Tea, Part 2: How to Make Good Tea

My host family in Taiwan took me to a tiny tea shop along a market street in the mountainous tea-farming region outside of Taipei. The lady who runs the shop has lived on a tea farm since she was born, and therefore had a lifetime of knowledge to share. Tea-tasting in Taiwan is a little like wine-tasting. As the tea lady brewed and I sampled a half dozen different flavors, she explained what gives each variety its particular taste, color and aroma. This is what I learned:

Principle 1: Good tea comes from good tea leaves.

Asian teas are loose-leaf, not in bags like in Europe or America. Before steeping, the leaves are scrunched into little pebble shapes from drying, but once hot water is added, they expand into their original form. High quality teas will be bunches of three well-shaped, un-torn leaves. Pairs or single leaves with maybe a few imperfections make up a middle tier. Substandard leaves are ground into tiny bits for use in tea bags. (Nowadays some luxury teas are sold in bags for convenience, but generally drinking tea brewed from a bag means you are drinking crappy tea.)

Principle 2: Tea flavor is proportional to proper brewing.

My next post will be about the Japanese tea ceremony, but the Chinese have a ritual too. After tea is added to a pot, near-boiling water- too hot water will scorch the leaves, damaging the flavor- is poured over the leaves, then immediately poured out over the tea cups. This first douse cleans and opens the tea leaves, then warms the tea cups; it’s not meant for drinking. Next the tea is steeped with a second infusion of water, then poured into warmed cups for imbibing. Asian tea cups don’t have handles; you know that tea is the correct temperature when you can pick up the cup without burning yourself.

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2 thoughts on “Tea, Part 2: How to Make Good Tea

  1. I don’t understand the process you’re describing. So the tea leaves are in a teapot, they pour a little hot water in, and then pour that water out into the tea cups? And somehow strain the tea so it stays in the pot? Then pour this first water OUT of the tea cups before putting the “real” brewed tea in them?

    • You say you don’t understand, but you explained it perfectly. Look at the picture of the tea pot I put up. Asia tea pots have a built in strainer, so when you pour the tea into a cup, the leaves stay inside the pot. The pour hot water into the pot twice. The first time, it’s pour into the tea cup then out of the tea cup without drinking it. The second time you actually drink the tea.

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