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How to brew a good cup of Chinese tea?

Tea is a very important part of the Chinese culture. Chinese have drunk tea since ancient times and so they have a wide range of knowledge and experience with tea and tea making. There are some very important steps in tea making. The first of which is to choose the right tea, the second, choosing good water and the third is to choose a tea container. The fourth step is to select the right temperature at which to brew the tea.

The first and most important step is to choose good tea. Generally, Chinese tea is divided into white tea, Oolong tea, black tea and green teas and floral (herbal) teas.

There are five methods for choosing tea. The five methods are referred to as Xin, Gau, Jun, Xiang, and Jing. The Xin method is to choose fresh tea, never using bitter or dull-fragranced teas. Gan means that the tea leaves need to have low moisture content (less than 6%). When tea is rubbed between the fingers, it should be easily made into a fine powder that would quickly fly away. Jun is the fashion in which you choose the right tea leaves. In choosing tea leaves, knowing how to select the right thickness and color is very important. The thickness of the leaves should be even and the color should be without any burned marks (which could result from roasting). Also, the leaves should not display too many crumbs or any moles. Xiang means the fragrance of the tea should have a soft scent without any burnt or sour smells. Jing means that tea shouldn't contain any foreign substances. The best floral(herbal) teas have deep but fresh, pure scents. There are several ways to make good floral tea. One way is to collect the tea leaves and keep them in a special tight container, letting them sit as long as one year. Certain floral teas taste better and smell better the longer that they stay in the container. For example, Xi-lu-long-jing, Gi-qiang, and Mo-gan-huaug-ya teas are to remain in the container called Sheug-shi-hui-gang for 1-2 months. The color and scent of the tea improves as it stays in the container, compared to it's condition with no time spent in the container. However, teas like Yun-nan-ouer-cha produce deeper flavors with better fragrances when they remain in the containers for a year.

The second step is to choose the right water. Choosing appropriate water is very important in making good tea. This water has different qualities, and they grade different types of water depending on where it came from. Certain mountain waters and rivers are famous for waters good for use in tea making. These five mountains and rivers are: the Jiang-su-zheu river, Wu-xi-hui mountain, Su-zhou-hu pond, and Hang-zhou pond. When making tea from well water, there are certain things that you should look for. Most well water is good for tea making, however some well water isn't appropriate this use. For example, some wells contain high levels of sodium, making it a poor choice for this purpose. Today, in cities, tap water is most convenient and easy to use. However, even tap water can contain high levels of sodium, so if this is the case the water must sit in a container over night or be boiled for an extended period of time.

In addition, the water needs to meet the below conditions in order to make good tasting tea.

  1. It should be close to neutral levels (about 7ph).
  2. The temperature should be below 25 degrees F.
  3. It must meet water safety standards.
  4. It should be clear and without odor.

Choosing appropriate tea sets also important in brewing tea. Chinese tea sets are referred to as tea pots, tea saucers, tea bowls, and tea trays. There are different types of tea sets that have certain characteristics and designs. Therefore, tea sets are considered a very important part of artistry. These highly valued tea sets are dedicated to the established 'tea culture' in China. Tea sets are divided into two. Those that have high artistic value and those for use in every day life. Here, we will talk about selecting the right tea sets and their use.

Selecting tea sets for every day use depends on the types of tea people drink and where they live. In the eastern and northern parts of China, they usually drink floral teas. In drinking floral tea, they use large tea pots to boil the tea in water. These tea pots are ceramic, and the size depends on the number of people to serve. In the Kangnam area, green tea is usually drunk, therefore, using a ceramic tea pot with a lid is appropriate. In Fujian, Taiwan and the Guangdong areas people drink oolong tea and a regular kettle is use to brew it. When brewing Gongfu tea or Hong tea, use a ceramic pot or a regular kettle. When drinking high quality tea such as Xihu-long-jing, Jun-shan-yin-zhen, and Ton- ting-bilei-chun clear glass cups go well. However, when drinking green tea or any tea that has fine leaves, they should be drunk from a small tea cup instead of a large cup. The reason being is that when these teas are poured into large cup there would be too much water. High levels of water brew fine leaves too fast, resulting in discolored tea leaves and influencing the fragrance and taste of the tea. Some people use a thermos to keep the green tea warm, which effects the color and flavor of the tea. This method may be appropriate for oolong or other types of tea instead. In addition, there are tea plates, tea set cover cloths, tea spoons, tea trays, and tea brewing containers.

Besides choosing good tea, water, and tea sets, the way of pouring the hot water is also a method to learn in making nice teas. There are three elements: amount of tea, temperature of water, and lastly, how to make the taste you want!

1. Amount of tea
There is no rule for using certain amounts of tea. It differs depending on its kind, size of tea cup and one's habit. As you might already know, there are many different kinds of tea and each one should be used in different amounts. Generally speaking, you use 3g of dried tea in 150-200 ml of water for red and green teas. Puer tea requires about 5-10g. Wulong is the one that needs the most amount of tea. Fill half or two thirds of the tea pot every time you brew.

2. Water Temperatures
The high quality of green tea, especially those with small sprouts, should avoid hot water of more than 100 degrees. It requires about 80 degrees (after boiling it should cool down a while). This way the color of the tea is a bright light green, the taste is better and has more more vitamin C in it. If the water gets too hot, the tea turns yellow and the taste will be bitter. Other mid-quality teas like Hua Tea or Red Tea might be brewed at 100 degrees. If the temperature is too low, the tea wouldn't brewed sufficiently, and it becomes too plain. Wulong tea and Puer tea also require hot water because there is a lot of tea used and it is normally kept for a long time. To keep the water hot, they even pouring water on the surface of the tea pot. Many minorities drink brick tea (its shape is like a brick), and they place it in the container to brew.

3. Way to Brew
No one can find certain rules for drinking tea because it depends on the time, brewing methods, types of tea, water temperature, amount of tea and personal preference. Approximately 3g of red or green tea could be used for a regular cup with about 200 ml of water. Water shouldn't be too hot or too cool. You have to remember color, smell, and taste. There are convenient ways to enjoy your tea! Put small amounts of tea in your cup and pour just enough hot water to covers the tea. Let it brew for 3 minutes, then pour water up to 70-80% of the cup and drink it before it cools down. When 1/3 of the tea remains, pour more hot water to balance out the cool water in your cup. You can enjoy the tea in this manner up to 3 times. If you drink Hongsui Tea or Lusui Tea (the particles are very small), leave it for 3-5 minutes. It's not a good idea to re-brew it because it would have already used up its effectiveness, as with instant tea bags. When you drink Oolong Tea, it is better to have a Zisha tea pot. Use a lot of tea and throw away the brewed water - the first brew is for 1 minute, second is for 15 seconds more than the first, and the third is 1 minutes and 40 seconds. The fourth is 2 minutes and 15 seconds. As you saw, the brewing time gets longer and will even out the density and concentration depending on the water temperature of and actual amount of tea. The hot water means shorter time, and in contrast, lower temperatures and smaller amounts of tea mean longer brewing times. Make sure to find the appropriate brewing times for your preferred density and taste!

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