After you have poured yourself (or your guest) a cup of tea, you take your first sip and it tastes terrible! Your guest grimaces but is too polite to say anything. He doesn’t need to. The fact that he is not drinking the tea despite perspiring profusely in this sweltering heat speaks volumes.
Why did it turn out that way?
Below are the general reasons, for the specifics really it depends on the tea type and the combination of water temperature, steeping time and quantity of tea leaves. This just serves as a guide for you to adjust.
1) Water Temperature
If you are brewing green tea and yellow tea especially, the propensity to scald your tea leaves with water that is too hot is pretty high.
Ideal water temperature for green tea is 75-85 C and around 70 C for yellow tea. If you did not let the water cool sufficiently, the tea will wind up bitter and astringent.
If you don’t have a thermometer for this range or a variable temperature kettle, one way is to boil the water and leave it to cool.
As for how long, I usually don’t like timers, I wait until there is no steam rising from the water, that is a decent gauge for green tea at least.
2) Steeped too long
If you let your tea leaves steep too long in the water it also turns bitter. Actually, this is also correlated to water temperature as well, if the water is at the high end of the tea’s tolerance, you should not steep as long.
It is a long list of tea types but generally green tea 30 sec to 1 min, black tea 2 min max, oolong 2 min max. Again there are exceptions to this rule, it depends on how much tea leaves you add and the water temperature.
Generally I prefer to err on the side of caution. Too short a steeping time, I can brew again the next round and adjust, too long means the leaves are spoiled and I got to throw it away.
3) Quantity of tea leaves
General rule of thumb I like to practice for my first trial, 1:20 ratio for most teas, 1:50 if the leaves are densely packed, i.e. pu-erh.
Or if you prefer to go by weight, 4-5 g for 200 ml is a usual starting point for me. 3g for green tea.
If the tea tastes too bland, I prefer to add more leaves than steep longer. Usually it works better.
Side note: I tried 10g on my oolong on advice from a friend yesterday and I got a bit tea drunk- my guess is he has been drinking tea for 40 years, his tolerance level is much higher
Linked to heat retention, if you are brewing oolong/pu-erh/black tea, go with yixing or porcelain to retain the heat. Green tea and yellow, preferably glass.
5) Quality of tea leaves
If the first four don’t work, maybe it’s the leave. Touch, smell and look at them. I will blog in detail about this in a later post cause this is a big topic.
Usually adjusting some combination of the first 3 factor usually works.
As I said, personally I choose to err on the side of caution:
i) Lower water temperature
ii) Shorter steeping time
Then I adjust from there.
Hope this helps!