How to brew Tea: Western Style
I’m getting some questions of people on how to get started with loose leaf tea. It’s important that you know there are two main ways of making tea: Western style and Gong Fu style. Western style is making tea as most people in the Western world make tea. They use a strainer full of tea in a large cup or mug. Gong Fu is the traditional Chinese way of making tea and usually involves a teapot, a gong dao bei and several smaller cups. This post is about Western style brewing and will give you all the information you need to start making tea.
What is it?
Brewing tea Western style is putting a low amount of tea leaves in a strainer. Then you put this strainer in a large mug of hot water and you leave it for a few minutes (3 minutes if it is the first infusion). This is an easy way to make tea as you don’t need much and it doesn’t take long. One of the most famous examples of making tea Western style is the teabag. Because this is a blog of real, loose leaf tea, I will not elaborate on this further. Back to using loose leaf tea! Are you ready to get started? A big question to answer first is: “What exactly do you need?”.
This is a picture of the most popular way of brewing tea: the teabag. (picture by freestock.org)
This is Western style brewing as it should be: using a strainer in a large cup. (picture by Matt Seymour)
What do I need?
Tea mainly consists of water so you can guess water is an important factor when making tea. In theory, fresh spring water is the best water for tea for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, this is not convenient for lot of people due to practical reasons. Most of us live in areas where you can’t just go to the village well or spring and collect some water to brew your tea. There are several great alternatives available such as different kinds of bottled water (spa, vittel, …) and tap water. I recommend using water that suits you best as everyone is different and everyone has a different taste. One remark to make is to stay away from chemically treated water, which is a bit self-evident.
At least as important as the type of water you pick for your tea is the temperature of the water. Each type of tea is different so some of these types need to be brewed at a higher or lower temperature. Take a look at the following table to see at which temperature each tea needs to be brewed. Important to note is that these are just guidelines. Some teas are different but in most cases, the seller will tell you at which temperature it should be brewed. If you don’t have this information, use this table as a starting point and tweak it to your liking.
There are some relatively cheap tea kettles available on which you can specify the exact temperature. This is handy if you are drinking a lot of tea as you can pick the exact temperature for each type. If you do not want to spend that much extra money, buy a cheap thermometer for liquids and you’re good to go. Just boil the water, leave your kettle alone for a while with the lid open and check the temperature.
You can use tea leaves several times (around 2 or sometimes 3) and it would be a waste if you throw them away after only one infusion. If you are using the leaves for the first time, you should leave them in the water for 3 minutes. If you’re going for a second infusion, add one minute so that makes 4 minutes in total. These are only guidelines as I recommend trying out different steeping times. Everyone is different and likes tea in a different way.
Now you know what to do with the water, you can go to the next step: the tea itself! You can buy any type of loose leaf tea to start brewing. A lot of local stores are offering a wide variety of loose leaf tea but if you want to order online, go and read this post. Once you have the tea, you need to know how much tea to use for one mug. Take a look at the table above and you can see how much grams of tea to use per 100ml of water. If you have a 400ml mug, you should use around 2,4g of green tea leaves. Again, these are only guidelines and I recommend changing some things to find out how you like your tea best. The picture below is a picture of some amazing Yuchi Assamica black tea.
In order to get the right amount of leaves, you can use a small kitchen scale. There are some easy to use scales available specifically for tea and spices. The one on the picture on the right is relatively cheap and is perfect to use when you want to make a cup of tea.
Some stores give instructions like “add one tablespoon of tea per cup”, or “two tablespoons for a large teapot”. These guidelines are easy but using a scale offers more control on how you brew your tea. If you like your cup of tea and you know how much tea you’ve used, you can use the same amount of leaves the next day and have more or less the same tea.
A final item you need to brew tea Western style is a tea strainer. This is the item in which you put the tea leaves. Then you place it in the mug and pour water over it. After several minutes (around 3 for the first infusion), you remove the strainer and your tea is ready! There is a huge variety of tea strainers available but there are some things you need to keep in mind while buying one. They are available in all kinds and shapes but the most important aspect is the size. Make sure your tea strainer is big enough because the leaves need to have enough room to expand. Otherwise the leaves cannot release all of their flavours and you only get a part of the tea you’re paying for. Tea is expensive as it is so you need to make sure you get everything out of those leaves!
These little tea strainers can look really cute and awesome but I do not recommend using them. They are too small and the tea leaves are unable to open up completely so you will not experience all of its flavours.
A tea strainer like this one is perfect! It is big enough so you can extract all of the flavours. It even comes with a lid which you can use to put the strainer on after infusing.
How to do it?
You have arrived at the final step: making the tea! Take a mug and put it on the table. Now you take your loose leaf tea, put the right amount of tea leaves in the strainer and put the strainer in the mug. Next you heat water until the right temperature and then you pour water over the tea leaves. If you are using the leaves for the first time, you wait three minutes and then remove the tea strainer. It’s really important that you remove the tea leaves from the water as they keep releasing their flavour compounds. If you leave the leaves in the water for too long, it can become really bitter.
Now you know more or less everything there is to know about making tea Western style. What are you waiting for?
Picture by raw pixel.com