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Tea Infusion 101

by Brett P Holmes June 05, 2013

How do I infuse my tea and how does it affect the flavor? Does it matter which vessel I use? How about water temperature, amount of tea, and steeping time!?
  
First of all, do NOT be intimidated by tea preparation! Making tea is not complicated. At the root of it all, you combine leaves with hot water and the result is usually pure awesomeness. Naturally, there are some general guidelines to consider, so allow us to simplify the process for you, and we’ll get the most from your treasured leaves…
 
While there are a myriad of tea vessels from which to choose: pots, cups, gaiwans… lets not worry about these for now. Any tea vessel can create an amazing cup of tea (though conventionally, certain vessels are used for certain tea types).
 
More importantly, there are some basic principles regarding the quantity of leaves, water temperature, water quality, and finally, steeping time.  While we always maintain that a good, fresh leaf will often deliver a great pot of tea, many of these variables are easy to control and will consistently result in better steeping...
 
Quantity of leaves…
 
We typically use 4-5 grams of tea leaves in a small teapot or gaiwan (tea bowl). That’s about as much as you can grab with your fingers… If you’re using a larger teapot, adjust the quantity accordingly - say about 8 grams for an average 600ml teapot.
 
Water temperature…
 
Fortunately, most teas are very forgiving and will accommodate a range of water temperatures. While subtle flavors can be lost in water that is too hot or cold, most teas will be drinkable in a wider range of temperatures than one might think. The exception is definitely green tea. Do NOT burn your green tea. It will taste like bitter grass, possibly worse. White, Black, Oolong, and Puerh tea will usually be far more lenient, but we recommend that you make some attempt to accommodate optimal water temperatures…
 
Water quality…
 
Filtered water is the most realistic and generally your best bet. Faucet water often has minerals and a weird aftertaste that will affect the quality of your tea. In the unlikely case that you have direct access to a fresh, natural spring or better yet, glacial runoff, then use that!  Otherwise, a Brita or similar filtration system will do the trick.
 
Steeping time…
 
This one is probably the most debatable and depends somewhat on the previous variables. You’ll notice that nearly all of our teas require merely 30 seconds to a minute of steeping time. Yep, that’s it. Higher quality teas usually demand shorter steeping times and can sustain repeated infusions. For example, many oolongs take time to open up, so while the first infusion might be 1 minute to unfurl, the second might only need to be 30 seconds.  So what happens if you infuse for 5 minutes?  Well, nothing... except you'll have a stronger, perhaps overly astringent, cup and your leaves will sustain fewer steepings.
  
Now, without going on a long-winded rant about the 4-5 minute steeping fallacy ingrained by the teabag era (not to mention low quality, cheap, bitter, over-steeped, tea dust masked with sugar and milk), we want to point out that steeping time really depends mostly on the quantity of leaves and the water temperature.
For example, in a gaiwan, you should use a lot of tea leaves and a small amount of water, necessitating a shorter steeping time (sometimes 5 seconds).  If you use a large teapot and a small amount of leaves, however, the steeping time will be longer.
 
Hotter water will pull out a tea leaf’s flavor much quicker, while cold water will extract these flavors gently and gradually.  Examples of two extremes are sheng Puerh and cold-brewing. A bold, fresh, sheng Puerh might only require 5-10 seconds in near boiling water, while cold brewing might infuse overnight.
  
So with ALL of that said, we should stress that most teas are best prepared in a certain way, on a tea-by-tea basis. If you ever sit at the tea table of a tea master, you may notice that he never measures his leaves, checks water temperature, or watches the clock.  In many ways, proper tea preparation is as much an art as a science… Tea masters have their own style, and so should you!
 
If you abide by these broad principles, you will experience solid results. And if you insist on busting out the digital thermometer, scale, and atomic clock, be our guest! We love that type of tea obsession and nerdery.  Feel free to experiment and find out what works best for you… At the end of the infusion, you’ll be the one drinking it anyway. As always, we’re here to help!
 



Brett P Holmes
Brett P Holmes

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Tea Infusion Quantities

So how many cups is 50g of tea? Or 1lb of tea leaves?

The appropriate amount to use depends on the size of the teapot, teacup, or gaiwan, and how much water is being applied.  Typically, an average serving of tea in a small-medium vessel is about 4-6 grams.  Experienced tea drinkers will often use 6-8 grams per serving - with shorter and more frequent infusions.

Therefore, a 50 gram pouch of tea should be good for 8-12 servings of tea.  Depending on the type of tea, however, the leaves can withstand several "steepings", so that 50 gram pouch should allow for 24-50 cups of tea!  And, since a pound (lb) is about 450 grams, a properly steeped pound of tea should produce several hundred cups of tea!

 

Quantity of Tea

50 grams

100 grams

1 pound

Servings

8-12 servings

16-24 servings

70-85 servings

Cups of Tea*

24-50 cups

50-100 cups

200-400 cups

*often depending on the technique of the tea master, time per infusion, and thirst of the drinkers