guide to: brewing loose leaf tea
Tea brewing varies from tea to tea, region to region, culture to culture. In this guide, we’re going back to basics and giving you general tips on how to brew a great tea. We still definitely recommend checking the brewing instructions of the specific tea you’re drinking to get further details/instructions.
Before we get into it, let's get one thing out there. There is no genuinely wrong way to brew tea. We’re big believers of if you like it, you’re succeeding. So, feel free to experiment - extend brew times for a stronger pot or use lower temperatures for softer notes.
Water is Key
We’re all aware that the base of tea is water, so it makes sense to say that the water you use is vital to the tea you make. In an ideal world, we’d all be drinking tea with fresh spring water - but, that’s not always possible. The key is to try to find water that is pH balanced.
When using tap water: Filter your tap water to bring the pH level to around a neutral 7 for the best taste. Something like a Brita filter should do the trick. Too high a pH level will produce bitter tea, and too low a pH level will produce flat tea. We suggest always putting cold water into your filter, as with tap water sometimes the hot water can carry more minerals and residue from the pipes than cold.
When using bottled water: If your tap water isn’t right, choose bottled spring water with a neutral pH level. Mineral water will give you metallic tasting tea (since it’s high in minerals) and entirely distilled water (very low in minerals) will brew a flat tasting tea.
You can have a very different tasting tea just by changing one of the three main variables: temperature, the quantity of tea and steeping time. Variation is fun for experimentation, but can also get confusing. We recommend checking the exact instructions on your tea, as each tea has its optimal ratio.
The Rinse Brew
When brewing Chinese Gong Fu style (with a gaiwan), it’s always best to do a rinse brew for all teas, besides greens and yellows. This ‘rinse’ lets the tea leaves start to wake up, gets the membranes moving and allows the rest of your brews to be as bright as possible. It doesn’t taste bad, and it’s okay if you do drink it - it just enhances the brew that follows and allows you to experience the tea’s aroma.
Steeping & Re-steeping
Your tea has much life, don’t cut it short at one brew! Tea’s flavor changes each steep, so it’s a fun way to explore and journey through a tea bringing out a variety of flavors per brew. The amount of times you can re-steep depends on your brewing method. In Chinese Gong Fu brewing, you can get about ten gaiwan brews per set of leaves. Most other tea styles, you typically can get three brews per set of leaves. We recommend adding 5-30 seconds additional brew time per steep - depending on the tea and depending on your preferences. Pushing your tea further is not uncommon, use your judgment of when your leaves are spent.
As it brews, tea leaves expand. Tea bags or tea balls restrict expansion, so they are not optimal. Your tea needs room to unfurl to get the best flavor fully. We recommend brewing in a teapot or with a larger steeper.
Brew with Intention
Enjoy the process! Good tea is not fast food; it is not instant coffee. Putting an extra few minutes into your brewing routine goes a long way for your tea and your mind.