Friday, 11 June 2010

Don't destroy your green tea!

Regularly, I assess how this blog lark is going and have been candid about what is and isn't going well. I've also been rather clear about the weak spots in my knowledge and what I most like to focus on here.

When I imagine who I'm specifically writing to, it's rarely the tea experts whose sites I love to read. I often finish reading one of their posts very aware that they've not only been into tea far longer than I, but have a breadth of knowledge that I can't even aspire to. Not yet anyway. Possibly never.

I want this to be a place where people want to come to find out about tea, but not be made to feel ignorant. Because I've purposely reached out to people new to tea, I get really good questions. Questions that I'm sure others have, but don't want to ask. For whatever reasons.

The one I've heard lately has to do with Oolong, green and white teas. First of all, are these teas an acquired taste? Also, do you prepare these teas similarly to the way you make black tea?

I'll answer the second question first. Black tea needs to be steeped in boiling water. The pot needs to be preheated, so the water temperature doesn't drop dramatically when you pour it into a cold pot. If you do that with green/white tea, you'll destroy it. The taste of the tea will truly suffer. Because these teas are so sensitive, they should be made with water that's not quite boiling.

I use a thermometer and aim for 80° C/175° F when I make any of these non-black teas. Although it's not in any way scientific, a simpler way to do it is to either stop your kettle right before the water boils, or to even pour boiling water into your pot and then half a glass of cold water in on top of it. In my opinion, the most important thing is that the water isn't as drastically hot. The method definitely works in a pinch.

What about steeping times? Everyone figures it out for himself/herself, but you can find good estimates on tea sites. I personally steep most green teas for about 3 1/2 minutes the first time round and then closer to 4-4 1/2 minutes on the second infusion.

And as for the first question: it really depends upon the specific tea whether you have to acquire a taste for it. I think white teas are relatively easy to take to because they're terribly light. As for greens, Asiatic Fox talks about a Chinese word that means 'good bitterness' that's often used in describing a tea's bite. I think if you're not yet used to that 'good bitterness', it might make some of these teas more difficult to stomach.

The wide variety of these teas that are grown in China, Japan and even India (yes even Darjeeling grows lovely greens and Oolongs) makes it possible that were you to hate a specific green tea, you can find limitless other options even from the same region. If your tea-sellers know what you liked or didn't like, I'm sure they'd be happy to find other teas that you will enjoy. As always, I'm happy to make suggestions. It's what I find myself doing more and more.

Schieß los!/Shoot!


  1. I like the new layout!
    And do you make oolongs with water about 175?
    I make mine (usually) with at least 190 or so, even for greener oolongs.
    Do you buy any of your tea online? Or mostly local shops?

  2. The new layout is pretty. o-o

    The only teas I'd say that are an acquired taste are pu'erh and lapsang souchong. And perhaps really strong greens like sencha. Other than that, tea is pretty easy to accept. At least, that's how I see it.

    Ah yes, kuwei, the 'good bitterness'. It's a term I like to use often (kinda stole it from Hobbes of the Half Dipper), because there are many teas that have a bitter element to them, but are not necessarily displeasing. It's an acceptable bitter (or, unless your tongue isn't as discerning, maybe not).


  3. Wow, the new layout is very different. I like it, but it's certainly a change of pace / feeling from the black background!

    I like your advice on brewing here. I frequently encounter people who "can't stand" green tea, but have only ever had it brewed (sometimes by themselves, sometimes by incompetent coffee shops) with boiling water. When they brew it with cooler water, they're shocked at how much they like it!

    If you want to chip in more about brewing instructions, I am continually working on the page on Brewing tea. I'd be grateful if you would let me know if you think it could be improved!