Many people are turned off from the idea of brewing loose leaf tea because of the perceived difficulty. Actually, brewing loose leaf tea- even traditional Chinese gongfu brewing is simpler than you think.
It does however, require a bit of effort and some simple knowledge.
Distilled to its essence, brewing tea is placing tea leaves in a brewing vessel and adding hot water, after infusing for a certain time period, the liquid takes on the flavor and fragrance characteristics of the leaf and can be decanted and consumed.
Hence, when it comes to brewing tea, the main ‘parameters’ are how much tea leaf to add, how long to infuse and temperature of the water used to infuse the leaves. These will vary from tea to tea.
There are literally thousands of varieties of tea and they can be broadly classified as 6 categories, namely green, white, yellow, oolong, black and dark (or post-fermented) teas.
It depends largely on personal preferences but here’s a starting guide for your experiments:
Quantity (per 100 ml)
30 sec -1 min
30 sec -1 min
Naturally this would differ based on the specific tea in question and the preference of the drinker.
The main types of brewing vessels are some variations of a teapot, gaiwan (covered cup) or a mug.
Some of the most expensive teapots are Yixing pots, so named after the county in Jiangsu Province, China where the clay used to produce it comes from. It is favored for its heat retention and porous nature which retains the flavor of tea brewed in it.
Hence a well-seasoned Yixing pot will ‘flavor’ the tea brewed in it but by the same token, you should only use one Yixing pot for each type of tea.
Another popular brewing vessel is the humble gaiwan which literally means ‘covered cup’ in Chinese. It is versatile and can be used to brew anything type of tea, can be washed easily and is great for testing new teas as it brings out the full flavor of the tea without modifying it, unlike Yixing pots.
A mug is also a ubiquitous sight, especially among travel drinkers since most people already own a mug for other hot beverages. To prevent the leaves from seeping out, it is often contained in a tea ball or equivalent.
6 Basic Steps to Brewing Tea
No matter which school or tradition you subscribe to, the basic steps in brewing tea are:
1. Warm the pot
2. Add tea leaves
3. Add hot water and pour out- this is known as rinsing and takes place when brewing oolong tea and dark teas
4. Add hot water
5. Steep for the recommended infusion time
6. Pour out and serve the tea
In ceremonial brewing, there may be some additional steps added- for example lighting of incense, acknowledgement of guest, introduction of tea and so on- but the fundamentals remains the same.
Below is a slideshow that displays Gongfu brewing using a clay teapot:
The act of brewing tea isn’t that hard after all and the slower, deliberate motions can help the brewer calm down and relax, something that we city-dwellers could always use!
Notes to slideshow:
i) The initial brew is poured over the pot and help with the heat retention. For Yixing pots, the tea oils will be absorbed by the clay and enhance the shine of the pot
ii) The last drops in the pot are the most concentrated and considered the essence of the tea, hence they are distributed fairly among the guests
iii) Pour the cups in an anti-clockwise direction to signify welcoming the guest and the host will always pour her own cup last in Chinese tea etiquette
About Guest Blogger:
Derek Chew owns and operates Peony Tea S. – an online tea shop based in Singapore.