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How I brew my teas

(a page for Andi)

I am not a tea master, barely a tea apprentice.  But I do have a friend who is trying to figure out why the tea I brew is better than when he brews the same stuff.  I tend to brew with a lower leaf-to-water ratio and cooler water than many people because of my bitter-phobic taste buds.  I am gradually learning to tolerate hotter-brewed teas, especially if I keep infusions shorter, however, so everything here is subject to change!  Nevertheless, here are som general guidelines about how I do it, together with some links for other opinions.

I bought a quick-read digital themometer and a small digital scale and measured my teapots to about 10mL of accuracy to get a better handle on what I was doing.   The thermometer is more important than the scale, because brewing temps critically affect bitterness of the resulting brew.  That bitterness was a huge stumbling block for me in learning to enjoy green teas, and I hated them until I got a thermometer and started using it.  I've since invested in some Pino digital kettles, which bring the tea to the temperature I set, and love them.  

I don't use a scale every time I brew a pot of tea, but do use one every time I prepare a tasting note on a new tea, or start out with a tea I haven't tried before.  Teaspoon measurements just aren't very helpful when the density of teas varies so much:  each of these little piles of leaves are 1 gram.  Starting out with the right quantity of leaf just makes the learning curve a lot easier with a new tea.

Piles of Tea

The size of the pot you use matters less than the proportion of tea leaves to water, but even if you get it 'wrong'--the tea is too strong for your tastes--don't despair.  You can improve many an infusion that is too strong (too mcuh leaf or too long an infusion) by diluting it with more hot water, or a thin first infusion may be improved by combining it with a second longer/hotter infusion.  You can imp

At home, I'm generally infusing and drinking the tea right away, but at work I brew to fill a quart thermos that I take with me to clinic and meetings, to drink and to share, and for that I scale up to the 'bulk' brewing with a larger teapot, fewer longer infusions, until I get a quart of tea.  Bulk brewing notes are appended down here.

Sencha--japanese green tea--for this one, I still get out the scale, as I'm not very accurate at eyeballing the quantities with my tea scoop--the weight scoop to scoop is quite variable even for a single batch of the same tea.  
I haven't tried to scale this one up for 'bulk' brewing because the qualities that make it delicious--the fresh green vegetable flavors and the sweetness--go off when the tea is held for more than a few minutes before drinking.  
I prefer
about 1 gram per 2 oz/60mL
160°F/70°C water 30"; then same temp, 0-10" second infusion; then back to 30" and same temp or little hotter (up to 10°F/5°C hotter per additional infusion especially for 3rd and later infusions)
3-4 infusions from one batch of leaves

I brewed Gyokuro the same way, but wouldn't try to get more than 2 infusions from the leaves.  

Dragonwell, Bi Lo Chun, Jasmine pearls--chinese green teas--Huang Ya, chinese yellow tea--and Silver Needle, chinese white tea--I get out the thermometer pretty much every time but less often use the scale.  I sometimes 'bulk' brew the Jasmine pearls but like the japanese greens, the best qualities of the dragon well doesn't translate to bulk tea held before drinking.  I like these with
1-2 grams per 2 oz/60mL
160°F/77°C water
30 seconds per infusion, except 2nd infusion is usually quite short
2-8 infusions from one batch of leaves (sometimes going hotter with later infusions, like with Sencha

Yunnan Mao Feng green tea--a more forgiving chinese green tea--this one is more forgiving with both temperature and leaf quantities.  It also holds pretty well in the thermos for a few hours.  I like this with similar proportions to the other greens, but get more infusions out of it
about 1-2 grams per 2 oz/60mL
160°F/77°C-180°F/82°C water
30 seconds to 2 minutes per infusion
4-8 infusions from one batch of leaves

Pouchong and other lightly oxidized greener oolongs (Alishan, Tie Guan Yin or Ti Kuan Yin)--flexible and gorgeous teas, ok with variable leaf-to-water ratios, a variety of temperatures, and though they do lose some sweetness, the warm floral qualities hold up well when brewed in bulk and held in the thermos.  Some can get richer and sweeter with hotter temps, especially the later infusions, but some are touchy and do get bitter, so your oolong may vary:
1-2 grams per 2 oz/60mL
180°F/82°C-205°F/96°F water
30 seconds for first infusion, increasing a little with each additional infusion, over six infusions I might go from 30", 30", 60", 60", 90", 90"
6-12 or more infusions from one batch of leaves (keep going until the flavor is gone)

Wuyi and other more oxidized brown oolongs--darker, toastier teas tolerate higher temperatures, but otherwise I use about the same brewing conditions as the lighter oolongs.  Some of these do wonderfully well in 'bulk' and when held in the thermos; their sweeter/fruitier qualities seem to come out more when they sit longer before drinking, although the spicier notes do get muted.
1-2 grams per 2 oz/60mL
180°F/82°C-195°F/90°F water
10 second rinse first (discard); 30 seconds for first infusion, increasing a little with each additional infusion, over six infusions I might go from 30", 30", 60", 60", 90", 90"
6-10 or more infusions from one batch of leaves (keep going until the flavor is gone)

Pheonix Mountain/Dan Cong Oolongs--some stronger and less refined flavors in these can make brewing trickier, but they have amazing flavors to give.  They're quite expensive, but give so many infusions for a given quantity of leaf that you're still not paying much per quantity of finished tea.  Their amazing (and expensive) flavors are lost in the thermos when bulk brewed, so I gave up after just one or two experiments.
1-2 grams per 1 1/2 oz/50mL
180°F/82°C-205°F/96°F water
10 second rinse first (discard); 30 seconds for first infusion, increasing a little with each additional infusion
15-20 infusions or more; more infusions from the higher leaf-to-water ratio (can even let the leaves sit overnight in the pot and wake them up with a quick hot rinse in the morning, then keep brewing)

Puerhs--these teas tolerate higher temperatures, mostly, but they're really quite variable and some need very particular attention to bring out their best qualities, particularly the young sheng (raw) pus.  Most of these do wonderfully well in 'bulk' and held in the thermos.
1-2 grams per 2 oz/60mL
195°F/90°C-205°F/96°F water
10-20 second rinse first (discard); 10-15 seconds for first infusion, increasing a little with each additional infusion, over six infusions I might go from 10", 10", 20", 20", 30", 30", and by the time I'm up to 12 infusions, 60-90 seconds per, or more
12-20 or more infusions from one batch of leaves (keep going until the flavor is gone)

Bulk brewing for a thermos, for tea to be held for several hours before drinking:  
the key for me is to use about the same amount of leaf as I would use to get that total quantity of tea  if I were brewing it in the usual way.  For example, for my favorite yunnan gold black tea, I might use 5 grams of leaf for two infusions in my 6 oz pot to fill a 12 oz mug.  To fill my 1 quart (32 oz) thermos, I might use the same quantity of loose puerh leaves that I would use in my 2.5 oz gaiwans, where I'd reinfuse the same leaves a dozen or more times.  

I have enjoyed lovely sessions with white, green, oolong, black, and puerh teas in the thermos, but avoid white and green teas when they will be held for a long time (e.g., when brewing early AM for tea that might not be finished until 5 or 6 pm, in that office where no one shares my tea).

I do not use my fancy Dan Congs from Tea Habitat or the best Wuyi teas (the variety of spicy flavors demonstrated in gongfu brewing seem to be dulled and merged into blandness), and the high notes of fancy Anji white teas and the best silver needle are also compromised; but almost anything else is fair game. The stunning sweetness of the first infusions of really fine green oolongs also fade rather quickly, but they still are delicious and I do use them often despite it.

Many good but not absolutely top-tier teas will do just fine and you won't notice the difference in this application: the SeaDyke brand Ti Kuan Yin, a medium grade Da Hong Pao, or a basic Phoenix oolong from Wing Hop Fung are tasty from the first to the last of the thermos.

Favorites? Most shu puerhs and black teas hold excellently; many sheng puerhs do remarkably well.  I've had a number of excellent sessions with the Yunnan Mao Feng green tea from Norbu; all of the green oolongs I've tried have been good, and most have been very good. Houjicha is wonderful, but I haven't tried any other japanese teas; sencha seems to diminish if it just sits in the cup more than 5 minutes before I drink it, so it seemed a waste to try this for the thermos.

Other sites with brewing instructions:

For Japanese green teas, check out the excellent and detailed general brewing instructions from Denstea.com

Norbutea.com suggestions for chinese teas, covering greens, whites, oolongs and puerhs

Tea Habitat instructions for Phoenix Dan Cong teas

And I learned a lot from these books:

The Story of Tea by Heiss & Heiss and The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea

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