Tea is woven into the fabric of humanity. It consoles us and warms us, bridges gaps and acts as a catalyst for connection and it is a moment of peace in the motion of life. Allowing yourself even ten minutes during the day to put everything down and focus on preparing and appreciating a cup of tea can have a deeply rejuvenating effect.
But for such a simple drink, preparing it well can be rather daunting to those unfamiliar with it. Hopefully this guide will help you gain knowledge and confidence in preparing and enjoying authentic, handcrafted tea.
Some considerations before you begin brewing...
- As with most ingredients for life, freshness and high quality are key to producing the best cup of tea possible. Oxidized teas, such as black and oolong, will keep much longer than green tea so it is vital to store your green tea away from the degrading elements of light, heat, air, odours and moisture. The tea you use on a daily basis should be kept in airtight tin with little room for air and stored away from food odours, in a cool, dark location. Unless you have a cooler solely for storing tea, it is not recommended to keep opened tea in a fridge as food odours will ruin the taste. If you do, let the tea acclimatise to room temperature before opening. Unopened tea packages can be kept in the fridge for a year or more.
- Use fresh, high quality tea leaves...but what about water quality? This often overlooked element can have dramatic effects on the appearance and taste of your tea. It may not always be practical, but we strongly advise finding a source of soft water with low mineral content....It may be the difference between 'Meh' and Wow! Using a cast iron kettle is also said to add to the sweetness of tea. The following water sources are not recommended: Chlorinated tap water, hard water, distilled water, reverse osmosis water or bad tasting water.
Let's begin brewing...
Just as with coffee, there are four variables that will affect the character, richness and overall taste of tea.
- Ratio of leaf to water - Amount of leaf and amount of water. Using an adequate amount of tea leaf for the desired volume of water will produce the most pleasing results.
- Temperature of water - Compounds in the tea leaf responsible for taste dissolve at different temperatures. Amino acids responsible for sweetness and umami taste dissolve at lower temps while catechins and caffeine responsible for bitterness dissolve at higher temps. Using the correct temperature water will achieve a pleasing balance between these elements.
- Length of infusion - The longer the infusion time, the richer the taste. Too long though will create an unbalanced, bitter taste.
A standard procedure for preparing green tea...
- If you have scale, measure the desired amount into a small dish or use an appropriate measuring spoon.
- Modern electric kettles are available with temperature settings but if you're using a stove top kettle, and you don't have a thermometer, there is a fairly easy way to adjust the water temp. Once boiled, fill the teapot to the desired level and let sit a few moments. This will lower the temperature by about 10C. Next, transfer the water to a yuzamashi or water vessel such as our Samadoyo cups and let sit for another 30 seconds. By now the water should be around 80 - 85C and the teapot will be pre-warmed and ready for the leaf.
- Transfer the tea leaf to the pot, fill with the water from the cooling cup and start the timer. While the tea infuses, pour some water from the kettle into the tea cups to pre-warm them.
- It is tradition to pour off the tea pot into a serving cup or to alternate filling the tea cups to be sure each person enjoys an equally rich tasting tea...take a breath and take time to pour off the last drop otherwise the tea will continue to steep..this is part of the meditation of tea!
The teas Yannoko offers are of the highest quality and are capable of multiple infusions. Most of the umami taste is released in the first steeping so to extract more of the astringency and aroma in the second and third, raise the water temperature by about 5C each time. After the first steeping, the leaves will be fully opened so a shorter infusion time of 10 seconds is sufficient. For the third, use a longer time...60 - 90 seconds perhaps.
Use a tea pot designed for Japanese tea...
In may surprise you that the tea pot can have a significant effect on the tea's taste, so, it is therefore important to select a pot that is suited to Japanese teas and of course, to your aesthetic. Stone ware tea pots will absorb bitterness over time making the tea milder but if the clay is too porous, the aroma will absorb as well and spoil the taste. Porcelain pots won't absorb any taste but will result in a sharper tasting tea. Tokoname clay has long been favoured for crafting complimentary tea pots.
Another important feature of Japanese tea pots is the built-in ceramic strainer or removable, extra-fine stainless band strainer. The fine holes of the ceramic strainer will retain all but the finest particles when the tea is slowly poured off. Although the extra fine particles of Fukamushi sencha are better suited to a metal strainer, with some practice, a ceramic one will do the trick. In the case of gyokuro, the use of a small volume, handleless hohin or shiboridashi is most suitable.
A common practice among tea enthusiasts (for practical reasons only!) is to have a collection of tea pots that are dedicated to specific teas. As many pots are unglazed and owing to their porosity, over time, a pot used for brewing richer, malty or floral black teas could alter the taste of green tea in an unpleasing way. In the case of wakoucha or hojicha, which are brewed at higher temps, it is also desirable to have a thicker walled pot to retain the heat and aroma. If you're new to tea, fear not! It's quite fine to start with one simple, functional tea pot.
An alternate method for preparing tea...
In recent years, cold brewed tea has gained in popularity due to its ease of preparation and highly refreshing taste. Cold brewed tea is an ideal drink to bring to social gatherings when you chose not drink alcohol. Use a wide mouthed mason jar or a purpose made Hario bottle with built in strainer and pouring spout.
- Use 10g or as much as 20g of a suitable tea. We've found the best tasting green tea to be later summer harvest sencha with less umami and more grassy sharpness. In fact, it's a great way to use tea that has gone past it's best before date. Stock up when you find sencha on sale!
- Fill the bottle with fresh cool water and gently agitate before storing in the fridge over night for the fullest extraction and richest taste. Even as little as three hours is enough.
- Before serving, rotate the bottle a few times to mix the brew and then slowly pour off. Decant the entire bottle into another vessel and fill the brewing bottle again for another steep over night.
How to prepare a bowl of premium matcha...
Matcha is a finely ground green tea powder traditionally used in the Japanese tea ceremony Chanoyu. As with many products of high quality, the level of dedication of those who produce them demands that we practice great respect when handling them. And so, in order to fully appreciate the character of our premium teas and matcha, it is necessary to use the appropriate tools and learn ideal techniques.
Please follow these steps for a sublime bowl of matcha.
- Bring a kettle to boil and then remove from heat and set aside. Use of a cast-iron or Nambu Tekki kettle is preferable.
- In the meantime, gather together your matcha and related tools, the matcha bowl or chawan, the matcha spoon or chashaku, the matcha whisk or chasen, a small vessel for cooling water and a small sifting screen.
- Preheat the matcha bowl by pouring approximately 80ml of boiled water into the bowl and let sit for 45 seconds then pour off into the small water vessel.
- Dry the matcha bowl. Place the sifting screen over the bowl, portion out the desired amount of matcha into the screen and gently use the matcha spoon to work the powder through.
- Two to four matcha spoon scoops is typical, though you should adjust for your preference.
- Soak the matcha whisk in some water before use in order to soften the tines.
- Once the water in the vessel has cooled to about 65C, slowly begin to pour it over the matcha powder while gently blending with the whisk.
- When all the water is added, whisk briskly in a 'W' motion as though you are beating egg whites. With practice, this will create a fine, creamy froth.
- Clean and dry your tools as best as you can to ensure longevity.