How to Brew Chinese Teas

People often ask for a simple way to brew loose-leaf tea, but the answer is more complicated than most bargain for. Tea infusion is an art form that can’t be so easily directed. People want directions, however, which is why we offer a rough guide to brewing on the package. But everyone’s taste is different, as you know, so those directions were made to be broken.

Simply put, use only a small pinch of tea, don’t use boiling hot water, and steep it for a short 15-30 seconds for the first infusion. You can reuse any of our teas at least 3 times like this, but usually 6-7 times. If a short steep in cooler water isn’t strong enough, then try a slightly longer steep in slightly hotter water.

DO NOT DO A 3-5 MINUTE STEEP IN BOILING HOT WATER! You’ll get all the caffeine, antioxidants, and amino acids at once, and you’ll probably be knocked off your feet!

And a good trick to avoid caffeine is to make two or three infusions in the morning, to wake up, and then save your wet leaves to make a now naturally decaffeinated evening tea.

Pure, fresh, authentic, loose-leaf Chinese tea brewing can be difficult for newcomers to get right. It’s not your fault – nobody knows how to do it at first! Because our teas are fresh, authentic and stored correctly, they are more potent than what most Americans have ever tried before. We’re also talking about Americans who drink loose-leaf teas regularly. They just don’t have access to the pure stuff. The teas you typically find in the U.S. are quite old by the time they reach the consumer, and much of the time they have not been properly stored. You see, tea is very susceptible to changes in its environment. We’re not just talking about live tea trees up in the misty mountains of far-off China. We’re talking about the final product you put in your cup! Even the elevation at which tea grows effects the final flavor! A high-mountain tea has a finer flavor and can often withstand a casual steep without turning bitter, but a low-mountain tea will have to be more carefully infused to ensure a pleasant taste. Tea is protean on every level, meaning it easily changes based on what’s happening around it. That’s why there are so many varieties of tea, and that’s why proper infusion is so very important.

Everyone is different in their tastes, likes, and dislikes. A diplomat to China might get the chance to try a $10,000 cup of masterfully-infused oolong and think it tastes like a nine-volt battery. He might be perfectly happy with a weak bottom-of-the-barrel Dragon Well, but now he’ll never get the chance because he drank a battery and had to smile while doing so. The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy tea. But you have to avoid bad first impressions of different teas and keep experimenting until you find what you love. And you will find something you love!

It is crucially important for you to experiment with every tea you buy to be sure you don’t judge it unfairly. As we’ve said, tea changes drastically based on what’s happening around it. That’s why we always suggest people start slowly. Take it easy. Learn to crawl before you learn to walk. Often our customers will simply grab a handful of our ultra-fresh Chinese tea and stuff their infuser full, adding scolding hot water, and letting it steep for five minutes. Does this sound familiar? If so, you probably didn’t have a nice experience. First impressions are everything! And you don’t want to give yourself a bad first impression of something that’s so good, and so good for you!

First, only use a small amount of tea in the beginning. Start with half to a quarter of what you think is the right amount. Depending on the fluffiness of the tea and the amount of water you’re trying to infuse, this should be a teaspoon to a couple of tablespoons. For the average cup of tea and the average first-time loose-leaf tea drinker, we recommend three grams. Chinese use five to eight grams, but they have the experience to like it strong. After you try a small amount and determine you need more of a punch in the mouth, then by all means, up the amount.

Second, don’t use boiling hot water. You need hot water to get the flavor and antioxidants to be released out of the tea, but if you blast a fresh tea with scolding hot water, you’re going to release it all at once, and that’s a tough medicine to swallow! Instead, take the top off the kettle and let it cool down for a few minutes. If you try a cooler tea and decide you like a bitter drink that melts the roof of your mouth off, then it’s your call.

Third, only steep it for seconds at a time. That’s right, only let the tea sit in the hot water for 15-30 seconds. Flavorless teas that were grown in massive, sun-drenched, dry, chemical-filled fields in unknown parts of the world need to steeped for three to five minutes. But pure Chinese teas require seconds to get the proper infusion. A good Chinese tea should keep its flavor for at least three infusions, so don’t throw out your tea out after the first! Keep using the same leaves throughout the day, until they loose their flavor. That way you’ll get your money’s worth and you’ll be sure to get all the antioxidants out of the leaves. If you find a short steep doesn’t get you the medicine-like flavor you expect from a healthy drink, then leave it steeping until your water turns the same color as the leaves.

If you like a hot tea but not the bitterness, then use less tea with hotter water, and don’t drink the bottom. If you like a strong bitter flavor but a cooler temperature, use slightly more tea but with boiling hot water, and then let it cool off before drinking. If you like a strong tea flavor without the bitterness, then use a lot more tea and steep it for only a few seconds. You get the picture? It takes experimentation, but that’s the fun of pure, fresh, loose-leaf Chinese teas! It’s a hobby unto itself. And once you discover what you like, it’ll be like clockwork for you to brew it beautifully.

If you still want to know the “proper” way, watch Xianna performing the Kung Fu Tea Ceremony:
 

 

Here’s a close-up of her hometown style:
 

The Kung Fu Tea Ceremony isn’t for everyone, but careful experimentation should be. Tea continues to change long after it’s been picked and processed. That’s why old pu’er cakes are so valuable, because they improve with age. Since most teas you can buy in the U.S. have been improperly stored, you have no idea what to expect from the flavor. If a green tea was left out in the heat and humidity, it will loose its flavor pretty quickly and only be good for one or two infusions, and you’ll have to use a lot of it to get some real flavor. If a black tea is stored next to your perfume collection, it will taste just like Channel No.5 when you go to brew it. Tea, at every stage, has the ability to soak up the essences around it, and green teas are the most susceptible to change.

Here are some simple storage rules to follow:

Store green and white teas in sealed containers in the fridge if it’s going to take you more than a month to finish them. They are the closest thing to fresh leaves, so they are almost like fresh vegetables. Regardless of where you put your bag, always seal a green tea. The same goes for oolong teas that are on the green side of the spectrum, like Iron Goddess (Tieguanyin).

Loose-leaf black, dark, and dark oolong teas don’t need to be kept cold, but they need to be stored in a cool and dry place. The best way to do that is to seal them and keep them away from sunlight.

Pressed caked and bricked teas don’t need to be sealed, as they were compressed during processing to allow slow aging over time in a low-oxygen environment. Do keep them away from extreme humidity, strong scents, burning oils, and anything else that could seep into tea and destroy its integrity.

Good luck with your experimentation! We hope you enjoy your new hobby and all the fun and health benefits that come with it!

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*No purchases December-January for our China trip*