Tea Steeping Guide
How to Prepare White, Green, Oolong, Black and Pu-Erh Teas
There is no one "right" way to make a cup of tea. The most important thing is that it tastes good to you. If you like your tea with cream and sugar, butter and salt, or on its own, then that's the "right" way for you to do it.
There are a few guidelines that people (sort of) agree on when it comes to steeping the different types or categories of tea. If you've never tried a particular tea, you might try infusing it according to the following general guidelines. If it is too strong, use less tea, use a lower temperature, and/or steep the leaves for less time. If it is too weak, use more tea, raise the temperature, etc. Some teas, particularly Oolongs and Pu-erhs, can be steeped several times with dramatic differences in flavor between infusions. Each tea is unique, so experimentation is the key until you get comfortable with the process.
Based on a Standard 6 Oz Cup*
White teas tend to be quite delicate and subtle in flavor. We recommend that white teas be infused at a lower temperature (160-180°F) for a longer period of time. Start out with a big tablespoon per cup, and steep for 5-7 minutes.
We recommend that this stylistically diverse category of tea be infused using water just under the boil (195°F). Use1-2 teaspoons per cup, and infuse 2-6 minutes. See Gong Fu Tea Preparation section below for additional (and highly encouraged) serving suggestion.
To infuse black tea, we recommend useing about 1.5 teaspoons per cup and boiling (212°F) water. Let it steep for about 5 minutes and enjoy. Most commercial grade black teas are not steeped a second time, but high quality, whole leaf black teas can be steeped 3 or more times.
Note: Most standard Darjeeling teas, which are usually considered to be black teas, are said to be best steeped using 195°F water (under a boil).
To steep Pu-Erh tea "Western style," pry a small amount of leaves off of the compressed tea cake, brick, etc. It is difficult to give a volume of tea leaves when dealing with Pu-Erh because there isn't a standard of compression from factory to factory. Two teaspoons from one brick might weigh twice as much as two teaspoons from another. We recommend infusing about 3 grams per cup (about 1 tsp) the first time you make a particular Pu-Erh and adjust the amount used to your taste in future sessions. Use water that is as close to boiling as possible for both Sheng and Shu Pu-Erh teas. Steeping times will vary greatly from tea to tea. Start by steeping the tea leaves for 3 minutes and adjust according to your taste. See Gong Fu Tea Preparation section below for additional and highly encouraged serving suggestion.
Gong Fu (sometimes spelled Kung Fu) literally means to do something "with skill," and, contrary to popular belief, it is not a term reserved solely for martial arts. Over the past several hundred years, this method of preparing tea has evolved into a very precise and elaborate ceremony in parts of the Chinese tea world, but it is also a very practical and economical way to enjoy higher quality tea. Ultimately, we think that once you get a feel for the basics, it is an easy and intuitive process that allows tea drinkers to enjoy the entire experience of preparing and enjoying their tea.
This is a video that we made 2010. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to update the old logos, cheesy Tibetan pop music, fashion, or facial hair choices,
but we feel that the content is still worth sharing.
To get started, you are going to need a vessel to steep the tea leaves in. A small, usually less than ½ Cup (as in baking) volume "Yixing" style teapot or Gaiwan (lidded bowl) are the vessels traditionally used. Really, any small teapot or just a mug with a removable infuser insert will work just fine. Other items needed are cups and an optional serving pitcher. The cups are typically very small and hold approximately two Tablespoons (30 ml), and the pitcher should have the same or greater volume as your brewing vessel.
The amount of tea used varies greatly by tea type, how tightly rolled/compressed the leaves are, and your own personal taste, but the general rule of thumb is that you want to at least cover the bottom of the steeping vessel if the leaves are tightly rolled or fill about 1/4 to 1/3 of the steeping vessel with larger, non-ball-rolled leaf styles. Many people prefer to measure their tea leaves by weight vs. the volume of the brewing vessel, and the usual recommendation is somewhere around 7 grams (1/4 oz) of tea per 150 ml (about 2/3 cup) water. We strongly recommend investing in a small, pocket-sized scale to weigh your tea leaves.
Bring the water to just under a boil for oolong tea, and to a full boil for Pu-Erh tea. The first step is to rinse the tea leaves and pour the liquid into the serving pitcher and cups to rinse them out and warm them up. This rinse is to wash away any dust or foreign matter from the tea leaves and to prime them for steeping.
Now you are ready to enjoy your tea. Start with a short infusion of 10-20 seconds. Pour the infused liquor away from the tea leaves either into the serving pitcher (for portion control) or directly into the teacups. Enjoy!
The tea leaves in your steeping vessel will slowly open and release their flavors during subsequent infusions. As they open up, increase the steeping time used to get the deepest layers of flavor out of the tea. Oolong teas can usually be infused at least 3 times, while Pu-Erh teas can be steeped up to 10 or more times.