History: Fuding County in Fujian Province is not just a core-producing area for white tea; it is the place that gave birth to the white tea we know today, beginning in the early 19th century.
Although white tea production is now more widespread, tea connoisseurs everywhere know that white tea hailing from Fuding is superior – there’s just too much tradition behind it, a slow perfection of its cultivation and production. What makes white tea especially attractive is how it can be aged, often resulting in a much more complex tea with incredible depth of flavor.
For this tasting, we chose an aged white tea, the 2013 Fuding White Peony Tea Cake. This tea is a Bai Mu Dan that was harvested in April 2013, sun-dried (not dried with forced air), and aged for three years before being compressed into cakes in 2016. Six years later, it’s clear that we have an incredible gem on our hands.
This is how we conducted our tasting session:
- Method: Gongfu
- Temperature: 190°F (88°C), also suggest to try with 200°F
- Amount of Tea Leaves: 6g, or 7g for standard gongfu tasting
- Length of Infusion: 25-45 seconds
- Number of Infusions: 13
- Time: 75 minutes
Initial Impression: The dry leaves are beautiful to behold, a mélange of green, yellow, brown, and black, like a beautiful camouflage. In the nose, I’m picking up the smell of melons, particularly honeydew and cantaloupe.
First Infusion: The color of the liquor is a pale banana yellow, and I’m picking up a sweet, tart aroma, sort of like a raspberry reduction with a pinch of lemon juice and nutmeg. The flavor reminds me of a summer refresher – a glass of mineral water with some fresh-squeezed lemon and sliced berries. The melon aromatics are noticeable in the pleasant aftertaste.
Second Infusion: The color has darkened slightly, turning a lemon yellow, and the aromatics now smell fruitier, almost reminiscent of nectarine. This cup is without a doubt more fruit-forward than the first infusion, and it’s sweeter in taste as well. I’m picking up sliced plums and raspberries.
Third Infusion: With this infusion, the color of the tea has transitioned to a honey yellow, and I find the fruity aromas persisting. So far, this is the sweetest cup yet. While the aromatics are similar to the second infusion, the flavor has moved away from the taste of cooked berries and more towards Medjool dates, hints of caramel and baked brown sugar.
Fourth Infusion: This liquor is so pretty, appearing butterscotch yellow now. I can now detect the smell of dates, but it’s accompanied by another familiar note, golden raisins. Upon sipping, all I can say is, “Wow!” This is, far and away, the tastiest infusion yet. How to describe the taste? There’s a number of Mediterranean desserts that use almonds, dates, and honey. A popular one is rather simple: slice the date in half, remove the pit, replace with a whole almond, and gently drizzle some honey over it. That’s what this infusion reminds me of. Of particular note, here is the fantastic aftertaste.
Fifth and Sixth Infusions: As I peer into the tasting cup, I admire the depth of the color of this tea. It’s almost orange now, somewhere between marigold and apricot. Breathing in the infused leaves is a form of aromatherapy – it’s so relaxing and fall-appropriate, like a freshly baked apple pie made from golden apples. To no surprise, even the taste is crisp apple sweet with a slightly toasted crust flavor, very much like apple pie. When I close my eyes, I feel like I’m in a kitchen, a pie freshly baked sits on a cooling rack, and its aromas are intermingling with the fresh fall air coming in through the windows.
Seventh and Eighth Infusions: This time, the color of the tea appears slightly diminished. It’s still a deep yellowish-orange, but this is the first sign that the peak of this tea has been reached. Strangely, the aromas seem more like golden raisins again, maybe with a slight grapey quality. As I sip this cup, I’m left somewhat speechless, initially overwhelmed with sweetness. While the 5th and 6th infusions were my favorite, I was definitely not expecting these infusions to be so flavorful.
Ninth and Tenth Infusions: This is officially a pleasant, strange tea. Usually, when tasting a tea, it’s like a flower or onion, each pedal or layer peeled back with every infusion, revealing something new. This tea, however, is a bit different. Beginning with the 8th infusion and persisting through the 9th and 10th, it feels like this tea has come full circle, like it’s going back to the beginning. These infusions very much weirdly remind me of the 2nd and 3rd infusions. I’ve never had a tea circle back around like this.
Eleventh to Thirteenth Infusions: The flavors more or less remain, but with each infusion, they grow just a little weaker. These infusions are still enjoyable, but the texture of the liquor is thinning, the aftertaste is less powerful, and the flavors are more or less the same.
Conclusion: Upon finishing, this tea makes me feel nostalgic and reflective. I can’t help but to see it as a metaphor for life itself. There’s a vibrance present when we’re young, eventually giving way to depth and complexity, before slowly, ultimately turning back on itself. A number of philosophers and poets have reflected on the unity that ties the beginning and the end together, whether it be envisioning ourselves as part of the cyclical nature of being or even seeing death itself as a kind of birth.
There’s little question that this is a special tea. Just the “seasons” it runs through with each infusion is itself a fascinating experience, and the wonderful flavors present in every cup are delightfully delectable. If you’re unfamiliar with aged white teas, this is a great place to start!
Last week, we discussed what to expect when you venture into the exotic territory of pu’erh tasting. Unlike other forms of tea, it is pu’erh that usually has the most impressive endurance, lasting through many infusions. But not only that, it’s the transition, the changes from infusion to infusion that really make these teas special.
To help readers walk through this a little better, we decided to turn theory into reality, offering a guided tour through the tasting of one of our very own pu’erhs, the treasured Lao Man’E Ancient Tree, a raw pu’erh. This particular tea has an outstanding reputation for quality, but as a result of its deserved fame, this has lead to a surge in misleading blends, posing as copycats and fakes. We can assure you that our Lao Man’E is 100% authentic, as it was directly sourced by us.
For the curious, here’s how this tea session unfolded:
- Method: Gongfu
- Session One: 100mL clay teapot and Jian Zhan tea cup
- Session Two: Clay gaiwan
- Teapot: 205°F (96°C)
- Gaiwan: 210°F (99°C)
Amount of Tea Leaves:
- Teapot: 4g
- Gaiwan: 7g
- Length of Infusion: 25-45 seconds
Number of Infusions:
- Teapot: 14
- Gaiwan: 20
- Teapot: 75 minutes
- Gaiwan: 90 minutes
We opted to use two different methods of gongfu brewing, one with a teapot and one with a gaiwan, each using slightly different ratios of tea to water and slightly different temperatures. We elected to do this to learn what kinds of differences one can expect between the two methods.
Initial Impression: The dry leaves are noticeably long, colors ranging from pale green to dark green. Upon smelling, they present with an aroma of indistinguishable stone fruit and sweet honey.
Teapot: Immediately, I can detect a mild, smoky aroma, reminiscent of the smell of orchid flowers. Interestingly enough, this aroma doesn’t quite translate over to the taste where I am instead greeted with something more akin to a sharp woody note, like a cedar, paired with citrus peels. There’s a mild astringency, but it actually makes for quite a pleasant mouthfeel. I can’t quite explain it, but this infusion makes me feel like the color green. I imagine myself plucking a fresh tangerine from a tree, a lengthy bit of stem still attached, and as I inhale it, I taste this tea. When finished, within a minute, there’s a noticeable step up in energy.
Important Gaiwan Differences: The mild smoky aroma we detected with the teapot is fascinatingly different with a gaiwan, reminiscent of a sweet campfire, as if one were toasting marshmallows and baking green apples. In tasting the tea, there’s an obvious floral component that was lacking with the teapot, along the lines of honeysuckle and gardenia, but the star of the show are these delightful tropical flavors, almost like a piña colada.
Teapot: If the first infusion was like inhaling a fresh tangerine, the second infusion is more like biting into a fresh red apple. The astringency is a little more prominent in this cup, but nonetheless, it’s a sensation that still pleases the mouth. I get this feeling while I sip it, a single word comes to mind: fiery. That’s not to suggest that this tea is spicy or hot; it just invokes imagery associated with this word. Strangely, my sense of time begins to become distorted, as if time were dilating, somehow both, internally slow but externally fast.
Important Gaiwan Differences: The pleasant orange peel astringency from the first steeping of the teapot makes its appearance in the second infusion with the gaiwan, and the tropical piña colada flavor begins transitioning over to a more coconut-forward taste. A new floral aromatic also greets the nose. Unmistakably, it’s a jasmine. What’s nice about this infusion is that the texture of the tea is kind of buttery and smooth.
Teapot: With some subtle floral notes in the background, the fresh apple flavor from the previous infusion has given way to something a little more exciting. Imagine taking the apple peels, sprinkling them with cinnamon, and baking them; that’s what this cup tastes like. My mood has shifted with each infusion to light and airy, care-free, and I observe that my mind wants to both drift but also be empty, quickly pushing out any thoughts that arise, as if it is enjoying this ideational vacuum.
Important Gaiwan Differences: By the time you reach the third infusion, it is readily apparent that the gaiwan just brings out so many more floral notes than the teapot, adding a whole new dimension to this tea. In this infusion, we felt as though the jasmine remained, but it was also complemented by the lovely fragrance of blooming lilacs. This infusion is starting to become noticeably sweeter as well, like a spring orange blossom honey.
Teapot: The pu’erh is becoming noticeably fruitier. There’s a sweetness on the literal tip of the tongue that’s actually quite hard to pinpoint and describe. The flavor of apple peel is still present, but I’m now detecting a complement with wild blueberries. As I reach the bottom of the cup, I feel campfire, not the smokiness of a Lapsang but the feeling of campfire.
Important Gaiwan Differences: The jasmine aroma has become predominant, but amazingly, yet another floral aroma emerged: rose petals. Perhaps interesting, the nuttiness present in the first and second infusions has transformed into more of an almond-like taste.
Fifth and Sixth Infusions:
Teapot: This tea has officially burst into a fruity bouquet. If you take apple slices and wild blueberries, mix them with other types of berries and melon cubes, and then garnish the resulting fruit salad with a little bit of mint leaf, you’ve approached what these infusions now taste like. It’s astonishing how much flavor there can be so late in the process.
Important Gaiwan Differences: It’s hard to believe that this method of brewing really accentuates the floral qualities of this tea far more than the teapot. By the time you reach these infusions, the jasmine aroma remains strong alongside smoky orchid notes. These qualities remain fairly strong up through the eleventh infusion.
Seventh and Eighth Infusions:
Teapot: The texture of this tea has changed, and while you would expect this to signal that the tea is getting weaker, on the contrary, the texture is actually getting thicker. The liquor now has a melted butter texture to it, coating the mouth easily during each sip, leaving one feeling relaxed and emotionally warm. There are more indistinguishable floral notes in these infusions, accompanied by a honey-like sweetness reminiscent of the aroma from the dry leaves.
Teapot: Things get a little bizarre here. If you were to somehow take all of the flavors from all of the prior infusions and blended them together, that’s what this cup tastes like. It’s just a medley of diverse flavors, leading to the most complex taste of this tea yet.
Teapot: It seems that the ninth infusion was the grand finale. There’s still much to offer from this tea, as it’s beginning to taste slightly herbaceous, but the texture is at this point just starting to get thinner. Also, the complexity from the previous infusion is absent.
Important Gaiwan Differences: What makes the gaiwan especially nice for brewing this tea is that it seems to not only bring out the floral qualities of the tea more, but it does so for a longer period of time. Whereas the best infusions for the teapot seemed to occur between steepings five through eight, with the gaiwan, we’re comfortably into the tenth infusion with no sign of slowing down.
Eleventh to Fourteenth Infusions:
Teapot: With each and every infusion from here on out, the tea predictably gets thinner and the flavors weaker. It would be a mistake to dismiss these infusions altogether, as they’re still very much enjoyable, but they don’t compare to the previous infusions. Interestingly, there’s a fresh soybean flavor that has greeted the senses in these final cups.
Important Gaiwan Differences: You don’t really notice anything like this until the eighteenth infusion, and so you get much better stamina with it.
Conclusion: Wow! There’s no question that pu’erhs demand patience.
The teapot was nice insofar as it brought forward more of the fruity characteristics of this tea, but there’s little question that the gaiwan adds a whole new dimension since it elicits distinct and noticeable floral notes. These added floral notes make for an experience that the teapot is just lacking.
Similarly, with the teapot, far and away, the best infusions were throughout the middle of the tasting, from steeping five through eight, but with the gaiwan, this tea was able to maintain its strength well into its fourteenth infusion.
One important lesson here is that while you’ll still have a great tea if you choose to brew with the teapot, you’ll have an all-around even better experience using a gaiwan. It’s eye-opening what a difference a simple change in instruments can make.
A good secondary lesson, however, is that in both cases, if we would’ve tossed these leaves after just a few infusions, we would’ve sadly missed out on these experiences. At a minimum, therefore, it’s important to ensure that you’re reaching those later stages of your pu’erh, and this tea in particular is such a joy to continue to drink, suitable for an engaging conversation with a thoughtful companion.
Even though this tasting session focuses specifically on Lao Man’E, it’s important to remember that every pu’erh has treasures like this to offer when given time and attention. It’s easy to see why this tea not only has such a strong reputation, but also why more and more tea drinkers are drawn to the uniqueness of pu’erh tea in general.
Pu’erhs are one of the most complex kinds of teas out there, and with that complexity comes tremendous joy that tea drinkers can expect over a testing session.
Unfortunately, many novice tea drinkers make the mistake of assuming their pu’erhs should be treated like all their other teas – steeped somewhere between one and four times. If you’re one of these tea drinkers, then you might just be missing out on some of the best flavors of your pu’erhs.
What do we mean?
Think of your dried pu’erh leaves as a kind of flower bud, such as a lotus. With enough care and water, the bud slowly begins to blossom open and bloom, revealing its enchanting colors and aromas. Like the lotus bud, every infusion of your pu’erh opens it up until it, too, eventually blooms with incredible flavor before it begins to slowly wilt away.
To help you better understand this idea, we want to introduce you to the four stages of pu’erh.
Stage One: The Opening
It may be tempting to associate this stage with the very first infusion, but pu’erh is a little different from other kinds of tea. While this initial stage begins with the 1st infusion, it usually lasts up through the 3rd or even 4th steeping, as it takes several full infusions for your pu’erh leaves to fully open and wake up.
Structurally, the pu’erh during this stage tends to have more floral notes, a thinner texture, and the color of the liquor is a little subdued. You should begin to notice, however, that the flavor from the first to the third infusion transitions from more intense floral aromatics with a faint hint of sweetness similar to a nectar.
Stage Two: The Bloom
If you persist with steeping your pu’erh beyond three infusions, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best flavors and aromas that your tea has to offer. The second stage, which tends to last from the 4th to the 7th infusion, marks a significant departure from the initial steeping.
During this stage, the texture of the pu’erh becomes a little thicker, almost brothy, and the color really begins to glow. With some of the good pu’erh teas, you might even discover that the floral notes are now complemented by a noticeable honey-like sweetness as well as the emergence of some rich, fruity aromas.
Although the flavors are unquestionably outstanding, the real magic of this stage might belong to the sensations. It’s these infusions that lead more experienced tasters to speak of a tea possessing the warmth of a cooking spice or creating some kind of pleasant vapor in the back of the throat. This is the best time to really breathe into your teas.
Stage Three: The Maturation
As the pu’erh continues to change with each steeping, you’ll notice the liquor take on an increasingly dark intensity. If the second stage marked the ascent to the peak, this third stage is just on the other side, beginning the descent but still offering an incredible view. This is when your tea has reached full maturity, and this character will continue up through around the 10th -12th infusion.
At this stage, the floral aromatics will begin fading away, leaving behind a bouquet of spices, fruits, and dark honey. Although lacking in the complexity of the second stage, the tea will still possess a nice, rounded taste with a full texture, almost dessert-like.
Stage Four: The Twilight
It’s important to remember that every tea has a different amount of stamina, and so will enter into the fourth stage earlier than others, beginning as early as the 10th infusion. No matter when it starts, you can identify this stage by the fact that your tea’s characteristics will finally begin to wane – the color lightens, the texture thins, the aromatics dwindle, and the flavors fade. Fortunately, this isn’t something that happens immediately; rather, this is a gradual process that many still find quite delightful, if even worthy of deep reflection and meditation on life.
The virtues of the tea at this stage is that you’ll find the texture quite smooth, the tea itself agreeable to nearly any palate. While the flavors still remain in a somewhat diminished state, it’s here where you may finally begin to taste a transition to more vegetal notes, like sugar-snap peas or cruciferous greens.
Some teas during this stage quickly run out of stamina, lasting maybe only a few infusions; others can surprise, carrying onward just north of the 20th infusion. Discovering exactly when your tea reaches that point can prove to be a rewarding journey in and of itself, one that still promises plenty of noteworthy, enjoyable sips.
If you never realized just how far a pu’erh can take you before today, we hope this topic encourages you to explore some new tasting territory.
Since the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War, there has never been a tariff on tea in the United States… until now.
The Importance of China to the US Specialty Tea Market
It’s no secret that China is the world’s largest exporter of tea, and while tariffs are traditionally used to promote and protect domestic industry, tea is not exactly the kind of commodity that can be easily manufactured in the United States.
In fact, just last year, the US International Trade Commission revealed that China was the largest exporter of tea to the United States, even ahead of countries such as Japan and India, accounting for almost 1/5th of all tea imported to the US.
While 20% is already a staggering percentage, in reality, these numbers are actually even higher when tea is taken in the strict sense of camellia sinensis, not rooibos, herbals, and mate. For its accounting, the US ITC lumps all of these types together under the umbrella term “tea,” distorting the picture of China’s contribution to the US tea market.
Ultimately, the truth is that without Chinese tea, there simply is no way to accommodate the overall rising consumer demand in the states with domestic tea alone, let alone the demand for natural, hand-crafted, artisanal, high-quality specialty tea. As tea enthusiasts, we know how much the truly special teas of China — the green, black, oolong, pu-erh, and white teas; the renowned varietals such as Dragonwell green tea, Phoenix Dan Cong oolong, Wuyi Shui Xian, etc. — how much these teas are inimitable, aromas and flavors unable to be replaced.
What Exactly is the Problem?
Though rumors of an impending tariff on tea imports initially started as concerns within the industry, unfortunately, as of September 1st, 2019, these proposed changes have gone into effect – a 15% import tax has officially been levied on all teas imported from China.
There are some who might think that since the United States is the 3rd largest importer of Chinese tea (behind Russia and Pakistan), this could hurt the Chinese tea market as well, but this is wishful thinking. It is a fact that demand for tea in China and Europe has never been higher, and so any deficits from a taxed US market can easily be made up for elsewhere. So tea tariffs aren't going to do anything to China. Instead, all it does is hurting the US tea drinkers.
The Effects on the US Specialty Tea Market
Larger companies are unlikely to be affected much. So much of the tea found in inexpensive tea bags is purchased in bulk, coming at a discount due to economies of scale. A lot of this tea, also, isn’t purchased from China, instead made of cheap tea blends from inferior growing regions elsewhere in the world.
Besides large companies, in the US specialty tea market, there are three major groups of players: the US-based companies, the China-based individuals and companies (including some US tea companies operates in China), and pirates / counterfeiters. These latter two create websites geared towards US consumers, (often sell low quality teas,) and when an order is processed, they use their connections to ship directly from China, giving them a distinct advantage over US-based companies that follow the law. How these pirates and China-based tea companies manage to sell to the US market is another complicated issue. The short of it is that behind the scenes, they manage to operate at our own expense, and yet we can’t do anything about it.
Meanwhile, when political turmoil creates these kinds of economic consequences, it is the small- to mid-sized, US-based tea companies, especially those who import unique, artisanal teas from China like us, that will be affected the most.
Managing the Cost of Your Cup
The good news is that because much of this tea has already been sourced and imported for 2019, these new tea tariffs are unlikely to affect much just yet, but costs will surely rise in 2020. Unfortunately, this means that tea companies such as ourselves will need to begin thinking considerably about how to mitigate these costs since high quality specialty tea already has high price tag yet a low profit margin.
At MeiMei Fine Teas, profit has always been secondary to our mission: to make some of the world’s best teas available to you. You may not have realized it, but just last year, for instance, an import tax was levied on aluminum, affecting the purchasing price of our tea bags. But we were able to manage the cost.
In this case, we can assure you that we will be doing everything we can to manage the rising costs from these tea tariffs in 2020, and while we may be able to find a way to absorb some of the additional cost, at this time we cannot guarantee that we will be able to absorb all of the additional cost.
In the interest of transparency, we want you to be aware of some of the hidden economics and politics behind your cup, geopolitical factors that might inevitably raise prices. Our intention is certainly not to entice you to stock up on your favorite teas, but considering that some of these teas make excellent candidates for long-term storage, tasting better as they age – most notably pu’erh teas, white teas, and some oolongs – it may not be a bad idea to plan ahead by purchasing now and storing them for future consumption.
There are a surprisingly large number of people with caffeine sensitivities. Even when exposed to low amounts, these people will experience the effects from it, suffering from sleep disturbances or increased anxiety. In extreme cases, some might even react to decaffeinated coffee because it still contains minute amounts.
Since less is widely known about tea and this topic, those with caffeine sensitivity will often either stay away from tea no matter how much it interests them or else severely restrict their intake by drinking earlier in the day or not resteeping. But with the rare exception of extreme caffeine sensitivity, these choices can be unfortunate, depriving potential tea drinkers from their enjoyment due to misunderstanding.
We’re going to sort through some of the popular myths and misconceptions so that those worried about caffeine can make better informed decisions.
Myth #1: Caffeine is Highest in Black Tea and Lowest in Green or White Teas
Multiple analyses of the caffeine content in varying tea types have revealed that it’s a little all over the place but still close in range. We’ve found, for instance, that caffeine in white tea can be greater than black tea (but also vice versa), green tea from one location can be slightly higher than from another location, and sometimes Wuyi oolongs have lower amounts of caffeine than all of them.
Without knowing exactly what’s in your cup, you should instead think about the average caffeine range between all tea types: 20–30mg / cup. Whether it’s black, green, white, or oolong, there’s a strong chance that the total amount falls within that range.
Above all, the total amount of caffeine that is released into the water is largely determined by the total amount of time you infuse your tea leaves and the total leaf volume. The longer you steep your leaves and the more leaves you use, the more caffeine you release.
Myth #2: The Caffeine in Tea can cause the Jitters
Most tea types contain an amino acid known as “L-theanine,” an amino acid that promotes a sense of calm and well-being (similar to what is observed during meditation). It is theanine that helps keep the “caffeine jitters” at bay when drinking tea, as opposed to coffee.
But this doesn’t mean that the caffeine will have no effect. Rather, because theanine and caffeine are complementary, you’ll discover a different kind of alertness. Instead of the anxious, wiry feeling that a cup of coffee creates, tea helps you feel energetic and focused without the jitters.
There are some exceptions.
One is pu’erh, which contains almost no theanine, and another is black tea, which has only very small amounts. This likely explains why people might feel “tea drunk” on pu’erh or why some believe that black tea has more caffeine than other types. With less theanine, you’ll be more likely to experience other effects from tea.
Myth #3: If I have a Cup of Tea in the Afternoon, I won’t be able to Sleep
For comparison, your average cup of coffee contains around 150–160mg of caffeine, and your “energy” drinks or espresso shots anywhere from 75–250mg. Even decaffeinated coffee contains around 5–6 mg of trace amounts of caffeine (similar to a cup of hot cocoa).
This means that your cup of tea has approximately 10–20% of the caffeine in your cup of coffee and is equivalent to a few hot cocoas. For most healthy adults, this is a negligible amount, even unlikely to affect sleep quality. But for a small set of people who are caffeine-sensitive and for children, even this small amount can feel like a cup of coffee.
Fortunately, there are a few things to keep in mind.
One, the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea isn’t high enough to affect the sleep of most people. If you’re still worried, then no matter what type of person you are, as long as you are drinking your cup of tea more than twelve hours before bedtime (such as early morning), you should be fine.
Two, your first infusion will almost always contain the highest amount of caffeine. If you’re worried about caffeine sensitivity, this should not discourage you from enjoying your second or third infusions. For extreme cases of caffeine sensitivity, you can even consider tossing out your first infusion.
Be assured that your cups of tea, no matter the type, have far less caffeine than a cup of coffee, and in most cases, the theanine will prevent you from feeling wired and anxious.
In today’s post, we’re going to look closely at some of the most commonly encountered problems and questions tea drinkers have when attempting to brew green tea.
If you’ve ever wondered how long to wait between infusions or what to do when you don’t have a variable temperature control electric kettle, you will find the following FAQ immensely helpful.
Q1. I use a stovetop kettle and thermometer for my teas. Am I supposed to let the water boil first for my green tea? I just don’t have the time to wait that long for it to cool down.
We always recommend that you boil the water first, letting it cool down to 180° F (82°C) before pouring it over your green tea. Of course, the drawback is that you’ll need to wait a moment, but fortunately, there are ways to cool your water down more quickly.
What’s the solution?
For one, take care to ensure that your teaware is made of glass or porcelain, materials that allow heat to escape faster (unlike stoneware, which holds on to the heat). While it may be tempting to put your gaiwan or Yixing teapot to good use, these are not ideal for brewing green tea. Instead, we would recommend investing in something like a glass teapot.
When you’re ready to brew your tea but you’re pressed for time, a technique to cool your water down is to set aside two cups, bowls, or servers, and then transfer the water in and out of each until it reaches the desired temperature.
Q2. How long are you supposed to brew your green tea? I seem to get mixed messages about this from different sources, some claiming 30 seconds, 1 minute, or even as long as 3 minutes. Can you clarify this?
How long you brew your tea depends on the leaf to water ratio, the type of green tea, and your personal preference. Steeping longer, for example, will always result in a stronger flavor, but for some green tea, it will also introduce bitterness.
For your first infusion, we recommend a water temperature around 80–85°C (175–185°F) and an infusion time around 1–2 minutes. The goal is to bring out complexity and nuance while minimizing astringency and bitterness, and much of this depends on the type of tea you’re steeping. For hardier green teas (such as Anji Bai Cha), a steeping time closer to 2 minutes will do the trick, but for more delicate green teas (like Dragonwell), any time longer than 1 minute could result in bitterness.
It is important to remember that things change a little when it comes to subsequent steeps though.
With your second steep, we usually advise shortening the infusion time since the tea leaves are already saturated and opened, unlike the initial infusion (opened leaves will release more flavor into the water more quickly); but with the third steep, you’ll want to do the opposite and increase your infusion time, in some cases even as long as 3 minutes. Because green teas are usually only steeped 2 or 3 times, the 3rd infusion will demand the most patience for extracting any remaining flavor after the first 2 steeps.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that this only applies to green teas. Oolongs and pu’erhs, for instance, can be steeped around a dozen times (with high-quality pu’erhs even known to withstand more than twenty infusions).
Q3. I try to measure out my tea, but what is a good tea to water ratio? I’ve seen places suggest 4g of tea to 6oz, 8oz, and even 12oz of water.
It’s important to know how much volume your mugs, teapots, and gaiwans can hold; otherwise, you may be using too much or too little water, both of which can adversely affect the overall taste.
When working with your usual quantities, such as 6–8oz of water, we can make the following recommendation:
- 2g–3g tea leaves: 6–8oz water
If you wish to use more or less water, however, things can begin to get a little tricky. Much of this boils down to trial and error. For instance, you might discover that you can double your total number of infusions with 2g of tea and just 3oz of water, but then that also requires more frequent infusions. Aim to find your balance between convenience, cost, and desire.
Ultimately, the best outcome with your green tea depends on the water to leaf ratio, temperature, infusion time, and water quality. Any amount of tea can be prepared with an appropriate adjustment to the guidelines above. These are tried-and-true ratios that guarantee the best taste for your tea and the most bang for your tea leaves.
Q4. I know that you can resteep your teas, but sometimes my second steeping doesn’t taste quite right. How long can you let your used leaves sit around? How long can you wait between infusions?
To get the most out of your tea, then, you will want to take care not to wait too long between infusions. In a perfect world, you would re-infuse your tea leaves within 5–10 minutes of your previous infusion (like what you find during a Gong Fu Tea Ceremony), but at a minimum, we recommend waiting no longer than 90 minutes between infusions, assuming the leaves are not soaking in water and you’ve completely emptied your teapot or gaiwan.
While there can be some flexibility, depending on your taste preferences, for both health reasons and optimal tasting quality, we certainly wouldn’t recommend using wet leaves that are more than a few hours old.
Q5. I’ve heard that you should leave some water to cover your leaves between infusions. Is this true? What purpose does this serve? Wouldn’t this make your tea too concentrated?
The reason for letting your leaves soak in some water between infusions is to even out the tea flavor over several steepings. To do that, you need only a little bit of water leftover, just enough that it nearly covers the remaining leaves. If you use too much or too little water, you defeat the purpose of this technique.
If you decide to try this method out, however, you will want to take care not to wait too long between infusions. Around 5-10 minutes can be fine (although pushing it), but we cannot recommend letting your leaves steep in a little bit of water any longer than that. If you wait as much as an hour, for example, you’ve created a recipe for terrible tasting tea, introducing astringency, bitterness, and worse to your cup.
Q6. I see on your website and packaging that you recommend we use filtered water and spring water. What’s wrong with distilled water or tap water? Can I still use these?
In many cases, tap water can be laden with too many chemicals that can suppress the fragrance and character of the tea. For example, in some places, there is a very real concern that heavy metals such as lead, nickel, or copper have reached concentrations in the water that are unsafe for long-term consumption. Besides these concerns, there’s also the chlorination and fluoridation treatments used to clean tap water, treatments that sometimes result in a funny taste. While you may get used to this taste, unable to notice it anymore, the very presence of these chemicals still prevents your tea from releasing an optimal amount of flavorful and aromatic compounds into the water, risking an underwhelming cup of tea (and in some cases, even tea that tastes sour, metallic, or salty). This means that even at low concentrations, these chemicals decrease the quality of your cup.
When it comes to distilled water, there’s a different set of issues. This type of water lacks dissolved oxygen and other important minerals that can enhance flavor, such as magnesium, zinc, and potassium. The oxygen is what gives your water a liveliness while the minerals impart a taste. Distilled water, in contrast, is flat and bland, and these same qualities carry over to the tea you make with it, resulting in a flat and bland cup.
Per our experience, spring water guarantees the best results. Of course, you’ll need to experiment a little to discover which brand is best for your tea. Since each brand has a different combination of minerals in the water, each will affect the outcome of your cup a little differently.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Green Tea FAQ, and if you have any other questions, please feel free to post them below!
Why is West Lake Dragonwell Green Tea More Expensive Than Other Dragonwells? Long Jing and The Hidden Factors of Tea Pricing
If you’ve ever shopped for West Lake Dragonwell green tea, you may have wondered why the pricing can vary so much from vendor to vendor.
There are some outlets that advertise Dragonwell for as low as $10 for 50g, while others offer it for as much as $60 or more.
How can there be such variability? What’s determining these prices?
Setting aside the usual overhead expenses that influence prices, there are other factors that are less well-known, factors that ultimately trade off cost at the expense of quality.
For example, when it comes to Long Jing (the Chinese name for “Dragonwell”), people may not realize that there are actually two different varietals (and even differing qualities among those varietals): The generic, modified Longjing #43 and the indigenous varietal Qun Ti Zhong. Longjing #43 has been widely grown over the past 30 years. Qun Ti Zhong, or the locals call it Tu Cha, in contrast, is an inherited varietal, dating back more than 1000 years ago. Qun Ti Zhong produces very tastier tea than Longjing #43, but unfortunately it was widely cut down in the 1980-1990s for growing Longjing #43. Accordingly, it sells for a higher price.
Besides that, another thing to consider is that West Lake Dragonwell is traditionally grown in the surrounding mountainous area outside of Huangzhou, Zhejiang Province, an area that goes by the same name. This includes tea production from the five subdivision areas — Shi Feng Mounain, Long Jing Village, Mei Jia Wu, Yun Xi, and Hu Pao. Among these, Shi Feng Dragonwell, (Shi Feng Mountain translates to Lion's Peak in English), is regarded as the cream of the top. Per Chinese government authority regulation, only Dragonwell that is produced in the West Lake area and that is hand-crafted can be labeled “West Lake Dragonwell.” Any Dragonwell farmed and sourced away from West Lake (for example, in areas such as the rest of Zhejiang Province) cannot be labeled as such. Of these two growing regions, the Dragonwell sourced outside of Zhejiang province is geared towards mass market production and is significantly less expensive.
The following two pictures contain the Chinese characters for "Shi Feng". The engraved script on the second picture explains the history of Shi Feng Mountain, most notably associated with the emperor Qian Long of Qing dynasty.
Naturally, sourcing real West Lake Dragonwell will prove more expensive, more so if it is a Qun Ti Zhong varietal, but even then, there are additional considerations: Do you want a Shi Feng, the highest quality Dragonwells in the world, grown on Lion’s Peak? Furthermore, do you want to purchase a Ming qian ( pre-ming) or a Yu qian (pre-yu), a superior tea harvested before the Qing Ming festival or a less expensive tea harvested after?
Each of these choices will affect not only the price but also the flavor and the quality.
And unfortunately, the reality of the market is that because a Mingqian Shi Feng Long Jing commands one of the highest prices, it also regrettably invites false or misleading advertising, resulting in a wide arrange of pricing. While Dragonwell from Sichuan or other provinces can be sold at a much lower price (mostly produced for mass market with inferior quality), we can assure you that authentic West Lake Dragonwell (and of the best, Shi Feng Dragonwell) is never sold at such prices, instead commanding a premium due to its high demand and quality.
This is one reason why we insist on personally traveling to these sources, tasting through the many teas from the many producers. We’re determined to find, select, and source the best. We’re not going to rely on a distributor or supplier just saying that their green tea is Shi Feng or West Lake; we want to see it for ourselves. Where did it actually come from? What does it look like compared to the rest? What does it taste like? For this reason, we each year source different Dragonwell for you to experience and compare, one is Shi Feng Dragonwell, another one is Zhejiang Dragonwell, (for simplicity, we just labeled Dragonwell).
Finally, the other hidden factor in pricing is the experience of the tea master. This can be easily overlooked in an effort to save money, but a tea master’s experience cannot be underestimated. Next to the sourcing area, it might be the most important influencer of quality.
There are many tea drinkers who have become accustomed to associating Dragonwell with little more than a nutty taste and aroma, but other than varietal, the tea master also affects these characteristics. It takes a great deal of experience and usually a lengthy family tradition to bring out the nuance that these teas have to offer, to highlight their complexity and aromas. These are aspects of the tea that are difficult to manipulate in the hands of one who is unexperienced.
Because we’re committed to sourcing the highest quality tea available, it doesn’t make sense for us to source such tea and hand it off to an unexperienced tea master. If we’re determined to share with you some of the best teas in the world, why would we want to risk getting less than 100% out of them?
For these reasons, just as we carefully evaluate our tea sources, we also take care to seek out the best tea masters we can find. This is a large part of what it means to find the best within the best.