Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The 2 most common green tea brewing mistakes

Last week, I gave a new tea class to my Spanish student Antonio. The weather was so hot that temperatures reached 38.6 degrees Celcius in Taipei, a record high for this year. With such conditions, I didn't feel like doing a class about roasted Oolongs, but switched to green tea instead. Green tea is made of leaves that didn't oxidize before they were dried. We can distinguish 3 types of green tea: dried in a wok, dried in an oven, and steamed (mostly in Japan). What I write applies mostly to the the first 2 categories and to a lesser extent to Japanese greens.
Jasmine scented green tea (my brew)
Mistake number 1 is the temperature. Most people tend to agree that green teas have to be brewed at lower temperatures. This is incorrect. My best green tea experiences have happened with water that had just reached the boiling point!! Top quality green tea is made of tea buds, which are very small leaves that haven't opened up yet. A high water temperature is necessary to penetrate the buds and extract their finest aromas. However, such buds are so small and thin that they can be quite fragile. They don't need much energy in terms of water flow to open and they don't need much time to brew. That's why it's even possible to first fill the tea vessel by half with boiling water before adding the leaves and then the remaining water. 
Jasmin scented green tea (brewed by Antonio)
The quality of the green tea is always key to the quality of your brew. The reason why so many vendors recommend a low temperature is that:
- It's safe. There are fewer risks of over brewing.
- The quality of the tea leaves is low. Such green tea doesn't take the heat well.

Low quality green tea tends to become bitter and rougher in taste when it's brewed at a high temperature. We got this a little bit with the daily jasmine, but not with the imperial version. But the advantage of the jasmine scenting is that the tea's fragrances were not negatively impacted by the high temperature, even with the cheaper version.
Imperial Jasmine green tea
The second most common mistake is the amount of green tea leaves used. This is a mistake I often see on my Instagram feed! Even very experienced tea drinkers make this mistake, because they are too used to brewing Oolong or puerh. They use too many leaves!! Due to its unoxidized nature, green tea is supposed to be drunk much lighter than other teas. For instance, for a gaiwan, approximately 1 gram of jasmine tea is sufficient.
Spring 2017 San Hsia BiLuoChun
For an unscented green tea like Biluochun, the brew has to look even lighter.
The 2 mistakes, low water temperature and many leaves, are linked together. The lower water temperature means that fewer aromas come out from the leaves, which is why more are needed.
The better solution is to use better, fewer leaves and brew them with hotter water. This is especially true if you are brewing 'gongfu', with skills, and are paying attention. The result is then both light and intense, refreshing and easy on the stomach.
Learning tea means practicing it!


Curigane said...


I think you just wrote a highly controversial article. :)

Nevertheless whenver i brew green tea 70º/80º celsius grandpa style the tea leaves stay floating which is a sign of water not being hot enough so I do think you have a point. I rarely drink green tea but I would go to 900/158Fº nowadays

Interesting post.

TeaMasters said...

Thanks a lot, Tiago. In the end, everybody does what works best for him, but I thought I should share my thoughts on how to help my readers get more out of their tea and time.

Evan Meagher said...

Thanks for the post, Stephane. Interesting advice which, as you say, runs contrary to the typical brewing instructions I've heard about green tea. I will heed your recommendations the next time I'm pouring a green tea.

Unknown said...

Interesting!!! I will try drinking my Huang Shan Mao Feng green tea this weekend with higher temp water. I'll be in Taiwan this Xmas time - if you are there I'd like to meet!

TeaMasters said...

Let me know how it went, Evan!
And you too, George. It'll be a pleasure to meet you at Xmas time in New Taipei City!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the article. As you said it may not apply to all green tea. For Japanese green tea, Gyokuro ( especially the higher grades ) best brewed at approximately 60 degrees and serve 3 to 5 drops to each guest while I brew Sencha at between 95 to just below 100 degrees. Different tea different techniques to coax the best flavours out of the tea.

Thanks again for the article.


Manuel said...

Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge.In your article, are you referring only for the gongfu method? Please, could you tell me, if for chinese good quality green tea, would you increase temperature when you prepare it by the western method?
What do you think of this standards for green tea?
Teacup: 250ml
2-3 Grams Tea
Brewing time : 3 - 5 mins


TeaMasters said...

Yes, and for me I define gongfu broadly, as the method that makes the best tea. I don't really differentiate between Chinese or Western method, but between right and wrong (or not as good)!

So, if the quality of the Chinese green tea is good enough, I'd use a higher temperature all the time.

So, for your standard, the temperature seems too low to me (provided the tea is really good).

Thanks for your interest for my blog!

Unknown said...

For me it's simple if it isn't tasty after I poured boiling water over the leaves and let them sit in it till the temperature drops down enough for me to slowly sip on it, it is not good green tea (for me)

TeaMasters said...

That's typically a farmer's method. It works well to find good tea, but may not be the most delicate and sophisticated way to brew (and obtain the finest aromas)...

Anonymous said...

This is quite interesting. I will try this way with green tea when I drink next.

I have some things I'd like to ask about.

First, given that if what you say is true about green teas, then I have been using way too much tea, then I have to wonder about red teas - what is the rule of thumb re. amount here? Or, rather, is there a range to experiment within? (I have bad depth perception, so amounts by sensation or weight is best.)

Second, you make it abundantly clear in your posts that gongfucha isn't simply short steeps followed by long. This intuitively makes sense given the name - if it were that simple, where is the skill? - and even if we were to grant to people who give these guidelines (to be fair, they usually say they are to be deviated from with experience) the caveat that rolled teas must unroll. I experimented plenty the often-recommended ways and slight variations upon them, but found, for example, with dancong oolongs, it is nothing like that; there will be a mixture of short and long throughout the entire process - the result being something that doesn't even approximate the usual theme of short followed by long (though for sure, on average, later steeps are longer). I have even experimented with mathematically/theoretically based timings - and, interestingly, I found them universally worse, so obviously I am unaware of some factors. It is clear to me that my biggest poverty in skill is with timing (and with pouring, but this is more easily addressed) - part of this is that my eyesight is too bad to discern the tea colour and unfurling state of the leaves reliably in the brewing vessel, so I have to intuit the time and adjust on taste. I am sure you might address this in your oolong book, which I will get soon, but would you have any general advice for improving skill regarding timings that stretches beyond simply 'drink more tea'? (If not, then I shall go and drink some tea.)

I am sure I am overthinking this, but, the inconsistency in the quality of my cup and an inability to figure out what, specifically, needs to be changed, is quite bothersome. Not to say I am not having fun, though. :-)

TeaMasters said...

The only rule there is, is that you should fewer leaves for green tea than for Oolong. What exact or approximate amount depends on just too many factors to make a formula. And everybody likes his tea's concentration different.
Try to remember how you brewed when you like the cup of tea you just had. This is also a skill: observing and remembering.

The inconsistency in my own brews is what motivated to take tea classes 18 years ago. Use this a motivation to learn and practice. (And purchase some teas from me, at least 60 USD so that you can get the guide for free! That's a very good idea!!)