxidants.

To a pitcher or large bottle, 1 add 5 grams of tea for every 2 500 milliliters of drinking water. 3 Let sit at room temperature for 4-6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. A second brew is possible if you allow the tea to steep for twice as long.

Cold-brew tea will keep in the fridge for two days. If left at room temperature, it’s best consumed within 12 hours.