Tea brewing tips

brewing tea tips

After receiving your order it is recommended to open the parcel take out all teas and let them " rest "for few days. Air transfer , extreme changes of temperatures , all that might cause the tea taste blunt. Open the ziplocks of pressed puerh tea to let it breathe out.

More information about storage please refer to our blog site Page of Tea.

I can not stress more : buy samples first! Especially if you are beginner or first time buyer on our website. Samples size are usually for 3 - 5 sessions which should give you some idea whatever you like / don't like the tea or if our taste description matches with what you experience in your cup in your environment with your water and brewing style.

For more information about taste notes used for describing tea on our website, please refer to page Tea Taste.

Drinking tea 

First , make sure you have eaten before drinking tea! It is not recommended to drink tea on empty stomach , especially the young sheng puerh !

Do not be ashamed to slurp in the tea as it helps to air it and cool it some time. Inhaled air during that step can be exhaled through the nose and same to be applied after swallowing the tea ( again exhale trough the nose ). After few rounds of doing this , the gentle notes , which are not noticeable regular way by taste on the tongue , will start to emerge. Smelling the brewed hot tea leaves from your gaiwan will boost the experience. Dive your nose into the gaiwan but also try with some distance at angeling the gaiwan towards to your body. By doing this you will get hot steam aroma and cold air aroma to compare ( each can reveal different proprieties / notes ).

Cups can be smelled as well ( in Chinese this called "bei xiang " ) so tall / deep cups are suitable for that . Also smelling the pitcher can help to appreciate aroma and very often used for presentation of the tea in tea shops. It's needed to be cooled down first ( hot steam aroma doesnt't reveal much ) by swinging it horizontally to get cold air go in ( please refer to our How to brew tea in gaiwan video on our Youtube channel for visual presentation. Take a time between each cup and infusion . Gong fu tea is not about the rush but about slowing down. If you are not happy with the tea, do not give up on it , do not throw it away. Put it aside and get back to it another day. There are many factors which can influence your taste perception and you might not be in control of it at that moment ( like weather or you condition - very tired for example ).

Teaware ( material & form )

Saying " The porcelain doesn't lie " means that you will get true taste of the tea if brewing in such a material made teaware ( also glass is possible ). Smaller cups are more convenient for the Gong Fu style as tea tends cool down ( to comfortable drinking temperature ) faster. Porcelain or glass are preferable for introduction of the new tea to you, as it gives the you authentic taste so the experience.

Clay teaware is preferable for some tea of course ( will describe that later ) but not changing the fact that should you do precise tea tasting , the porcelain is the way to go. In general,  the clay swallows the " high pitch notes ", so not only the astringency but also aroma ( like flowery or fruity notes ) and leaves the sweet or bitter behind. In some cases this sort of " function " is welcomed so it is also recommended for some tea ( also depending on what you want to get in your cup ).

The gaiwan is the best for full transparency / experience of the tea session as you can clearly see the leaves , better appreciate the aroma from opened brewed tea leaves and it's easier to clean it up after the session. For 1 or 2 people 100 - 120 ml is the optimal size as the aim of the Gong Fu style ( the way we mostly do our tea tasting / drinking ) is not the bigger volume of each steep but more steepings ( preferable with less volume so you can handle that amount of tea entire session ).

Water ( quality & temperature )

It's mostly recommended to use bottled / barrel soft water ( with less calcium and / or magnesium ). Do not use the tap water unless you are sure about the hardness of it or applying some water softener ( filter ). The brewing temperature might vary from the tea type ( processing ) , grade or even from the tea storage type / concept ( more described down below for individual categories ).

There is a difference between testing ( giving the tea leaves an extreme conditions ) and drinking / enjoying the tea itself. More about that is written on our blog Page of Tea - Smart Tea Drinker.

Amount ( ratio of tea leaves : water ) 

This is the biggest issue not only for beginners but even advanced tea drinker can make a mistake ( mostly with non familiar tea ) . The most common mistake is to putting too much and brewing it too long. Adding the fact, that most of the beginners do not feel confident to spend some serious money for high end tea and rather buy something from lower end ( for learning purposes ) , which is usually some general " tai di cha" - bush tea ( which can't "withstand" such an extreme brewing )  , that causes even more bitter experience ....literally!

For more information about categorization / classification of tea trees ,please refer to the page Tea Vocabulary.

Amount of used tea and brewing time can depend not only on category ( processing ) of the leaf it self but also storage ( dry / wet ) and pressed concept ( hard  / medium / soft ) which plays role in how the tea leaves open and release their " juice" and consequently the strenght of each steeping ( more described down below for individual categories ). 

Please note , if you mess up with the first infusion , in most of the cases , the following infusions are not gonna be better despite of correcting the temperature or time. The leaves turn bitter / sour or whatever they tend turn into when overbrewed and it is more likely irreversible for the rest of the session! That's why we always recommend to start with the minimum possible set up ( ratio of tea & water , brewing times , water temperature ) and slowlly add / adjust individual parameters as you learning more about that particular tea.

Sheng pu erh tea

New production ( young sheng ) requires lower brewing temperatures, close to the green tea ( as tea itself is very close to that category afterall ). We recommend around 90C. Older shengs can handle 95 or 100 C which kind of refers to the fact " more oxidized = more temperature " formula. With wet stored shengs is more possible to get away with higher temperatures as they tend to be closer to " shu puerh estate " ( the aged ones ).

For 100ml gaiwan we usually put 4 - 6g of the tea and after 1st quick wash brewing 10s for first few infusions. We call it " get to know your tea ". As a beginner you might feel it is very light / bland taste but later you will develope a skill ( which is there already, you just not aware of it yet ) to taste very thin layers of various notes. If you are coffee drinker , smoker and eating spicy food , the stronger infusions might be required as 7g / 100ml ( overfilled gaiwan with loose leaf ) as some many local tea vendors in Kunming do ( because they smoke a lot and eat spicy a lot ).

In anyhow, we do not recommend to run long steeping times unless you know what are you doing. As noted before , it is difference between Testing the tea and Enjoying the tea. After couple of infusions we increase the steeping time to 20 - 30s and it might be even up to 1 or 2 minutes at the very end of the session...that depends on tea ( if bush or Gushu ). Hard pressed tea like Iron cakes or Tuo Cha take time to open up, yet not long steeping times are always good solution for that, as with hard pressed leaves lots of dust bits come when chipping the sample off. That basically is like broken tea bits of T-bag ( very quick and strong infusions ). With this case the long steeping time can cause bitter taste very easy,  let alone the fact that the most of the hard pressed tea is made from the small tea trees or plantation bushes which are not friendly with long steeping at the first place.

For reducing the astringency some clay teaware can be used , but also lowering the water temperature might work in some extend. The common misunderstanding among the beginners is an expectation of having in their cup a sweet tea like the one with sugar or flowery like oolong , with no bitterness or astringency . In most cases , such a sheng would be a new concept of processing called " Xin Gong Yi  " ( not a traditional processing which not suitable for ageing and its categorazitaion / nameing is discutable , as it's woudl be rather some hybrid than puerh ).

More about that is written on our blog Page of Tea - Fake Puer.

Shu puerh tea

It is primarily made for 100 C boiling water. The clay teaware is highly recommended ( unless you tasting new tea ) for it's heat retention abilities therefore maximum power of the shu being extracted. For 100ml brewing vessel we use around 4g of Gong Ting type / grade of leaves and 6g if larger leaf. After first quick flush ( sometimes we do 2 times ) starting again from 10s and adjusting the time based on taste preference and how the leaves release their good ( which can vary from the depth of fermentation , storage and of course material " mao cha " used ).Wet stored shu releases much faster and stronger at the beginning , dry stored shu ( especially oder ones ) release very slow and light infusions.

Many beginners tend to brew their shu very strong , coffee / soya sauce like color and then complain about tea to be too earthy and soily. You have to understand that shu puerh involves another step of processing therefore even more variables added to the potential mess up. Of course ,you can brew it all your shu puerh same way and just get use to what they taste in that brewing style , but you can also adjust those parameters and enjoy more variety of tastes.

Shu puerh can be also boiled ( like Hei Cha ) in special teapot ( tea kettle )  you can buy on Aliexpress for example. It smooths out the taste ( cuts of the earthiness ) resulting the taste similar to Cha Gao ( which basically is the processed / boiled shu extract ) .

More about that is written on our blog Page of Tea - Shu Puer Masterclass.

Black ( red ) tea

Suitable for porcelain ( especially high aromatic " ti xiang " ones ) but also can be brewed in clay which we could recommend for " Shai Hong " The sundried blacks ( which are in sort of way close to sheng puerh processing without the kill green step applied ) . Clay in this case might reduce not only astringency but also sour notes ( in certain extend ) in young Shai Hongs.

The 4g for the 100ml is more than plenty but for high temp roasted blacks like mentioned " ti xiang " even 3g is enough as they tend to infuse much stronger tea at very beginning. Timing is can be also very variable from 10 - 30s at the very beginning already ( depending on tea leaves and strength desired ).

There is also an option called Grandpa Style brewing method. Which simply means putting few grams in the bottle / mug , pour the hot water and leave it there for all drinking session, during which the hot water can be added / refilled. For such a method the very small amount of tea for bigger volume of water is enough. We talk about like 1 - 3g of tea for 300 - 500ml of water ( and again, depends on tea leaves , processing , and of course your taste preference ).

In our western culture / general knowledge of the preparing the black tea is using 100 C boiling water. With heavy oxidized , high temp roasted red teas it's ok but for low oxidised or sun dried teas this might lead to the unpleasant sour taste. Especially when tips are involved , which in traditional Dian Hong is very common. We usually use around 95C for brewing the red tea ( in Kunming we can't get 100 C anyway ;-) , because high altitude ) and for very tipsi ones like Da Jin Zhen even 85C. It is kind of a rule " more tips = more careful with temperature ".

White tea

The loose leaf like Yue Guang Bai is very confusing especially for beginners in matter of ratio leaf : water, since like 5g of large leaves will overfill the gaiwan thus gives an impression - it's too much. For the small brewing vessels the pressed form is more convenient but drinking / brewing experience is different. Loose leaf infuses mostly right after the first steeping but pressed takes much longer. Especially the large leaf of whites which had to be pressed hard in order to stick together well at the time of processing ( pressing ). Sometimes need 2 - 3 infusions to start getting something you will notice in cup.

General recommended brewing temperature is between 75 - 85C , and as mentioned before , the tipsy grade is on lower side , the more leafy grades can handle higher temperatures. Also aged white can cope with higher temperatures like 95 - 100 C ( depends on storage and your taste preference ).

Green / Yellow tea

In most of the cases , Yunnan people drink their greens by grandpa style , simply using the heat resistant borosilicate glass bottle or some other thermos , throw few grams of Bi Luo Chun or Cui Ming and keep adding hot water during the day until not happy with dull taste. We also drink it that way so can't share any particular wisdom / experience with Gong Fu brewing green tea.

The ratio of tea and water also vary how strong your stomach is ;-) I would put around 2 - 3 g for 500ml water. The most common mistake of beginners is underestimating the rolled tea like Bi Lou Chun or Hui Long which in hand look very little but after brewing , it will fill up half of the bottle and infuse very strong taste. We recommend to count the rolled " balls / screws " at the beginning , before you get a feel for the amount you need.

Water temperature for Yunnan Greens is optimal 75 — 85C. Higher than that will start to add serious bitter notes...which are also welcomed by some addicted green tea drinkers as it gives and impression of full body.

Oolong tea

Same problem as with Bi Luo Chun green tea when hard to estimate the right amount when in dry rolled estate. The oolong leaves are rolled even tighter so if I put half of the 8g pack , we usually offer , into the 100ml gaiwan , it guarantess the leaves spread all the way up to the rim after few infusions. The ratio of tea and water is of course based on preference , you would see a Fujian tea vendors pouring a whole 8g pack into the 120ml gaiwan and brewing the way that you can't even see the water inside. It's very open for the ratios , only you have to be careful not "choke" your teapot.

For oolongs we mostly use porcelain gaiwan to appreciate the those " high pitch notes " flowers and fruits. But some people prefer the clay , even some provinces have their local clay for oolong. Oolong tea is very suitable for such a comparing experiments ( clay / porcelain ) as the differences might be very noticable ( especially with green oolong ).

Water temperature for brewing oolongs might start as low as 75C ( green ) and boiling all the way up to 95 - 100 C ( dark roast or aged ) . We recommend to experiment with that to find an optimal sweet spot ( literally ) . Brewing times are very short from beginning ( we do around 5 - 10s ) although tea will be a bit weak as the tight rolled leaves take their time to open. Of course timing also depends on ratio tea : leaves . You can also brew oolong grandpa style and same rule applies as with green tea. Of course higher quality Dancongs, for example, can torture with higher temperatures and longer steeping times. Just enjoy the tea at it's most comfortable brewing setup.

Hei Cha ( dark tea )

It is very close to shu puerh in matter of brewing ( water temp and time ) . 100 C is the best most of the time . In fact you can also boil it ( as shu puerh ) in special teapots. Typical Hei Cha is mostly made of big leaves and big stems, so not some fancy grade ( except Li Bao which comes with better grades so ratio can be lower grams for same amount of water ) , therefore you might go for 6 -7g / 100ml , or less grams but longer times. Don't be afraid to steep it 20 - 30s from very beginning and extend to even up 2 min in last infusions. The clay with some good heat retention is most suitable teaware for that. 

Flower tea

For the most of the flowers , as classic herbal tea , the 100 C water is fine. For some flowers like chamomile around 75C is preferable. In China this type of tea is not really made for the Gong Fu brewing method. It's simply put into the glass jar / bottle ( also from aesthetically purpose , as it look beautiful ) and poured hot water each time needed. The amount of flowers is subject of trial and fail. But usually not more than quoter space of the bottle ( need to be also careful as some flowers also look much smaller in dry estate ).