Chinese Tea Brewing Parameters

McDonald’s coffee comes out pretty much the same every time you order. But when you brew Chinese tea, it’s a different story. A couple of degrees’ change in temperature or a sneeze (kidding) during the brewing process can give you a different cup of tea. Here we look at a few important parameters.

Quality of Tea

This is in fact not a “brewing” parameter. Good tea leaves have a much better chance of delivering a good cup of tea, but if you make a mistake in brewing, you can end up with a bad cup of tea. So don’t be careless because it CAN go wrong brewing Chinese tea.

Quantity of Tea

Not enough tea leaves makes a cup flavorless; too much makes it bitter. Different tea classes have very different TEA : WATER ratios. Please refer to brewing table for suggested quantity. Be prepared that the ratio will look quite different from what you are using with your Lipton tea bags.

Brewing Method

There is no “the best way” to brew tea but there is definitely “the wrong ways”. For example, if someone gives me green tea brewed with YiXing teapot and Kung Fu brewing (likely overbrewed and gets Se), I would rather have a cup of warm coke instead (yuck!). Please DO check out different brewing methods and pick an appropriate one for your tea.

Water Temperature

Too low a temperature can’t extract enough flavor from Chinese tea leaves and too high a temperature kills the freshness and nutrients of tea, or even overbrews the tea. Ancient Chinese saying goes, “warming wine, boiling tea, crab’s eye.” It means we should stop at crab-eye size bubbles when heating wine and brewing Chinese tea. But that was before the invention of thermometers. We shouldn’t generalize though and crab-eye this, crab-eye that. Different classes of Chinese tea have different optimal water temperatures. For example, best temperature for green tea is around 80C/176F, flower, red, Oolong etc. are at boiling point 100C/212F.

Brewing time & Number of infusions

With other parameters held constant, a fifteen second difference in brewing time could turn a cup of top grade tea into bitter water for some demanding teas. Although this is not true to all kinds of tea but it happens often with nice teas. Another note is that brewing time has to increase with the number of infusions to maintain the color and flavor of tea.

Because of difference in tea quality and individual preference with flavor thickness, the following data should be taken as a general guideline only. Don’t forget to experiment. (red = first choice / green = ok choice)

TeaBrewing MethodWater : Dry tea (weight)Brewing Time & Remarks
Oolongkungfu gaiwan4:11st round 60 sec. add 15, 25, 35 … etc for infusions after, some drinkers would use up to 2:1 tea leaves, it’s up to your own preference.
Iron Guan Yinkungfu gaiwan4:11st round 10-20 sec. add 5 or 10 … etc for infusions after, some drinkers would use up to 2:1 tea leaves, it’s up to your own preference.
Lone Bushkungfu gaiwan10:1Hottest water possible. Needs high temperature to brew.1st round 30 sec. add 5 – 10 … etc for infusions after.
Longevity Eyebrowporcelain glass gaiwan30:1This is a favorite dim sum restaurant tea in Hong Kong. Can be brewed in a bigger teapot and left standing for a longer period, like half an hour or so.
Jasmineporcelain glass gaiwan70:1Very casual tea. Whatever teapot, whatever cup, whatever brewing is fine.
Roseglass gaiwan100:1Remove stalk, crush bud before brewing.?Again, whatever teapot, whatever cup, whatever brewing is fine.
Dragon Wellglass gaiwan NOT kungfu50:1No boiling water. 180-190F is good. Do not use YiXing teapots for as high water temperature over brews DW. Use a regular glass. 120 seconds for 1st round, 240 for 2nd, 360 for 3rd. The taste drops off quickly after the 2nd round. Spring tea of Dragon is more forgiving on tea quantity and brewing time.
Dragon Ballglass gaiwan35:1It’s another casual tea. Whatever teapot, whatever cup, whatever brewing is fine.
Fur Tipglass gaiwan50:1Please follow regular glass/ceramic brewing procedure.
Spring Snailglass gaiwan50:1Please follow regular glass/ceramic brewing procedure.
Tian Redglass kungfu50:1Heard that this red could be brewed the Kung Fu Cha way. But that could result in a very strong tea. It’s up to your own experiment.
Lychee Redglass70:1Just a glass and a little bit of tea will do. 1-2 min. of brewing and it’s all ready.
TuoNot sure. If a YiXing teapot is not ok enough to extract the flavor, use a kettle.50:1Not very demand on brewing procedure. Just a casual bit of tea leaves and hot water will do. No stopwatch needed as you can leave it standing for a long time.
Pu’erporcelain glass gaiwan for compressed tea version of Pu’er, kettle is the best but others are fine70:1This is another favorite dim sum restaurant tea. Can be brewed in a bigger teapot and left standing for a longer period if you don’t mind it gets too dark. For Pu’er compressed tea, boil with a kettle.

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

With these parameters in mind, you can start experimenting to find out your own combination of brewing a certain kind of Chinese tea. Remember Chinese tea changes from batch to batch and from season to season. When you have become an experienced tea drinker, you will be able to find out the right combination, if not the best combination, in a couple of trails.