After a fairly shaky start to the day, Arthur’s mind was beginning to reassemble itself from the shell-shocked fragments the previous day had left him with. He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.Douglas Adams
Today I decided to brew a good Da Hong Pao in a large tea mug for the first time. I put about 3 grams of leaves into a cup and added boiling water. The result was unexpectedly disappointing.
Sipping the unpleasant drink, I was thinking about the terrible experience that most new tea drinkers could have buying even the best tea but preparing it in a suboptimal way.
I decided to start a series of posts about the art of tea. Or, snobbery aside, about the way to make tea taste better. I will start with a description of the main idea.
The right brewing process is intended to highlight the best features of a specific tea and hide its downsides.
According to the Western tradition a teaspoon of tea should be placed into a large teapot, flooded with water and steeped for 3-5 minutes. After this sugar and/or milk could be added to make this tea drinkable.
This approach is great with lower grade tea that can be found on a supermarket shelf. Unfortunately it will not give a satisfactory result with better tea.
It may be obvious but water quality is a very important factor. Use the best available water. Tap water can be good in some areas but often it’s best to use a filter. Please consider the environment before buying bottled water.
Making a cup of perfect tea you should look for the following:
A high tea leaf to water ratio
For pu-erh I recommend to use around 5 grams of tea in a 100-150 ml teapot, gaiwan or other vessel.
Tea will taste much better when brewed multiple times with low amounts of water than one time with large.
You can have great results brewing 5 grams of pu-erh 10 times using 100 ml of water each time. But with a single 1 litre infusion the result will be much less satisfying.
Black tea, dark oolongs and pu-erh are usually brewed with boiling water.
With a strong kind of tea, for example a young pu-erh, the first infusion could be as short as 10 seconds. The time should usually be increased with each infusion to keep the taste consistent.
A thermos could be very handy in this process but a regular kettle will work as well.
Awakening the tea
Pu-erh tea as well as some oolongs is usually rinsed with boiling water before making the first steep. Pour a bit of hot water over the tea leaf in a teapot and immediately pour it out. It will help the tightly compressed tea to open and will improve the taste of the first steep.
I will return to this topic soon with a detailed description of different ways of brewing tea at home, in the office or in the field during a hiking trip.