Sunday, March 18, 2012

Top 5 Mistakes I Make When Brewing Tea

This top 5 post highlights the most frequent mistakes I make when brewing tea.

  • Brewing tea that's not great quality - I know this isn't really a "brewing" problem, but when I ask the question: "Why didn't this cup of tea turn out well?" the answer is often that the tea used to prepare it was not particularly fresh or high-quality. Although I've encountered some green teas and a few oolongs that are truly picky about brewing, most teas I drink aren't, so if the tea turns out truly bad, the tea is usually the culprit.

  • Not making the water hot enough - I rarely brew tea too hot, mainly because I am aware of the types of teas that tend to be sensitive to water that is too hot, and I tend to be cautious with them. However, I also find that there are many teas that I prefer brewed with fairly hot water, that other people recommend brewing with cooler water. I thus find that I err too much on the side of water being too cool for my tastes, especially when following written brewing instructions. Another reason that I can brew tea with water that is too cool is if the room is cold and I do not warm up the mug or tea pot before brewing.

  • Oversteeping a whole-leaf tea on the second infusion - I often make multiple infusions of my tea when brewing western-style, in a mug, using a tea infuser. I generally do not do a "rinse" of the leaves as one does with proper Gong Fu brewing. When not doing a rinse, however, the leaves tend to take some time to become wet and start infusing, so the first infusion may be rather weak. The second infusion, however, can become much stronger even with a shorter steeping time. For example, I recently steeped a green tea for 2 minutes, and it came out just right. I steeped it a second time, for 1 minute, and it was much too strong on the second infusion. Oops.

  • Using too little leaf when brewing greener oolongs - I find the amount of leaf necessary when brewing greener oolongs to be hard to gauge. If I've used too much leaf, I can usually detect this from the smell, as soon as I pour water over the leaf, and make a short infusion. When I use too little leaf, I just end up with a bland cup. I seem to make this mistake a lot. For some reason, I don't have this problem with darker oolongs as much.

  • Brewing a cup of tea out of habit when I am not really in the mood for it - As much as I love tea, I'm not always in the mood for it. There are a few times in my day, especially in the morning, when I regularly make myself a cup of tea. On those occasions when I make a cup of tea out of habit without really wanting it, I usually don't enjoy it very much. I find that this problem is preventable if I imagine what (if anything) I want to brew up before actually starting to do so. The problem is only on those days when I'm on auto-pilot.

How about you...what are some of the mistakes you make when brewing tea?


  1. No. 3 is a canny point. A first infusion is like a crank on the starter handle; by the second the dynamo is really going.

  2. makes you realize that a lot of the practices that seem strange to people unfamiliar with Gong Fu brewing actually have a purpose to them. In some ways, the whole phenomenon echoes how I feel about traditions with food and drink in general...especially those coming out of China. There are all these highly specific practices, and they sometimes seem strange to westerners, but when you examine them, many of them make sense and have some clear reason behind them.

  3. Good post, Alex! I just yesterday had to pour off a whole pot of Darjeeling first flush (last year's) b/c my water temp is too low. I brew it like a light ooling - about 190-200 degrees, but must have been lower b/c it tasted like weak water. The second (hotter) steep was much better! That's the fun of it, eh? Learning to pay attention.

    1. I rarely find any Darjeeling first flush that tastes bad with boiling water (unless it's first flush Darjeeling green or oolong). On the other hand, I frequently find that if the water is too cool, it tastes very bland to me.

      I've actually tested it out, and I've found that a lot of tea companies recommend temps as low as 190 for some first flush black teas, and I just don't like how they come out that way.

      On the other hand, I've tried a number of Darjeeling oolongs that were just outright terrible if the water was not sufficiently cool--and 190 would be too hot for many of these teas. Again, the temps I settled on were much lower than the tea company recommendations!