Norbu Tea
Tea Steeping Guide: White tea, Green Tea, Oolong Tea, Black tea & Pu-erh tea

Tea Steeping Guide:

There is no "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 steeping 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 steepings. Each tea is unique, so experimentation is the key until you get comfortable with the process. 

White Tea: White teas tend to be quite delicate and subtle in flavor. The consensus seems to be to steep white teas at a low temperature (160-180 deg F) for a longer period of time. Start out with a big tablespoon per cup, and steep for 6 to 10 minutes.

Green Tea: These tend to be fairly delicate as well, and some green teas tend to get bitter if steeped for too long or at too high a temperature. The consensus is to steep green teas at about 175 deg F. Try one big teaspoon per cup and steep for 2-3 minutes. Don't forget that most green teas can be re-steeped at least twice if not more.

Oolong Tea: This stylistically diverse category of tea can be treated in the western manner by steeping 1-2 teaspoons per cup with water just under the boil (195 deg f or so). Steeped anywhere from 2-6 minutes, this is a very nice way to enjoy an oolong tea. See Gong Fu Tea Preparation section below for additional and encouraged serving suggestion.

Black (Red) Tea: To steep black tea, use about 1.5 teaspoons per cup and boiling (212 deg. 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 in 195 F water (under a boil).

Pu-Erh Tea: To steep Pu-Erh in the 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. I would say try 2 teaspoons or about 5 or 6 grams the first time you make a particular Pu-Erh and adjust the amount used to your taste in future Pu-Erh drinking 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.

"Western-Style" Tea Preparation: Weight/Volume, Temp & Time Recommendations Based on a Standard 6 Oz Cup*

                                

TEA TYPE
WEAKER BREW
STRONGER BREW
TEMP(F)STEEPING TIME
White
3g/1 Tbs
5g/1.5 Tbs
160-1806-10 min
Green
2g/1.5-2 tsp
5g/1-1.5 Tbs
1752-3 min
Oolong
2g/1-2 tsp
5g/1-1.5 Tbs
195-2122-6 min
Black
2g/1-2 tsp
5g/1-1.5 Tbs
195-2125 min
Pu-Erh**
2g/1 tsp
5g/2-3 tsp
2123 min

*Each tea is different, so adjust amount of tea, temperature and steeping time to your personal preference.



Gong Fu Cha

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Gong Fu Tea Preparation for Oolong and Pu-erh Teas

In Mainland China and Taiwan, high quality Oolong and Pu-Erh teas are almost always enjoyed "Gong Fu" style. Gong Fu (sometimes spelled Kung Fu) literally means "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 China, but it is also a very practical and economical way to enjoy higher quality teas which tend to be quite costly. It is my opinion that this is an easy and intuitive process that allows the consumer to enjoy the entire experience that drinking tea has to offer, as well as every layer of flavor present in the leaves. Strangely enough, it has been my experience that steeping and consuming tea in the western manner can seem a bit "foreign" once you get a feel for Gong Fu tea preparation.

To get started, you are going to need a vessel to steep the tea leaves in. A small, usually less than 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 type and personal taste, but the general rule of thumb is that you want about 1/4 to 1/3 of the steeping vessel full of dry tea leaves. Many people prefer to measure their tea leaves by weight vs. the volume of their brewing vessel, and the usual recommendation is about 6-7.5 grams (1/5 oz) of tea per 100 ml (about cup) water.

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. 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 steepings. As they open up, increase the steeping time used to get the deepest layers of flavor out of the tea. Oolong teas usually can be infused 3 to 5 times, while Pu-Erh teas can usually be steeped 10-15 times.

A note on water:

Since over 99% of the steeped tea's liquor is water, it is essential to have a good water supply. If your tap water tastes bad, is overly hard, or is overly soft, bottled or filtered water will be your best option. Distilled water is not good candidate for tea because of its lack of dissolved minerals, etc that give the water a perceptible taste. Distilled water is often described as flat or stale tasting, and as such should not be used for tea. The same goes for overly hard water. It has too many dissolved minerals (calcium and magnesium predominantly) which will negatively affect the tea liquor. The best bet for consistently good tea is to use bottled spring water, which is usually balanced in terms of mineral content and taste. Faucet-mounted or pitcher-type water filters are usually a good option, too.
Norbu Tea Company, LLC PO Box 800697 Dallas, TX 75380-0697 norbu@norbutea.com

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