by edgar on November 17th, 2013
Getting the best flavour from loose leaf tea means using the correct water temperature.
The temperature varies according to the variety of tea, its level of oxidation and the number of infusions the leaves have had. Boiling water poured straight on a delicate leaf can dissolve the tannins (the bitter compounds) which will impair the subtle, fragrant characteristics of the tea.
Oolongs are brewed between 85 and 95°C. The first wash (quick infusion) can be near boiling to ‘wake up the leaves’ but for subsequent brews the temperature should be reduced a little.
Take a look at our Tea School for tips on optimum brewing of specific teas.
Chinese connoisseurs employ poetic language to describe water’s appearance at different stages of heat. In the Cha Jing (Tea Classic) Yu Lu states:
When at the edges it chatters like a bubbling spring and looks like pearls innumerable strung together, it has reached the second stage. When it leaps like breakers majestic and resounds like a swelling wave, it is at its peak. Anymore and the water will be boiled out and should not be used.
Systematised, modern Mandarin speaks of: shrimp eyes (70-80°C), crab eyes (80-85°C), fish eyes (85-90°C), string of pearls (90-95°C), and raging torrent (95-100°C). Old man water is water that has been over-boiled, is flat and lacking oxygen. It is said that oxygen in the water helps unlock the flavonoids in tea.
Judging water temperature using a traditional kettle requires a little bit of training or, if you’re not using a glass kettle, sensitivity to hear or feel when the water has reached the required stage. Alternatively, you can use a temperature controlled kettle. In our office we use this elegant, swan-necked beauty which has a choice of several pre-programmed temperature settings. It may not seem as poetic as Yu Lu’s method, but it’s accurate and considering how many varieties of tea we drink, very convenient.