Lesson 9/2 : Contexts and Purposes of Tea Preparation

Preparation Recommendations and General Standards of Tea Preparation

In Lesson 9.1. – Parameters of Tea Preparation – we have learnt which factors influence the taste and effect of the tea in your cup. We’ve also seen how to manipulate these factors in order to achieve a specific taste or effect. This guides us on how to experimentally get to preparing a specific tea for a specific purpose – or taste. Usually, retailers will provide a starting point in the form of preparation recommendations. Also, there are general standards of tea preparation that can light the way.

Preparation Recommendations

A retailer’s preparation recommendation can be based on their personal experience with the respective type of tea. In this case, the retailer provides the customer with his own taste preference as a starting point for exploring his own preferences. However, retailers can also derive their preparation recommendations from general standards of tea preparation. This enables them to even provide preparation recommendations for teas they have little or no experience with.

General Standards of Tea Preparation

As we will see, the way in which we prepare a tea is very much dependent on the purpose and / or context of the preparation. Some of these purposes and contexts are associated with mandatory preparation standards. These in turn can be specified by the context itself, as is the case with the preparation for medical-health or effect-specific purposes. However, they can also result from a historical, industry-wide agreement, as in the case of professional tea tasting.

Contexts of Tea Preparation - Overview
Contexts of Tea Preparation

There are no official or mandatory standards for the preparation of tea for enjoyment purposes. Nevertheless, certain tendencies have established among tea drinkers that shape pertinent publications (blog articles, etc.) on this topic. At this, significant differences are noticeable between the so-called “Western” and the so-called “Chinese” standards of tea preparation.

Tea Preparation According to Context and Purpose

People tend to see things in their own perspective … That is, they assume that others prepare tea for the same purpose they do. And that they will do so in a similar context … In fact, however, how we prepare a tea depends much on the respective context and purposes pursued.

In the broadest sense, “context” here refers to cultural contexts. For example, are you at work or do you prepare tea during leisure time? Which culture do you belong to, and which culture do you orientate yourself on when preparing tea? And are there any spiritual motivations that influence you at this? For example, many tea drinkers use a ritual form of tea preparation as a meditative practice. Then, there is the social dimension: do you prepare the tea for yourself, or…?

The purpose pursued has an even greater influence on tea preparation. For those who drink tea for health reasons, for example, the taste dimension plays a subordinate role. Or none at all… And those who drink ta for enjoyment purposes will pay less or no attention to the health dimension. The example nicely illustrates how significant is the underlying motivation’s influence on the respective preparation approach. Because this will be very different in both cases and will result in widely differing preparation methods.

Purposes of Tea Preparation - Overview
Purposes of Tea Preparation

We can roughly distinguish the following, in reality often overlapping purposes of tea preparation:

Preparation for Medcial Purposes

The tea is said to have a number of health effects. These range from empirically well-established effects, such as controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to quasi-myths such as preventing cancer. What medical effects teas of individual processing categories really might have, is a topic that we’ll have to leave to medical research. However, there is one thing we can say with certainty about the preparation of – no matter which – tea for any health effect…

The hotter and longer you infuse a tea, the more active ingredients are released from the tea leaf. Now, the goal of tea preparation for health purposes is the highest possible intake of active ingredients. Accordingly, when preparing the tea, it is important to resolve as much of the active ingredient as possible. Therefore, you will always use boiling hot water when preparing tea merely for health purposes. In addition, you will always let it steep for as long as the criterion “edibility” still allows for.

Alternatively, you can maximize the intake of active ingredients by preparing your tea over several infusions. At this you might grade your infusion temperature from moderate to hot through your steeps.

Floral Lapsang Wuyi Black Tea
Floral Lapsang Wuyi Black Tea
Preparation for Stimulating Effects

Strictly speaking, preparing at tea for the sake of its stimulating effects is also a “medicinal” purpose. And even one of the most popular such… However, this is a special form of medical application. On the one hand, a “stimulating” effect is not automatically healthy. And on the other hand, an interaction between two active ingredients of the tea leaf comes into play here, which contradicts the above-described principle of preparing tea for medicinal use.

A large part of the invigorating effect of tea is attributed to its content of the active ingredient caffeine. Now, on the one hand, the caffeine dissolves very quickly – and even at lower infusion temperatures – from the tea leaf. As a rule of thumb, a large part of the caffeine is released from the tea leaf during the first 2 minutes at infusion temperatures of 60-70 ° C. The other active ingredient taking part in this interaction, the Catechin, only starts to extract from the tea leaf after this period of time. Now, the catechin occupies the same receptors in the body as the caffeine and as a result hinders its effect. Accordingly, the invigorating effect of tea unfolds best with 2 minutes steeping. Then it slows down because of the catechin docking on the same receptors.

Jun Chiyabari Nepal Second Flush
Jun Chiyabari Nepal Second Flush Black Tea
Preparation for Calming Effects

This effect is so significant that it has earned the tea steeped for 3 minutes the reputation of a calming effect. In fact, there is no substance-induced calming effect of tea. However, the caffeine in combination with other active ingredients contained in the tea leaf has a relaxing, anti-convulsive effect. This, in turn, induces the perception of a calming effect. To this add the non-material calming effects of tea preparation and tea drinking. On the one hand, there is the calming effect of well-rehearsed rituals and activities in the context of tea preparation. On the other hand, the social component of casual, sociable tea drinking also has something reassuring for many.

Preparation for Ritual Performance and Show Purposes
Si Ji Chun Four Seasons Oolong
Ritual preparation of Si Ji Chun Four Seasons Oolong Tea

The ritual tea preparation also follows its own laws – and thus standards. Often it is primarily about the “show”, that is, a visual and atmospheric entertainment effect for the audience. But also exploring a tea’s taste spectrum or bringing its “best possible” taste about can be the subject of a tea ceremony. Beyond that, the ritual tea ceremony can represent a meditative practice, serving to mainpulate its performer’s mind.

The most famous forms of ritual tea preparation are the Japanese tea ceremony and “the” Chinese tea ceremony. The former always revolves around the preparation of Matcha tea and is subject to a strict set of rules. The Chinese tea ceremony, on the other hand, is extremely diverse, depending on the region and situational context. Ultimately, it is a kind of “freestyle art”. The created atmosphere, the visual presentation and the taste of the prepared tea are all factors that can be represented in different – or differently balanced – weightings. It is often Oolong or Pu Erh teas that are in the focus of the Chinese tea ceremony. But also teas of other processing categories can be the subject of a Gong Fu Cha.

The East Friesian Tea Ceremony. is a fine example of the overlap of individual dimensions in the practice of tea preparation. On the one hand, this follows complex and strict rules. On the other hand, it clearly serves enjoyment puposes. These become obvious from the the use of rock sugar and cream with a rather “strong” and bitter-tasting tea base. The latter, in turn, has a very desirable, strongly stimulating effect with steeping periods up to 3 minutes. And, of course, the East Frisians also think of their tea as healthy.…

Preparation for Professional Tea Tasting

To ensure the comparability of the results of professional tea tastings, the industry has agreed on a uniform standard. This standard extends from the type, composition and size of the vessels to the dosage and infusion period.

At the end of the infusion period, the preparation vessel is laid into the tea bowl in such way that the tea will empty into the same.
Professional Tea Tasting (1)

The standard professional tea tasting set consists of a 150ml preparation vessel with closable lid and a corresponding tea bowl. Also, there is a need for trays serving for the visual and olfactory assessment of the dry leaf material. These are often cardboard trays, such as those used for serving French fries at takeaways, for example. Occasionally you also see bamboo trays or other suitable flat receptacles. Then, it takes pen and paper for the tea taster to write down their tasting notes.

The downside up lid of the preparation vessel serves to present the wet tea leaves after the infusion. It also has grooves for pouring the tea without lifting the lid.

The professional tea tasting in a commercial context achieves the comparability of its results through standardization of all parameters of the tea preparation
Professional Tea Tasting (2)

Based on the weight of the old British 2-pence coin, the standard dosage in professional tea tasting is 2.86 grams. Today, digital precision scales often serve to determine the proper amount of tea leaves.

Course and Purpose of the Professional Tea Tasting

The standardized infusion temperature for professional tea tasting is exactly 90°C and the brewing time is 5 minutes. Then you lay the closed vessel into the tea bowl so that the contents pour into the same commpletely. Upon completion, turn the preparation vessel upside down, so that the wet tea leaves fall into the lid. Then lift the vessel from the lid in order to subject it to a visual and olfactory examination. Only then does the actual tea tasting begins…

Professional Tea Tasting (3)

The tea taster first slurps in the tea with plenty of air and then flushes it through all areas of the mouth. Then he notes his taste impressions on the notebook, in the form of so-called tasting notes.

The standardized infusion temperature and steeping time of professional tea tasting suggest that this form of tea preparation does not aim to produce a great-tasting tea. Insteads, it provides the tea taster with information about the potential and taste spectrum of a tea. Also, it also makes different types of tea and different representatives of one type of tea comparable.

Preparation for Taste-Specific Purposes

When preparing tea for enjoyment purposes, the focus is on the taste of the tea. This can be the preferred taste of the person preparing the tea, if they prepare it for themselves. Or it can be a taste anticipated as shared by a group of people. In any case, the desired result is that the tea “tastes good” to those who drink it. Health or other effect-specific, but also visual and atmospheric effects take a back seat.

The specialty with tea preparation for enjoyment purposes is that there is no universal standard for the countless different types of tea. This means, the rules of tea preparation for enjoyment purposes differ from one tea drinker to another. AND for each type of tea! We have already discussed the role individual taste plays in this in the previous Lesson 9.1.

When looking at established standards for tea preparation for enjoyment purposes, some fundamental differences between the two “big” enjomyment-oriented approaches – Western and Chinese – quickly become apparent.

Since my oldest son has moved in with his girlfriend, there is only 3 of us left... - "Anji Bai Cha For Three"
Anji Bai Cha Green Tea for 3

Western vs. Chinese Standards of Tea Preparation

In relevant publications, we often come across the distinction between a Western and a Chinese approach to tea preparation. Well, there is no official definition for this either here or there. Nevertheless, a perceived difference becomes obvious from the much-quoted distinction between the two approaches. Much of this difference is due to the different cultural contexts. Because every national or regional “mother culture” also shapes the tea culture that belongs to it.

Ritual tea preparation is often identified with the Chinese approach and everyday tea preparation with the Western approach. This is true insofar as the ritual tea preparation originates from the Chinese tea culture. Hence its playfulness and the atmospheric and meditative components anchored in Zen Buddhism. Modern western culture, on the other hand, generally tends towards uncomplicated and time-saving, i.e. “practical” solutions. In turn, it lacks any spiritual dimension.

Characteristics of the “Western” Approach

Characteristic features of the western approach are a comparatively low dosage and long infusion period. In consistency with these parameters, preparing tea in just ONE infusion is typical.

Characteristics of the “Chinese” Approach

Characteristic features of the Chinese approach are a comparatively high dosage, short infusion periods and purposeful infusion temperatures. In addition, the preparation across several infusions is typical for many types of tea in China. This is especially true of two types of tea that were not even known in the West until recently: Oolong tea and Pu-erh tea. However, preparing green, white, yellow and black teas across more than one infusion is also common in China.

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Synthesis – the Best of 2 Worlds

Especially in everyday tea preparation, many tea drinkers here and there practice their own synthesis of both approaches. The aim and advantage of such a synthesis is to combine the best of both “worlds”. We’ll therefore continue to distinguish the Western, Chinese and synthetic approaches in the following lesson, “Standards of Tea Preparation”.

One more thing, on my own account…

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