Purchasing loose leaf tea for the first time can be an exciting experience, but it can also be overwhelming. After all, loose leaf demands more of our attention, and though it can be difficult to prepare at first, many of us ultimately turn it into a relaxing, meditative ritual.
What is the secret to a good tea ritual? There are actually three.
The first thing to do is to figure out how to prepare loose leaf tea in the first place. It can be helpful to realize that there are some things preparation of loose leaf tea shares in common with tea bags. For example, the volume, temperature, and type of water make a difference in how your tea tastes. While every tea is unique in how best to prepare it, in general, the following guidelines can be useful:
- Measure out approximately 4 grams of tea
- Use 200mL or 6–7 ounces of water
- Infuse the leaves for about 60 seconds (unless attempting gongfu style brewing)
- NEVER use distilled water (it will make the tea taste flavorless or flat)
Of course, there are many other things to take into consideration, such as whether you want to use a stainless steel infuser, a teapot, or even a gaiwan! Regardless of which method you choose, it is always good to become comfortable with one method before attempting to try a different method. You will also want to familiarize yourself with the optimal temperature for the tea you are trying to prepare. In general, however, more delicate tea leaves require a lower temperature while darker, more heavily oxidized leaves require a higher temperature.
It cannot be stated enough, but practice really does make perfect. You might find it initially confusing or even frustrating, but if you work at preparing your tea regularly and you strive to master the method of your choosing, you will eventually discover that making a cup of tea can bring immense feelings of joy and relaxation.
One of the reasons for this is that there is a beauty in preparing tea that you cannot easily find elsewhere. It is true that some methods of brewing coffee, for example, can look very elegant, captivating, or even artistic; however, what makes tea different is that the aesthetic is naturally intertwined with the process. When making tea, it is very easy to find yourself quickly mesmerized by the intoxicating aromas and vivid colors of your tea leaves right after they have been splashed with some hot water. These moments are only enhanced when you start developing some comfort with your tea preparation ritual.
Perhaps the ultimate secret to developing a good tea ritual, however, is learning how to approach the process playfully. When we become light of heart, we learn to embrace our occasional mishaps, and sometimes, we even deliberately deviate from our usual customs.
What you will discover over time is that such experimentation, whether accidental or purposeful, can unveil new layers to the tea drinking experience. For instance, you might choose to steep your tea a little longer or shorter than usual, or you might decide to infuse your tea at a higher or lower temperature. This relaxed, cheerful approach to making tea can often surprise you with new, exciting flavors and aromas that you hadn’t noticed before.
This playfulness means that tea preparation leaves us with nearly limitless possibilities. It is quite astonishing to realize that every single variable can be adjusted (from the time of infusion and temperature of the water to the source of water and the tea leaves themselves), and any adjustment can have an effect on the flavor. A good tea ritual is one that invites us into engaging with those possibilities and appreciating them.