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How to Brew Gongfu: A Modern Teaist's Guide To Great Tea (Part II)


How to Brew Gongfu Part II - A Modern Teaist Guide

In Part I we talked about the idea behind Gongfu brewing, and the tools you need to get prepared to brew tea with skill.  Now we'll walk through brewing your first gongfu cha.

A Few Considerations

Water Temperature is arguably the most important aspect while brewing your tea.  Water that is too hot for your tea type will end up having a burnt or bitter taste.  Most tea you've had up until now in restaurants or made with boiling water has been burned! When prepared properly, tea requires no sugar to be enjoyed.  Get ready to experience something in a league of its own!

If you don't have an electric kettle that can specify temperature, here's an easy to way to estimate.  When heating water on the stove:

 Water appearance  Water Temperature Great for Tea Type

Small bubbles on the bottom of the pot

158-176°F (70-80°C)
Delicate Green Teas

Tiny bubbles begin to rise. Some steam

176-194°F (80-90°C) 
Lighter Oolongs
Larger bubbles, more steam
195-203°F (90-95°C)
Darker Oolongs, Puer
Continuous bubbling
212°F (100°C)
Black/Red, Puer

 

Tea is very subjective, and as you brew more and more, you will discover temperatures that you think bring out the best in your tea, or suit your taste the most.  Our teas come with suggested temperatures, times, and amounts as a guideline to start.

Oolong Tea Leaves in White Gaiwan

Let's begin - Gongfu 101 - The Setup

As your water heats, start by placing the desired amount of loose tea into your Gaiwan or Teapot.  A good starting point is 4g of tea for 100ml of water.  (If you don't have a way to measure, start with a tablespoon of tea leaves). Remember, you can resteep the same leaves multiple times, so we will end up with many, many cups of tea.

First steep - 15 seconds

With your water at the proper temperature (see chart above), pour 100 ml of water into your brewing vessel over the tea leaves in a circular motion to evenly distribute over the leaves.  When you're done pouring, count 15 seconds, then pour your tea into a decanter or cup.  (Some teas, like Puer and some Oolongs recommend rinsing the tea before drinking.  If you'd like to rinse your tea, simply pour out this first steep onto your Tea Tray, or Tea Pet and we'll start drinking the 2nd steep.)

Enjoy your first steep until there is almost nothing left.

Gaiwan pouring tea on piglet tea pet

Second steep - 20 seconds

Keeping your water temperature the same, pour another 100ml into your vessel.  This time we increase the time it steeps just slightly.  Some teas, like oolongs, that come rolled will not start to unfurl and release more flavor.  So your second steep may be more flavorful than the first!  Pour your second steep into your decanter or mug, mixing with the rest of the first to even out the taste.

Third steep and beyond - 30s+

With most tea, we will now begin to raise the temperature of the water with subsequent steepings.  This helps draw out more flavor from the leaves.  You may also increase the time you steep.  For the third round, try increasing the temperature by 5-10 degrees F, and steep for 30 seconds.  Continue increasing the time from this steep forward.

 Top down gongfu brewing - electric tea kettle - tea tray - gaiwan - green tea

How to customize tea to your taste

There are a few ways to customize your tea, and understanding them separately will help you understand how, together, anything is possible.

Temperature: Roughly speaking, as you increase the water temperature, your tea becomes more bold / roasted / strong / bitter.  As you decrease the water temperature, you'll bring our the lighter / sweeter / floral / umami notes.

Amount of leaf: More tea leaves will be stronger, less will be weaker.

Amount of water: Less water will be a stronger tea, more water will be weaker.

Steeping time: Longer steep times will be stronger, shorter steep time will be weaker.

In practice, to retain a balanced flavor:

If you increase your water temperature, you can decrease your overall steeping times.

If you increase the amount of leaf, you can decrease your steeping time.

Understanding these principles you can adjust the tea to your liking and bring out all the flavors of your tea.

 

Conclusion

Brewing tea is open to many different methods and many different tastes.  The rules are allowed to be broken, and you should experiment with your times, temperatures, and teas to discover what you like.  Let this guide serve as a starting point, and a way to understand the concepts of Gongfu, not a strict rulebook.  Relax and enjoy your tea.  After all, that's what tea is all about.

Do you have a way you prefer to brew your tea? Any perfect method you have for a floral oolong? Share it in the comments.


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