Monday, September 03, 2007

A question from New York

I read in Teaparker's book on baozhong that very hot water should be used, and I guess I extrapolated that to all oolongs, so I have been brewing both Taiwan oolong and TGY at temperatures that are far above ideal. Lowering the temperature has brought new life to a lot of teas that I thought I hated - none of them from you, of course. Actually I think that really good oolongs seem to stand up quite well to over hot water, but of course are much better when made properly. I'd love to have your thoughts on this.

Thank you for your remark. I'm happy to see that Teaparker has readers of his books (which are published in Chinese) in the USA! I think I can help explain what Teaparker means. His main point, which he repeats and repeats to his students, is that the right water is one that has previously reached this stage of boiling: crabs' eyes size.

In Chinese, people say "把水煮開" (make water cook open) which can be translated as 'open the water'. Teaparker believes that boiled water is transformed once it has boiled. It's alive then. That's why he really insists that the water be properly boiled to brew tea. It can later cool down a bit, but it must at least still steam a little.

How does Teaparker brew tea in reality? He doesn't use a thermometer and just uses his eyes and ears to determine when the water has boiled. After reaching a light boil, he takes the kettle off the heat source to avoid over boiling. He also waits for the kettle to calm down (boiling water will move in the kettle) before pouring it in the teapot. The way he pours water in his teapot is also very important. This is more difficult to describe and write about in a book, but it has a big impact on the tea. Teaparker adapts the way he pours water to the tea in the pot. For fragile and lower grade teas, he pours the water more slowly and/or indirectly on the walls of the pot. Also, since Teaparker doesn't reboil his water for each infusion, he actually also uses water that is not as high as when it is just boiled. And finally, the teas he drinks are almost always of the highest grade. For such teas, high temperatures bring the most flavors and body out of the leaves.

I hope this gives you a better understanding about this advice of using high temperature for tea. Teaparker doesn't mean that all teas must be brewed with a water at 95 degrees. He insists on 'opening' the water (with a light boil) and then on adjusting the brewing technique to fit the tea in the pot. Boiling water is a good way to test the grade level of the tea, but he actually aslo uses lower temperatures (by pouring slowly, for instance) to fit most common tea grades.


謏 約翰 said...

Stéphane, What a wonderfully worded explanation. Instructional, reassuring and a compliment to your teacher. regards john

Anonymous said...

Stéphane, in your description I take it that the water is boiled then taken off the flame. Tea is then made in several rounds with cooler and cooler temperature water. Is this the correct understanding? As read I understand that the kettle is not left on the flame to 'keep the temperature'.
Regards behhl

Stephane said...

Thanks John.

Your understanding is correct: the kettle is taken off the flame. So it does get cooler. But take into account that Teaparker is using either silver or iron (tetsubin) kettles. They keep the heat much better than stainless kettles.

Keeping the kettle on a (small) flame is something I see many local tea farmers do. They want to always use the highest possible temperature. For standard testing (not tasting!) of tea, it is probably best to brew the leaves with such water.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Stéphane, je ne suis pas certaine d'avoir compris (cf. raticle en anglais) toute la subtilité de ton explication concernant la température de l'eau ...
Je me faisais une remarque concernant une de mes bouilloires, celle en terre : je fais chauffer l'eau grâce à une flamme alimentée par de l'alcool. J'ai le sentiment que je ne dois pas laisser la bouilloire sur le feu car il me semble que l'eau boue trop fort et qu'alors elle perd de sa vivacité. De plus, l'eau me semble alors trop chaude et je ne peux apprécier le thé correctement.
Pourrais-je avoir ton avis ? Merci d'avance.


Stephane said...

Ta remarque est correcte Hélène. Une fois que l'eau a bouilli, enlève-la de la flamme. Il est important qu'elle ait bouilli, mais elle peut bien perdre qqs degrés ensuite. Remets-la sur la flamme (de préférence après avoir rajouté de l'eau froide) et porte la de nouveau à ébullition...

Anonymous said...


thanks for the explanation - excuse my (re-)asking but I tried to read the reply in French, and there you mention that when the temperature has dropped too much the kettle should be topped up with cold water and can be 'reboiled'.

I risk being pedantic (!) but I wanted to confirm that I understand that this is after making several steepings with the 1st boiled, not reboiled with cold water for every consecutive steeping.

I try to lay out my understanding such:
1st Steeping - 1st Boiled Hot
2nd Steeping - 1st Boiled Slightly Cooler
3rd Steeping - 1st Boiled Cooler still
4th Steeping - 2nd Boil with Cold water added Hot
5th Steeping - 2ndBoil Slightly Cooler

On that note, there have been some who are of the philosophy that it is better not to add cold water to old boiled for next boiling.

But then even Lu Yu added salt to his tea ... !

Regards behhl

Stephane said...


your understanding is correct.

As for adding cold water to the hot before reboiling it, Teaparker says that this makes the water 'fresh' and 'young' again. (A water that has boiled too much or too often will become 'old'). However, I've noticed that he doesn't always do so. If the kettle is still quite full, he won't refill, just reheat. This involves less effort.

Julian said...

Hey Stephane

Thanks again for the fascinating post.

I tried to look up your teacher using your link, but it doesn't work.

What is your teacher's name in Chinese?

Anonymous said...

Stéphane, thank you for your kind replies. Regards, behhl