The Importance of Tea Brewing
The result of the tea we taste is influenced by many things: how the tea is grown, how it is processed, and last but not the least how it is brewed. Depending on how the tea is brewed, even a simple tea can shine and even a premium tea can be ruined. We are not to say that there is only one right way to brew any given Japanese tea, but knowing what you have at hand helps to make the most of it.
Components in the Tea Brew
To understand the influence of the tea brewing on tea experience we first need to understand what components are in the Japanese tea brew and how they are affected by tea brewing methods. Since most of Japanese tea is green, here you will find all the information about green tea components.
One of the most researched and mentioned components these days is Catechin. While the name Catechin is used in the common language, to tell the truth, there are several different kinds of Catechins grouped under this name, the most abundant of which is EGCG (EpiGalloCatechin-3-Gallate). Catechins work as antioxidants and provide numerous health benefits. Teas grown in full sunshine tend to have a larger amount of Catechins. To a tea brew they bring astringent taste, the result of which is a dry-mouth feel, similar to that experienced when tasting dry wines. The extraction rate of Catechins highly depend on the water temperature: with low temperatures the extraction rate is low, with high temperatures – high.
Another important component in tea is Theanine. Scientifically it is often referred to as L-Theanine. Theanine belongs to the group of amino acids, that are important for the growth of an organism. The amount of Theanine in a tea leaf is directly linked to the amount of nitrogen the plant can feed on. Teas grown in a shade tend to have more Theanine (when exposed to sunlight it breaks and transforms into Catechins). Theanine has been found to have a calming effect on the body. In a tea brew Theanine is responsible for a rich savory taste often referred to as umami. The extraction of Theanine does not depend much on water temperature that much – it is extracted at similar rate regardless of the water temperature the tea is brewed with.
Caffeine is another important component in the tea brew. We are fairly familiar with Caffeine, as it is widely known in the coffee world. In a tea plant caffeine acts as an insecticide – deferring harmful insects and preventing the damage to the tea leaf. Younger, more tender and fragile tea leaves tend to have a higher concentration of Caffeine than older and more mature leaves. Therefore, teas made from young leaves tend to be higher in Caffeine. In a tea brew caffeine brings bitter taste. Caffeine behaves similarly to catechins and the extraction rate changes depending on the water temperature: higher temperature – higher extraction, lower temperature – lower extraction.
Tea Brewing Parameters
The taste of the brew is determined by many factors, but one of the most important one, especially for green tea, is water temperature. To tell the truth, from freezing to boiling – water anywhere in this range can be used to make tea, but depending on the temperature you choose the result will be very different. Teas made with cooler temperatures will be sweeter and more umami, because cooler temperature reduces the extraction of Catechins and Caffeine, while having little effect on Theanine. Teas made with hotter water will be more bitter and astringent, because in addition to Theanine, more Catechins and Caffeine will find their way to the cup.
The ratio of tea to water is another important factor that decides the richness of tea. If the amount of tea is small compared to the amount of water, the brew will be light and ‘watery’. On the other hand, if the amount of tea is big compared to the amount of water, then the tea will be strong and rich. If you prefer sweeter and richer tea, for example, you should use more tea leaves and brew it at a cooler temperature. If you would rather have a milder, but more balanced tea, you should use a smaller amount of the tea leaves and brew it at a cooler temperature.
The strength of the tea will also be affected by the steeping time. Quick brews tend to be fairly light. Steeping tea a long time, will give more time for the extraction of tea components and will make the taste stronger. If you like tea strong rich and umami, in addition to using more tea leaves and brewing tea with cooler water, you should also wait for a longer time. If you don’t mind the bitter taste, but don’t want it to be too strong, then hot water for just a few seconds will do the best.
A lot will be decided by the quality of the tea and water. Whenever possible we recommend choosing higher quality loose-leaf teas over tea bags with tea fannings and dust inside.
Water also impacts the brew immensely – after all 99% of the tea brew is water. For green teas, soft water is recommended. The hardness of the water is decided by the amount of the minerals (mainly calcium and magnesium). When the amount of minerals is 0-60mg/L or below, the water is considered soft. If your area does not have natural soft water, it is recommended to filter the water or buy soft bottled water.
Tea Brewing Methods
There is no one perfect way to brew Japanese tea, and it all depends on your preferences: sweet or astringent, light or strong, hot or cold, etc. Below are our recommendations on how to brew Japanese tea.
Amount of tea leaves: 5g/1tbsp
Water amount: 180cc/180ml/6oz
Water temperature: 90-100 °C / 194-212 °F
Steeping time: 20-30s
Any Japanese tea can be made as a hot brew. It works especially well for more casual and simple teas, such as Hojicha, Genmaicha, Bancha and other. You can make more delicate higher-grade teas, such as Gyokuro, Sencha, this way too. However, you need to be careful about the steeping time, as those teas brewed at high temperature can quickly become very strong and bitter.
Amount of tea leaves: 5g/1tbsp
Water amount: 80cc/80ml/3oz
Water temperature: 60-70 °C / 140-156 °F
Steeping time: 60-90s
This method is especially recommended for high-grade Japanese teas, such as Gyokuro, Kabuse Sencha and Sencha. It allows rich umami taste in the cup and prevents the extraction of bitter and astringent tastes. More casual teas brewed this way become softer and less astringent
Amount of tea leaves: 10g/2tbsp
Water amount: 1000cc/1000ml/35oz
Water temperature: 5-15 °C / 41-59 °F
Steeping time: 1-2h
This method works with most Japanese tea, and makes a milder and sweeter brew. For a refreshing cold brew, leave the pitcher (with the tea leaves and water inside) in a fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Amount of tea leaves: 3g/0.5tbsp
Water amount: 5 ice cubes
Water temperature: 0 °C / 32°F
Steeping time: 1h
This is a great way to surprise your guests with a unique brew. It works especially great for high-grade teas, such as Gyokuro, Kabuse Sencha and Sencha. All you need to do is to add tea leaves into a martini glass, place ice cubes on top and let it sit in room temperature until the ice melts – usually about 1h. Enjoy a unique and refreshing ice tea.
Not everyone knows that Japanese teas as actually quite giving – you can brew the same tea leaves at least 3 times. As more and more components are extracted the brew will gradually get lighter and lighter. To have enough taste in the next brews it is recommended to raise the temperature, increase the steeping time, or both.
We hope this information will help you to get more out of your Japanese tea and will help to have an even more enjoyable experience with it. Happy brewing and tasting.