An important variable for brewing tea is the temperature of water. As the title suggests, bringing the water to a boil is a must. I can’t express how many times I’ve walked into a tea house with an extensive tea menu, and as I sit down and patiently wait to be served, the leaves come with hot water at the wrong temperature. I am left frustrated – how misunderstood are these leaves! The amount of potential they have are left unnoticed, and it pains me knowing good quality teas are wasted. I often make suggestions but especially in Western countries, people are not accustomed to drinking very hot liquids, therefore, the water is served at a temperature suitable for drinking. It is possible to use almost boiling water to brew and wait until the tea liquor (what we would refer to as the brewed tea) has cooled down to drink. Here I will simply and point out the basics to water temperature for gongfu brewing.
Given the difference in processing for white, green, oolong, black and pu-er, it’s correct to assume we should brew at different temperatures. Generally speaking, 80-85°C/175-185°F for white/green/yellow, 99°C/210 °F for oolongs, red (aka black teas), and pu-ers. Generally speaking, the more oxidized and fermented, the more forgiving the leaves are (by which I mean the longer you can brew and the hotter temperatures the leaves can withstand without the tea liquor becoming overly astringent).
Factors affected by water temperature:
Hotter water will extract quicker, thus gongfu brewing requires a shorter brewing time while extracting a concentrated liquor (this is reached by tweaking the water-to-leaf ratio. See later post on this). The minerals and compounds produced from teas would be released differently at different temperatures. Green tea is richest in theanine, which gives that savoury, umani note to the tea liquor. I often hear people avoiding green tea for it’s astringency and bitterness. This is often because they brewed green tea with very hot water; another reason may be because they are brewing tea bags, which generally were made of tea dust from low quality leaves in order to ensure everything is extract in one brew, resulting in an intense brew with no distinguishable elements. Cooler temperatures are used for green tea and white teas. These teas are made from younger buds and are processed lightly, they are therefore more delicate. To ensure a good brew, boil to a lower temperature. When your tea kettle starts to rumble, it’s time to turn it off and get brewing.
The cooler the water temperature, the softer and shorter finish your tea liquor would be. With almost boiling water, you will get a more structured and lengthier finish. This is important for oolongs which have layers of texture ranging from a green to a red tea, resulting in a stronger “hui gan” (as in 回甘, the echo of sweetness and puckering sensation. This will be discussed in depth in a later post). Aside from the savouriness and the finish, the thickness and sweetness of the tea liquor changes as well.
For gongfu brewing, remember to practice brewing high temperature and short infusions. Afterall, gongfu brewing is all about honoring the teas and extracting full flavours. Gongfu tea drinkers are always trying to find the right balance of compounds and to create the right combination of flavour and texture. Our Phoenix Oolong comes with a general boiling guide for each serving. That being said, taste is subjective, what suits my palette might not be your cup of tea, so boil that kettle and get brewing!