Next to water quality, brewing parameters are the most important aspect to obtaining a nice cup of tea. While it may seem like only time and experience will give you the ability to find a tea’s sweet spot, understanding the basics will actually get you most of the way there.
Today we will discuss the basics. The specific numbers and formulas in this post are geared for sencha, but the logic and method can be applied to any leafy Japanese green tea. 🙂
Step Zero: Tools of the Trade
So before we start, make sure you have these items:
- Cooking thermometer
- Scale that measures to 1/10th of a gram
- Cup to consistently measure your water with
Once you have the right tools, we can move on to step one. 🙂
Step One: Understand What Each Change Does
Leaf to Water Ratio
If you increase the amount of leaf, you will have a stronger taste. Every aspect of the flavour will be stronger. Decreasing the amount of leaf will make the tea taste weaker. This likely is obvious, but it’s important to note because all the other brewing parameters play off of your leaf to water ratio.
The temperature is a double edged sword. A higher temperature will make the tea seem more lively, but can also make it bitter. A lower temperature will make the tea sweeter, but can also make it flat. If your tea isn’t lively but increasing the temperature makes it too bitter, or if your tea isn’t sweet but lowering the temp makes it flat, you will need to change a different parameter instead of temperature.
The length of time you let your tea steep for is like looking at a budding flower. Look at it too early and you will see only a small bud. Look at it too late, and you’ll see shrivelled petals and a bare stem. But if you look at it at the right time, you will see a flower in bloom.
To put it another way, look at this timeline. In this example, the perfect steeping time is 1:00.
- 0:30 Very weak.
- 0:50 Taste is good, but a little light.
- 1:00 All the positive aspects of the tea are shining. Perfect flavour.
- 1:10 Still pretty good, but undesired astringency is creeping into the picture.
- 1:30 Too astringent. All the pleasant aspects of the flavour are being drowned out.
Step Two: The Formula & Coarse Adjustments
Let’s start with the formula.
Leaf : Water – 1.0g:1oz or 3.4g:100ml or 4.3g:125ml. (These are the same ratio. Use the one that applies to you.)
Temperature – Use what the vendor specified. If they don’t, use 77C/170F for fukamushi, or 72C/162F for asamushi.
Steep Time – Again, what the vendor specifies. If they don’t, 0:55 for fukamushi, or 1:10 for asamushi.
If you try this formula and the taste of the tea leaves much to be desired, then it’s time for coarse adjustments.
Start with the leaf. As stated earlier, all other parameters play off the leaf to water ratio. If the strength of the tea is good, then consider changing the temp and time.
If you feel you’re close but the tea isn’t singing, then it’s time to move on to Step Three.
Step Three: Balancing the Triangle & Nailing Your Brew
I consider leaf/water, temperature, and time to be a triangle that must stay in balance. Once you’re close to finding the sweet spot, for every adjustment you make on one parameter, you need to change the others to keep the balance.
If you decrease the leaf, try increasing the steeping time. If you increase the temperature, try decreasing the leaf. Knowing which part of the triangle to change is found through experience, and takes trial and error.
These fine tuned adjustments should be around 1/10th of a gram, 1-2 degrees C (or 2-4F), and 5-10 seconds.
Now You Know How to Find the Best Brewing Parameters!
With proper tools and understanding, you should now be able to brew like a pro. 🙂 But don’t become reliant on formulas; sometimes rules need to be broken.
Also, always make sure you’re noticing what each minor change does. Through careful observation, you will plant your feet firmly on the path towards becoming a seasoned Japanese tea aficionado.