Brewing tea is simple. Whether you’re brewing with a gaiwan, a teapot, or an infuser, the goal is to extract compounds out of the leaf into water. The motion is to pour water onto your leaves, infuse, and decant.
The best way to enjoy high quality tea is to brew gongfu style, which involves using a higher ratio of leaf to water and infusing for short lengths of time.
Here are my recommendations for the basic parameters that you balance when brewing gongfu style. Ultimately, you should brew to your taste so use these recommendations as a starting point.
Leaf to water ratio
1 gram of tea for every ~20-25 mL of water in the vessel. The more leaf you use, the more concentrated your extraction will be. To counterbalance a higher ratio of leaf to water, you could shorten your infusion times or slightly lower the temperature of water in order to avoid over-extraction.
If you're drinking by yourself, consider using a small gaiwan or teapot: 80 to 100mL in volume. Because you'll be drinking multiple infusions, expect to consume ~500mL to over 1 liter with 4-5 grams of tea: depending on type, varietal, and quality of tea.
Temperature of water
This will largely depend on the type, varietal, and quality of tea. Typically, high quality tea that was optimally processed and sourced from the best locations will yield much more forgiving tea. The best white, wulong, red, and puer teas can accept and even demand 100C water. Lower quality teas tend to require lower temperatures to conceal unappealing raw, bitter, and funky notes.
Due to the high leaf to water ratio in gongfu brewing, the infusion times are much shorter. Typically, the first 2-3 infusions last about 5-10 seconds from the moment water touches the leaf. If you’re using more than 1 gram/20mL of water, by the time you finish pouring water into your vessel, you should already be decanting. Each subsequent infusion should last about 5-10 seconds longer.
This is an under appreciated element to brewing tea. 99% of tea is water! Brewing in Distilled or RO water which lacks minerality will produce a flat tea. Heavy metals in hard water and heavily chlorinated tap water will mask aroma and negatively affect taste. For optimal brewing, I recommend finding a source for spring or filtered, soft tap water.
Quality of water
Other parameters like shape and material of vessel, environment and ambiance, and even company will affect your tasting experience.
Whether it’s for personal satisfaction or making an impression on others, the art of brewing tea can be as simple or intricate as you want.
Tea culture is one of discovery and experimentation. Enjoy!