From fresh tea leaves to a good cuppa, there are many variables in between, from tea tree varieties, tea-growing environment, tea processing to tea storage and brewing, and finally forms the cup of tea that you drink. This article will not elaborate on the formation of the unique flavour of each tea. The main list listed is the influence of the water, temperature, and tools used in the process of transforming from tea leaves to a good cup of tea.
This is the most basic requirement, good quality tea. No matter what kind of tea, according to the various factors of the origin of the raw materials, there are differences in quality starting from dry tea.
For example, white tea, the superior grade white tea has a lot of pekoes, the leaves are flat and long, and contains no old stems. The leaves of ordinary quality white tea have no pekoes, leaves are wrinkled, and contains mostly of old stems and red leaves. The quality of white tea is due to the pekoes which are high in amino acid and catechin content, forming the fresh and sweet foundation of a good cup of white tea.
For loose tea, observing the conditions, colour and clarity of the tea leaves through the appearance can preliminarily judge the quality of the tea. At the same time, tasting the tea itself is also an indispensable step to judge the quality of the tea. Some defects can only be known by drinking; such as over-roasting of the tea leaves. For example, withering in rainy weather, insufficient water leads to the green smell of white tea. Tea polyphenols, main astringency, caffeine, bitterness, theanine, sweetness for important characteristics of tea. So why is pure hand-made tea is more expensive than machine-made tea? This is based on the fact that traditional craftsmanship controls every process well. The higher theanine content, that is, the higher the sweetness and freshness, the lower the bitterness resulting in a smooth cup of tea.
Different types of tea have different tenderness, different degree of shaping, and characteristics. All these factors leads to the various required brewing times for the tea. You can first summarize the several forms of tea. The spherical oolong tea (heavy shaping) brews slower than the flat green tea, as the leaves of the spherical oolong tea needs to unfold in the pot. Even for the same tea, the amount of tea put in determines the time for making tea as the amount of water in a pot of tea is fixed by the size of the pot. Only by controlling the proportion of the tea, can the tea soup not cover up other flavours due to the excessive bitterness and astringency.
Ancient Chinese writings have studied the influence of water with different water temperatures on tea. For example, the “undercooked water, Overcooked water, Hou Tang[optimum temperature water]” was mentioned in the “Tea Records” of the Song Dynasty. “Undercooked water” means that the water temperature is too low, even if the inner substance of green tea is not easy to brew. Overcooked water is boiling water, and when used for inappropriate tea leaves, excessive tea tannins and caffeine will be released, resulting in a strong and bitter tea taste. “Hou Tang [optimum temperature water]” means that the water just reaches a small boil, between 80-95 degrees Celsius. Most teas can be brewed in this temperature while fine-tuning the temperature further according to the characteristics of the tea.
The water temperature of brewing tea is positively correlated with the release of soluble substances in the tea. The higher the water temperature, the more substances are released, the thicker the tea soup. Generally, the leaching amount at 60 degrees Celsius water is only equivalent to 45-65% of the leaching amount of tea brewed with boiling water. Unoxidised or lightly oxidised tea leaves are tender and strong, so they are generally not suitable for brewing with high-temperature water. As for heavily oxidised tea, or aged tea, the tea is mild and thick, and would need high-temperature stimulation to better release the tea flavour. For teas harvested in the wild, they generically have broad buds and leaves, high resistance to soaking, and a mellow and fragrant taste. Therefore, boiling water is needed to stimulate its special tea fragrance. Chinese Black tea leaves are extremely rich in internal quality and the production process is complicated and takes a long time. If the temperature of the water is too low, there is no way to stimulate the tea to produce its rich and mellow taste. Wuyi Rock Tea is a heavily oxidised tea with rich flavour and rocky charm. If the temperature of the water is not high enough, it will not be able to stimulate the flavour and richness of Rock tea. The water temperature of green tea is generally controlled at 80 degrees Celsius. If the temperature of the water is too high, it will cause a large amount of tea polyphenols to be leached, and the tea would become too bitter. It will also destroy the vitamin C, chlorophyll and green tea in the tea. Green tea should taste refreshing, fresh and tender, and if brewed with water that the over the required temperature, the bitterness and astringency will mask these characteristics.
The influence of water on tea is not as great and obvious as the previous conditions, and for most, the water that is available and meets safety standards would be sufficient. However, for those who are very particular about tea, water is also a very important variant. If the quality of water is exceptional, it will elevate the taste of your cup of tea to the next level.
The types of modern water are divided into eight categories: urban tap water, purified water, distilled water, mineral water, natural spring water, natural mineral water (TK), soda water, and aerated mineral water. In the doctoral dissertation “The Effect of Water Quality on the Flavour Quality of Dragon Well Tea and Its Mechanism”, the study shows that distilled water, purified water, natural drinking spring water and other water samples with lower total ion content taste better. The ions in the water have a great influence on the extraction of tea polyphenols, catechins and amino acids.
Making tea is not only the process of drinking a cup of tea, the tea artist also beautifies the process of making tea. If a good cup of tea is equipped with suitable brewing techniques, it will also make the tea taste better. The technique is inseparable from the influence of water and temperature on tea mentioned before. If the previous factors are all directly influencing factors, the technique is to indirectly achieve the goal of a good cup of tea with the brewer controlling the water, temperature and matching teaware. It is said that green tea is the most tender, so with the aid of the alternative brewing method, first pour hot water and then add tea to reduce the contact time between hot water and tea and prevent excessive release of tea substances from the force of pouring water. For example, some teas need high temperature, such as Wuyi rock teas. In order to maintain the high-temperature requirement of the tea, cover the tea lid with the hot water and then pour the pot to reduce the temperature difference between the inside and the outside of the pot, which helps to stimulate the high temperature that is needed. While the tea is brewing, the time is controlled as well. With the perfect control, the optimal tea aroma would be induced and the amount of polyphenolic alkaloids will remain balanced. The cup of rock tea would be full of flavour, not astringent, not bitter, and smooth.
Commonly used tea wares include purple clay, glass, porcelain teapots and cups. As for kettles, it includes iron, clay, silver, glass kettles and so on. The former has a direct impact on tea, and the latter has an impact on water quality. The good thing about glass would be its transparency. The transparency allows for the appreciation of the shape and colour of the tea and the tea leaves. Especially true for green tea which contains a beautiful bright green hue. During the brew, you can observe the “dance of the tea leaves” as the leaves slowly stretch and unfold, much like new leaves growing on branches of the tea tree. White porcelain and some ceramic products, have pure colours, high density, and it is not easy to leave the smell of tea in the vessel or change the quality of tea. Making Porcelain one of the most neutral vessel for brewing tea.
Integrating artistry and practicality, the purple clay teapot was specially introduced in the Ming Dynasty of China for making tea. It also helped the simplification of Chinese tea culture, while carrying the essence of tea and ancient literati. Due to the special pore structure of the purple clay, it can make the tea ‘breathe’ in the pot. Wen Zhenheng’s “Changwuzhi” mentioned: “Top quality teapots are made of purple clay. The lid does not steal the fragrance, nor does it have the sour smell of over brewed tea.” It is also because of the stomata that purple sand is more suitable for long-term brewing of one particular kind of tea.