I recently spoke to a tea merchant who asked me how I brew my teas for reviews. I explained that, depending on the size of my sample, I typically try to brew the tea several different ways in hopes of duplicating the kind of treatment that a tea might get from a customer. This usually means that I do at least one “standard” brew with a small amount of leaf and a lot of water. Chinese teas are also typically brewed “gong-fu” style, with a lot of leaf and very little water. If I’m feeling particularly patient, I may also pour the tea over ice or prepare it in the “cold brew” method by mixing leaf and water and letting it sit in the fridge overnight.
Each brewing method has its advantages, which is part of the reason why I am such a fan of loose leaf tea: Even just an ounce or two of the stuff gives me plenty of material for experimentation. The more I experiment, the more likely I am to find the best way of brewing a tea. Here are some of the techniques that I use:
- Standard: The “standard” way of brewing tea is pretty straightforward. Eight ounces of water is poured over about three grams of tea leaf. The tea is allowed to infuse for two to five minutes, then decanted. For those who enjoy being able to take big sips of a large, steaming mug of tea, this method works great with Ceylon, African and Indian teas, though many teas from China and Taiwan also taste delicious when prepared in this manner.
- Gong-Fu: This style of brewing requires some specialized equipment such as tiny teapots and gaiwans (a Chinese covered cup used for both infusing and drinking tea) so you may have to do some hunting. Still, oolongs and other high end Chinese and Taiwanese teas can taste wonderful when prepared this way, which involves a large amount of tea leaf infused with just a couple ounces of water for a series of very short steeps. As the leaves expand with each infusion “round”, you can detect new and different flavors and scents.
- Iced Tea: I’ve suggested preparing inexpensive teas as iced teas in the past, as icing can mute bitter, overpowering or “off” flavors. But sometimes it is also nice to make a really good iced tea from really good tea leaves. One of my favorites is iced Yunnan. These sweet, spicy leaves make a wonderfully refreshing cold tea, perfect on a hot day! My method of brewing iced tea is simple: Double the amount of leaf that I would normally use to make a pot of “standard” tea. After infusion, I pour it into a pitcher over ice cubes and then pour the tea into an ice-filled glass.
- Cold Brew Iced Tea: The cold brew iced tea method works particularly well with green teas (try it with gunpowder): The resulting tea tends to be sweet without becoming bitter or overly vegetal. It doesn’t always work well with black teas (particularly Indian black teas), as not enough flavor gets extracted from the leaves. If you do want to experiment with a cold-brew black tea, try Ceylon: It’s lemony flavor makes for a delicious cold brew tea.
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