Tea Preparation Standards by Processing Category
As we have learnt in lessons 9.1 and 9.2., the respective way of preparing a tea and pertaining choice of parameters depend heavily on individual taste, purposes and contexts as well as the national, regional and/or macro-culture in which it takes place. I’d therefore like to state that the following statements apply primarily to preparing tea for enjoyment purposes. At this, the underlying (inter) national culture is the Western culture. And the macro-culture in which our tea preparation takes place is the world of tea gourmets and tea lovers. This, however, is not necessarily strictly “western”, but can be quite Sino-affine for some groups of tea drinkers.
As such, we face a sheer infinite diversity of types of tea available. Different origins, countless cultivars and sub-varieties of Camellia Sinensis and 6 major processing categories create downright inexhaustible scopes of variation. Accordingly, we will encounter new teas to try and tastes to explore time and again. At this, the question of the right approach and choice of parameters arises with every first preparation of a tea. Therefore, guidelines have established in the course of time for each of the 6 major processing categories.
Upfront, there is no written definition or industry-wide agreement for such guidelines or standards. The following representations are therefore ultimately nothing more and nothing less than a synthesis of personal experiences and preferences and the impression left by a multitude of sources over the years.
Tea Preparation Standards – Green Tea
In the West there is a tendency to avoid tastes that are perceived as bitter. However, many green teas quickly release bitter substances at a high infusion temperature. This applies in particular to the cheap green teas on the mass tea market. Accordingly, temperatures around 70°C and brewing periods below 3 minutes characterize the standard. At this, the 70°C line tends to mark the upper limit for steamed Japanese green teas. In turn, it marks the lower threshold for roasted Chinese green teas. Likewise, infusion periods up to 2 minutes are rather characteristic for Japanese Green Teas. As opposed to this, common brewing times for Chinese Green Teas start from 2 minutes only.
In the west people tend to be more reserved, when it comes to dosing, too. 1-1.5 grams of tea leaves per 100ml water represent the standard. Also, the preparation of green tea in the west often limits to one single steep.
In China, in order to benefit from all active ingredients in the tea leaf, green tea is poured rather hot, but briefly and repeatedly. That means, boiling hot after calming down, pouring after a few seconds only and preparation over 3-5 infusions. The typical dosage is around 2.5 grams of tea leaves per 100ml of water. This means, boiling hot after calming down.
A good median between Western and Chinese dosage for green tea is 2 grams of tea leaves per 100ml of water. In order to extract as much ingredients as possible from the tea leaf, it also makes sense to prepare a green tea over (at least) 2 infusions. Of these you pour a first infusion at 70°C and let it steep for 2 minutes. This way, you can enjoy a tasty first infusion, containing a large part of the tea leaf’s caffeine content. Then you pour a second infusion at 90°C and let this steep for 3 minutes. Such second infusion may taste a little bitter, but contains a large part of the tea leaves’ catechins content. In addition, there are many other active ingredients that will only dissolve in the second infusion.
If you want to avoid an overly bitter taste, add another infusion to subdivide the second infusion. Then the second infusion takes place at 80°C and steeps for 2-3 minutes. And the third infusion takes place at 90°C and steeps for another 2-3 minutes.
Tea Preparation Standards – Oolong Tea
As with yellow, white and pu erh tea, there is no established western preparation standard for oolong tea either. This is because teas in these categories were largely unknown in the West until just recently.
“Gong Fu” Approach
A specific Chinese approach to the preparation of Oolong tea is the ritual preparation or “Gong Fu Cha”. As per standard, the “ceremonial approach” consists of preparing an oolong tea over a range of infusions. At this, the steeping period of individual infusions is very short, with values below one minute. In order to give every infusion a distinctive taste, rather high dosages of up to 5g/100ml water are common.
The optimal infusion temperature of an Oolong tea within a 75°C-85°C range depends on the teas level oxidation. This means that for lightly oxidized oolongs, one tends to avoid bitter taste through rather low infusion temperatures (75°C-80°C). Accordingly, infusion temperatures between 80°C and 85°C apply for Oolong teas with a medium degree of oxidation. And the infusion temperatures for high oxidized Oolong teas cover the range between 85°C and 90°C. However, these reference values apply to the first infusion only. After that, the temperature can be increased slightly from one steep to another. Also here, the ultimate goal is to finally extract all active ingredients from the tea leaf.
Preparing Oolong Tea in Everyday Life
With the everyday life preparation of Oolong teas, tea drinkers both in the West and in China tend to combine the Gong-Fu approach with the requirements of everyday life. Accordingly, one will prepare an oolong tea with a dosage of approx. 3g / 100ml over several (3-5) infusions. Of these, the first one typically takes a little longer, i.e. 2-3 minutes. After that, initial subsequent infusions often are shorter. Only after the taste begins to subside infusion periods are extended again.
Standards of Tea Preparation – Black (Red) Tea
Both in China and the west, there is a principal tendency to prepare black tea in a singular infusion. Other preparation approaches such as the “Gong Fu” preparation of black tea are more common in China than the West. Strictly speaking, we find the multi-infusions preparation of black tea here only in particularly Sino-affine macro tea cultures
When it comes to dosing, people in the countries of origin are generally more generous than in the West. For example, dosages of 1.5-3 grams of tea leaves per 100ml water are normal for black tea in China. This also explains why somewhat shorter infusion times of 3-4 minutes are typical for black tea infusions. In Germany or Great Britain, however, 1 to max. 1.5 grams of black tea steeps for up to 5 minutes. Or even longer, for those prefering a particularly strong cup.
Standards of Tea Preparation – White Tea
For no other type of tea, the preparation recommendations differ as much as for white tea. When it comes to white tea preparation standards, the distinction between pure bud teas and those with leaf content is essential. As a rule of thumb, the higher the leaf content, the higher the bitter substance content.
White Silver Needle Teas
This means silver needle teas with their rather subtle flavors are always ok for pouring with boiling hot water (90+°C). Then, a quality silver needle tea does not become bitter even when steeping for a longer period of up to 5 minutes and beyond. Rather, the longer it brews, the more pronounced the taste.
Special rules also apply to the dosage of a white “Silver Needle” tea due to the subtlety of the taste of such teas. Dosages from 3 grams per 100 ml of water are quite appropriate here. For the dosage of white teas with leaf content, on the other hand, similar rules apply as for their infusion temperature. That means, the higher the leaf content, the lower the dosage in the range 1.5-3g tea leaves per 100ml can be selected.
Pai Mu Tan / White Moonlight Teas
High-quality Pai Mu Tan/White Moonlight with a picking standard of 1+1 or 1+2 can handle also handle 90°C. For white teas with a higher percentage of leaves, however, it is advisable to lower the infusion temperature accordingly for the first infusion.
White teas with medium leaf content can steep for between 3 and 5 minutes. And white teas with a high percentage of leaves (Shou Mei/Gong Mei) should not steep longer than 2-3 minutes. The infusion time of subsequent infusions always depends on the quality of the leaf material as well as the infusion time of previous infusions.
White teas are well suited for preparation over several infusions. Here, too, we see a tendency towards several (2-3) infusions in rather Sino-affine tea cultures. Macro tea cultures with a more western orientation, on the other hand, will often prepare white tea in a single infusion.
Standards of Tea Preparation – Yellow Tea
Also for the preparation of yellow tea it is hardly possible to name a general standard for all types. A clearer structure emerges, if we distinct between single bud yellow teas and such with a leaf share.
In preparation, Junshan Yinzhen and Mengding Huangya behave like small-leaved green teas with pure bud picking standard. That means, pour boiling hot water over 2.5g tea needles and leave for 2-3 minutes for a first infusion. After that, 1-2 subsequent infusions with similar water temperature and steeping time reward with tasty results.
For yellows teas with a share of leaves, on the other hand, the rules of a green or white tea with lower picking standard apply. That means, in order to avoid bitterness, pour a first infusion at moderate water temperature (70-75 ° C) and steeping time (2-3) minutes. Both the water temperature and the brewing time can then be increased for subsequent infusions. Here, too, the goal is to widely extract active ingredients from the tea leaf in the course of preparation.
Standards of Tea Preparation – Pu Erh Tea
As with white and yellow tea, there is a fundamental distinction to be made with Pu Erh tea. This is the distinction between unripened “sheng” on the one hand and ripened “shou” on the other. A special feature is that standards appling to a “shou” are also applicable for a “sheng” that has matured for a relevant period.
For a young “sheng” pu erh this means: low water temperature (70°C), short infusion period, several infusions (4+). At this, increase infusion temperature and period from steep to steep, in order to extract most active ingredients. As for dosing, use 1.5-3g tea leaves per 100ml water, depending on tea quality.
A ripened “shou” Pu Erh tea , on the other hand, can be prepared either in a single infusion or over several infusions. The preparation in one infusion is largely similar to that of black tea: boiling hot water, relatively high dosage (from 2.5-3g tea leaves/100ml water) and a steeping time of 3-5 minutes. When preparing a “shou” over several infusions, boiling hot water (90-100°C) should be used from the start. The infusion time for individual infusions is rather short, with the option of extending it in later steeps.
Standards of Tea Preparation – Tabular Overview
The following table tries to synthesize the different approaches taking into account my personal preferences and experiences … Therefore: please don’t be angry if my statements here contradict what you have learned elsewhere or have established as your favorite preparation approach for a type of tea. There is no right or wrong here! And there are as many suitable parameter combinations for the preparation of any tea as there are people drinking tea…
One more thing, on my own account…
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