Brewing Japanese Tea - Prologue
Brewing tea can be as casual as dropping a tea bag into hot water or as formal as the Japanese Tea Ceremony. If you start with good quality tea, it only takes a little care and attention to have a great tea experience. The care and attention are focused on the brewing parameters, water temperature and steeping time. So, here is information on how brewing parameters impact the taste of tea, and some tips to help you brew a better cup. Please consider these as starting points, not as hard and fast rules for brewing. As you brew your favorite tea, make a note of the taste and aroma and adjust the next brewing to suit your taste better.
The taste of Japanese green tea is considered a harmony of fresh bitterness and natural sweetness, also called Umami. The bitterness comes from catechins and caffeine, and Umami comes from L-Theanine, an amino acid.
|Taste of main components chart:
The relationship between water temperature and the extent that the 3 major components are extracted are key parameters affecting the taste. Catechin and caffeine are more easily extracted with hot water, while L-Theanine extraction is relatively constant regardless of water temperature.
Amount of component dissolution by water
The flavor of the cup you brew depends on how you extract L-Theanine (Umami), that is, how you control the bitterness by adjusting water temperature. Many people say that green tea should be brewed at a low water temperature (160°F to 180°F) to control the bitterness. This is correct for some teas, but it does not apply to all green teas. For example, premium teas like Gyokuro or a high-quality Sencha contain a lot of L-Theanine and are enjoyed mainly for their sweet and full-bodied taste. So, you use a low water temperature to control the bitterness. Genmaicha, Kukicha, and Houjicha are teas where you want to enjoy the aroma as well as the taste, similar to oolongs and black teas. For these teas, use hotter water to extract as much aroma as possible.
|Japanese Green Tea Brewing Parameters – Summary
|Flavorful, with a slight bitterness
|Full bodied, with little bitterness
The best method to reach the desired temperature for brewing is to bring the water to a boil then let it cool to the desired temperature. One way to do this without a thermometer is to pour boiling water into the teacups to be used. The temperature of boiled water cools to approximately 180°F when you pour it into a cup at room temperature. If you transfer the water to another cup, the temperature cools by another 20°F and you have the water at 160°F. By doing this, you can have water at 180°F, 160°F or 140°F as suggested in our brewing instructions. This method also warms the teacup so the tea will stay warm longer.
Water temperature is approximate and varies depending on room temperature.
Gentle Brewing: Gentle Brewing is used for teas where flavor is slightly more important than the aroma. The goal is to draw out the taste from the leaves by using water that is not too hot. This is the technique for any tea that uses water below the boiling point. This brewing method is described in this video:
Robust Brewing: This type of brewing is used for more aromatic teas. Here the aroma is an important part of enjoying the tea. Water is boiled and poured directly onto the tea in the pot as described here:
Making Matcha: Matcha is a fine powder made from tea leaves. The powdered leaf doesn't dissolve in the water, but is suspended in the liquid. Consequently, it is important to enjoy this drink before the tea settles to the bottom of the cup. To help prevent lumps, we recommend that you sift the Matcha through a fine strainer before whisking. Brewing Matcha is very different than steeping tea leaves. You should have at least one special tool, a bamboo whisk called a Chasen. Matcha brewing is described here:
Tips for Brewing: If you are brewing more than two cups, say 3 cups, the order of pouring is 1, 2, 3 then 3, 2, 1 then 1, 2, 3 and you should make at least 3 pours in each cup. This way, each cup has an equal taste. Even for brewing only one cup, do not pour the tea from the pot in one constant pour. Break up the pour into at least 3 segments just as if you were pouring for multiple cups. Your cup will have a deeper taste because the repeated up and down motion causes the tea leaves and water to mingle more. This brewing tip can be seen here:
Tips for Brewing Fukamushi Sencha: Fukamushi Sencha is a sencha that is steamed more than normal senchas in the manufacturing process. Consequently, the fibers in the leaves are broken more and it is an “easier” brew. Additionally, you can adjust the cup strength by your pouring action. Even with the same amount of tea leaves, water and infusing time, how you move your teapot makes a difference in your Fukamushi Sencha! You can see the difference here:
We’re not suggesting one method over the other. Just pointing out a way to brew a stronger cup so that you can enjoy Fukamushi Sencha flavor at its maximum. Find your own technique and have the best cup for you.
We suggest using bottled or filtered water for brewing tea. For Japanese green teas where the emphasis is on enjoying the taste more than the aroma, soft water is considered ideal since it is easily absorbed by tea leaves and extracts the rich contents of the tea to the maximum level. Generally soft water has under 100 ppm of calcium or magnesium. Soft water is used to brew most teas in Japan.
On the other hand, hard water is considered good to extract aroma and suppress bitterness. Therefore, hard water is ideal for Genmaicha, Houjicha or flavored tea. The water supplied to homes in North America is mostly hard water.
Normally you don’t need to think about water hardness when you brew tea, however as your taste for Japanese green tea matures you may taste a difference when using soft water.
Any variety of green tea will make a good glass of iced tea. To add to the refreshing taste, we suggest a tea with a strong aroma. For Japanese teas, Genmaicha, Bancha, Houjicha and flavored senchas are great choices. Steep as directed for hot tea. Once brewed, immediately pour the tea into a cup filled with ice. The rapid cooling locks in the aroma. If you sense the taste is a bit light, use up to 50% more tea leaves than recommended in the Brewing Parameters. This way the brewed iced tea will retain its flavor even as the ice cubes in glass melt.
You can generally get two infusions from each pot. Be sure to empty the pot of all liquid after the first brewing. This will help avoid the second cup becoming too bitter. Follow the directions on the package for the second brewing as the steeping time and temperature may vary.
Keep your tea ware clean. Remove any stains that start to appear. If necessary, use bleach to clean hard-to-remove stains. (Be sure to thoroughly rinse the pot after using bleach.) The spout of the pot is sometimes neglected in the cleaning process so pay special attention to it.
For unopened packages of tea, we recommend that our products be stored in the refrigerator or, even better, the freezer. Our one-pound packages are vacuumed sealed and are good for 12 months in the refrigerator. Our 2 oz packages have an oxygen absorber to keep the tea fresh until opened and are also good for 12 months. Once the package is opened, please discard the oxygen absorber.
After opening, reseal the package well after use. (Our 2oz package is re-sealable.) Then store it in a cool dry place, but not in the refrigerator. Taking open packages in and out of the refrigerator may cause the tea to absorb moisture that harms the quality of the tea. After opening a package, we suggest you consume the tea in a few months to enjoy the freshest tea. Tea is a very stable product and you can drink it up to a year after opening. We don't recommend to store tea in glass jars since the light will impact the color and quality of the tea.
When we started our business in 2000, tea drinkers in North America did not seem ready for the traditional taste of Japanese green tea. Consequently, we developed our brewing parameters to make a slightly lighter and milder cup of tea.
On our 10th anniversary in 2010, we updated our brewing parameters to produce a more traditional and slightly stronger cup because we thought many of our patrons had developed into tea fanatics and were ready for a more full-bodied taste.
In 2020, our 20th anniversary, we updated brewing again to adjust for the maturing tastes of our North American customers. In the past decade, we have seen even more tea fanatics and they have established their own styles. In fact, when we surveyed our customers, we found that most of our customers brew Japanese tea just for themselves and use a 4oz cup for premium tea and an 8oz cup for casual tea. So, we adjusted our brewing parameters again for our changing customer base. Of course, there are many ways to brew tea, however the most important brewing style is the way you like your tea. As we did 20 years ago, we still suggest that you experiment with water temperature and steeping time for each tea that you enjoy and keep notes of the result. You will soon find your personal tea brewing style and that’s the best one for you!