How To Make a Good Cup of Tea
A good cup of tea is not only about buying random leaves, hoping that they will do all the magic for us even if we throw them into a plastic bottle picked in some cheap second-hand shop and after pouring could water onto them they will perform a perfect sensational experience.
Tea is a living plant, that still continues to perform cell respiration even after its leaves have been plucked from its tree. Drinking whole-leaf tea is therefore not the same as buying a bottle of beer in a neighboring store.
- Choosing the Right Tea
Although we are mostly used to simply drink cold beverages when feeling hot and warm ones when feeling cold, the Chinese people (who are thought to be inventors of tea culture) don´t consider water temperature to be the sole indicator of what is “cold” or “warm” for our body.
They divide tea into “cold types” and “warm types”, cold types being non-oxidated or only slightly oxidated types of tea (such as green tea, yellow tea, white tea or less oxidated oolong tea), warm types being more oxidated types of tea (such as oolong tea, black tea or dark tea). Therefore it is good to consider drinking cold type tea during hot summer days and save our puerh tea for long winter evenings. Another factor for choosing the right tea for us might be also our body type according to the Chinese medicine. If you feel like wearing your summer shorts until your legs get covered in snow, then it might be a good idea to focus more on cold type teas, to cool yourself down a bit. If you put four layers under your winter coat and still freeze in the middle of spring, than you might appreciate some warm type teas. However, nothing of course can be better than the magic spur of the moment, when you get the unavoidable urge to taste the juicy fruit flavor of your favorite black tea in the mid-summer day and have fun watching your friends uncomfortably sweating with no understanding what is so special about the tea you made them drink with you.
- Choosing the Right Tea Ware
If we get some good tea in our hands (which is not so easy as one would think), we should remember wise words of ancient Chinese poets: “骏马配好鞍，美器配佳茗，佳人配才子” which means “Spirited horse is equipped with a good saddle, good tea is equipped with a beautiful vessel, and talented man is equipped with a beautiful woman”.
If we ignore certain old-fashioned features of this famous old Chinese saying, we can realize how much importance the Chinese people put towards choosing a good tea ware (equally or maybe even more than choosing a good wife!).
When choosing your spouse there are only few general rules you can abide, and you must solely depend on your sober judgment, or just blindly follow your heart, hoping that its something slightly more than just an intriguing result of your previous experiences. Choosing the right tea ware (as well as buying a good tea) of course also depends in a certain degree on your previous experiences and therefore on your intuitive feelings, however there are also some general rules which you can take into account.
There are three basic types of traditional tea ware:
Glass ware, porcelain ware and ceramic ware (and also less commonly used metal, bamboo and lacquer ware).
Each type of tea ware has its own properties according to the material it is made of. Glass ware is transparent and a good heat conductor. Ceramics has high permeability and can absorb the fragrance of the tea (a good ceramic pot should after some time of usage get a certain puerh taste even when being poured only hot water). Porcelain stands in the middle of those two, it can preserve fragrance and color of the tea, as well as temperature of the water, very well.
So how do we decide which kind of tea should we put in which kind of tea ware? Generally speaking we should consider mainly three aspects: tenderness and fragrance of the leaves and the occasion of your tea time.
Porcelain ware is a good choice if you are not sure, since it basically can´t spoil any kind of tea, but you cannot observe your tea leaves, the water gets cold faster than in porcelain etc.
Glass ware has the obvious advantage of tea leaves observation and good heat conduction, so you can be sure that the water temperature you pour in will not be influenced too much by the vessel. However it gets cold quite fast, and it doesn’t preserve the color and fragrance of the tea so long. It’s therefore perfect for green tea, where the shape and tenderness of the leaves are one of the major quality factors, but mostly not so good for other tea especially for the type which can be brewed many times.
Ceramic ware is mostly not ideal for green tea and light-oxidated tea, it is however perfect for heavy-oxidated oolong tea and dark tea, since it preserves heat very well, it is permeable so it can absorb fragrance and make it stronger and more concentrated. Its is advisable to use one ceramic pot for only one kind of tea.
- Choosing the Right Water
“茶从离开茶树那一刻起，就期待着与水相逢 ; 水唤醒茶，茶成就水 ; 水包容茶，茶激荡水 ; 茶因水而重生，水因茶而丰润。
From the moment when the tea leaves the tea tree, it looks forward to meeting the water; water wakes the tea and tea fulfills the water; water contains tea and tea stirs water; tea regenerates from water and water finds richness in tea.”
Tea and water are very closely interconnected, therefore the final taste of our tea depends heavily on what kind of water does our tea meet. Generally speaking we prefer to use soft water over hard water and spring water over tap water.
The relationship of tea and water is often the same as our relationship with friends, or partners. Sometimes we are sad, full of our personal dramas, feeling that no one can understand us, yet longing for understanding and compassion. In this mood, we meet our friend or partner, hoping that they would pay our sorrows undisturbed attention, but they often end up talking about meaningless events they encountered that day, and even when you get to say what you feel, they often end up forcing their advice about how you should have behaved or how you should solve the problem, instead of simply letting you figure it out yourself (and actually you mostly know what you should do, yet just lack the courage). Water and tea are the same. If water itself has too much content in itself, forcing it on our precious tea, making it unable to fully open itself to us, we can never enjoy the tea as it truly is, in its original form. Only water that is soft and understanding, will let go of forcing itself upon the tea and kindly lets it flourish in its full potential.
The world today therefore needs especially softness and kindness, as much as tea lovers need good water in order to enjoy tea in its most genuine expression.
- Choosing the Right Amount of Tea
Most of the things in life can serve their purpose only when being in proper amount, otherwise even the greatest thing can turn into a catastrophe. When we stuff ourselves with our favorite food, we start to hate it, when you work to hard, you get stressed, if you work not enough hard you get anxious, if the global temperature rose only 2 degrees, the sea would probably kill us all. Therefore we can conclude, that amount plays the key role in most of what we do. Tea is of course no exception and it teaches us the importance of finding the right balance in all the aspects for achieving what we hoped for.
In terms of how much tea leaves we should use for making the best tea, there is a commonly used ratio of 1:50, which means 1 gram of tea for every 50 ml of water (except oolong tea and pressed tea – mostly dark tea, where we use approximately 1:30 ratio), for green tea, some yellow tea or tender white tea, we can even use a ratio of 1:60.
However, each tea is an original individuality and although it can be categorized into one of the six tea kinds, it doesn’t have always all the typical characteristics of the concrete category, since it is influenced by too many variables such as season, processing etc. For this reason the most important rule in choosing the amount of tea is “看茶泡茶 – make tea according to tea“. Its good to experiment with every tea a bit to find the ideal ratio and also adjust it to personal preferences (some people like stronger tea, some people prefer mild tea).
- Choosing the Right Water Temperature
When preparing tea bags, we mostly just simply boil hot water, which we mindlessly pour onto the tea bag, expecting nothing more or nothing less than usual. Whole-leaf tea however, is different, we must treat it carefully, so that we don’t spoil the whole complicated process of tea growing, tea plucking, tea processing, tea storage or transportation, during which the tea can easily go wrong. How stupid does it sound to waste all of the effort just with one little thing such as pouring too hot or too cold water on our little precious?
But the same as in choosing the amount of tea, there are also only some general rules, which must be adjusted to every individual tea. Generally speaking the more tender and fragile our tea leaves are, the more tender should we behave towards them and so choose water with lower temperature. The more coarse and strong our tea is, the stronger stimulus should we give it, so it can open itself up for us, which means using water with higher temperatures. Consequently – for most green tea, yellow tea or tender white tea we should use water temperature around 80 – 85 degrees, for black tea and coarser white tea around 90 – 95 degrees and for oolong tea and dark tea we must mercilessly use boiling water.
- Choosing the Right Time to Infuse the Tea Liquor
To express appreciation for being able to taste a delicious tea, we should be very mindful about the whole tea making process and don’t get distracted my our surroundings. You shouldn’t allow anyone to steal your moment with your precious tea.
If you drink from a glass cup or from a thermos mug, you don’t have to separate the leaves from the water, but if you make gongfucha with gaiwan or ceramic pot, you must decant the tea liquor into the so called gongdaobei (from which you pour the liquor into your and other peoples cup), so that the tea liquor gets the right balanced taste. In order to get the perfect taste, you should allow the tea leaves to get into contact with the water, but on the other hand not allow them to mingle for too long.
Each tea is different, was differently processed and that means that it is more or less willing to share its inner juice (its inner content) with the water. Generally speaking, the more processed the tea was, the more friendly it gets with the water so we don’t have to wait too long before decanting the liquor. The less processed the tea, the more wild and unfriendly it gets towards the water and we must wait longer for them to exchange content. Another factor is also the order of the brews. When you meet someone for the first time, you will probably exchange a lot of basic information quite quickly, but after a few encounters you have already gained most of the basic information about the other person, and your conversations get probably longer, with less information. Tea and water are the same, so with every next brew, we must prolong the waiting time for decanting the liquor.
The first decanting is mostly between 5-20 seconds, so basically almost immediately. Generally, oolong tea is the friendliest form all the lot, needing only 5 seconds, followed by black tea, which needs 5-7 seconds and dark tea, which needs 7 seconds. Green and yellow tea are slightly more shy with 10-20 seconds and the total introvert between teas is the white tea, which needs 20 or even more seconds before it is willing to share its content with you.
Special case is tea made from ancient or old tea trees. Old leaves have quite a strong layer of outer cells, and therefore need generally also longer infusion time, than their cultivar equivalent.
It is however pointless to count the exact time, since drinking tea should be an enjoyable experience not a quest for perfection, so it is enough to get the general idea. With each other brew just add some additional time, till you feel that the tea lost its taste (or till your boss calls you to go to the meeting).
Different tea has different amount of content and therefore some can be brewed many times some only few times. It is the same as with meeting people, if you meet someone interesting, who has experienced a lot, you can have a long fruitful conversation, on the other hand generally tea which is young and less experienced maybe wont be able to talk to you for so long (although the conversation might be more light and refreshing). Generally speaking, the younger the tea tree is or the less oxidated the tea was, the less infusions are possible. A green tea generally only can be brewed around 5 times, whereas a puerh tea from an ancient tea tree can be brewed even more than 20 times (it depends also on the size of your tea ware, time of each brew, personal taste etc.).
- Choosing the Right Company and Occasion
Tea is a very pleasant plant and its purpose is to bring you joy, peace and enjoyment. It can bring people together, even more than you would think. According to one research, there is a higher probability that you will fall in love with a person while drinking tea, since the amino acids contained in it can raise your brain dopamine level (especially certain green teas). No matter if the research is 100% reliable or not, it is very important that you find an occasion where you can relax and enjoy the tea as much as possible and share the joy with the right people. For this reason, there are even some tea makers in China (rare as they are), who are not willing to sell their precious tea to people who want to use it for business purposes or who just want to look cultured and high-class having no real appreciation towards this fine liquor and will rather give it for free to those who can treat it with joy and respect.
- Choosing the Right Storage
If you just occasionally buy a bit of tea and drink it within a short period of time, you don’t have to worry much about its storage. However, when you really fall in love with tea (and that happens faster than you would think), you can sometimes just find yourself buying madly every interesting tea you encounter, till you realize that you are not able to drink it in a short time. As always there are some things you should keep in mind: avoid humid places, strong sunshine, direct air contact and smells (since tea can absorb smells very easily) and for green tea especially, we should try to drink it as fast as possible, since it looses its freshness quite easily (mostly within one year).
There is of course much more connected to making a cup of good tea, however to keep in mind the above mentioned aspects is more than sufficient for regular consumption and if you keep a positive and respectful attitude, you will surely enjoy even a bad stored, overly brewed cheap tea in a plastic bottle (but please don’t try!).