Floating Leaves Tea Home ---Shiuwen's Blog!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Frequent Asked Questions: Water Temperature

A lot of people have asked me some very good questions about tea. Many of their questions have been similar, so I thought it would be good to post my answers on the blog, since you might be curious about these questions as well.

One of the most asked questions is about water temperature. "What temperature should I use to brew my tea?"

My answer is to try out different ones and figure out what you think will make the most delicious tea. However, ANY GOOD OOLONG TEA CAN HANDLE BOILING WATER. I am not suggesting that you always have to brew tea with boiling water, or that you have to use a boiling temperature at all. I notice I often use non-boiling water to make my Taiwanese Oolongs because boiling water burns my tongue.

I heard that there is some debate over water temperature for Taiwanese Oolongs. Some people strongly believe that Taiwanese Green Oolong can't take boiling water. That's not what I see in Taiwan. Most Taiwanese people I've met use boiling water. Some people use a very specific temperature for Oolongs and insist that theirs is the only correct temperature. I respect their decisions for their own tea, but they shouldn't say other people are wrong. Each person should brew the way that makes the tea taste best for themselves.

I often hear this statement when I visit farmers and tea people in Taiwan, " Tea is alive. We have to be flexible with it". Weather changes all the time, so how can we use the same method to make our teas?

Try out different temperatures! You will be surprised to see what the same tea can offer you.

Feel free to comment on this. And if you have more questions about Taiwanese Oolongs, send them to me.


Will said...

I am with you 100% on this... this is what I've been trying to tell a lot of people for years. I try not to be fussy about water temperature, and make most teas with water that's either full boil or literally just off the boil. If the tea doesn't taste good, then maybe I will try backing off on the temperature with the next brew, or the next time I'm making that tea. It's easy to back off if the tea doesn't taste good with boiling water, but you will never know if you're missing elements of the tea if you don't at least try it with boiling water.

Of course, I don't use a thermometer, so I'd be hard-pressed to tell you authoritatively that the water is actually 100C when it hits my tea, but it's usually pretty damn close.

I think most of the stuff from people saying you need cooler water temperature is from people who sell tea that isn't as good quality and can't take the heat (so to speak).

Even letting the water rest for a few seconds after you take it off the heat probably means the heat of the water that's hitting your tea may not be exactly 100C. Also, the WAY you pour, and where you pour makes a difference (i.e., from up high in a slow stream on the rim of the pot or gaiwan will cool the water down a touch.

Shiuwen said...

Hi Will,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Are you coming to Seattle this year?

Will said...

Hopefully I'll come through again one of these days. In the meantime, you and Konghai should come visit LA.

Shiuwen said...

If we find the time, we will visit you in LA!

Eric G. said...

I'm also with you. Michael Coffey put me onto trying boiling water with Gyokuro (just imagine) and instead of steeping it for 3 or so minutes I now brew for only 20 seconds. It in fact tastes just the same and I don't have to deal with the possibility of drinking the tea luke warm. Of course my electric kettle only goes up to 95C for some reason (I'm looking for a new one for that and other reasons) so I always use a bit less than boiling. But yes, experimenting with temperatures can always surprise you. Plus when using pots made of ZhuNi and ZiSha, the process always cools down the water before you actually start to steep.

It was nice seeing you and Konghai.
-eric G

loose leaf tea lover said...

Very neat. I thought roaring boiling water for all! But each time I would wonder if the delicate loose leaves of certain teas like white poeny or silver neeedle can truly handle it.

Anonymous said...

I never use water near boiling for Oolongs unless it's recommended by the tea merchant. However, recently I was drinking a Champagne Formosa and it called for water near boiling. That confirms what you're saying about Oolong from Taiwan. Other Oolongs seem to like cooler water. --Jason

Unknown said...

Thank you, Shiuwen, for the interesting post. I usually am pretty hesitant to go against tea distributors' advice (on the fairly sure premise that they know a lot more about the tea than I do); but I am quite interested in trying Coffey's suggestion regarding short steeps, high temperatures for greens.

Though I wonder a bit about this, as most Japanese practice has lower-temperature steeping. I would think a thousands-year-old tea culture might have through much practice figured out the best way to steep teas designed for their palates.

Shiuwen said...

I agreed on the green teas. I prefer to brew green teas on a lower temperature as well because it brings out a softer body and more sweetness. However, I also believe a true good green tea can handle boiling water. You might want to ask about how they do their tea competition in Japan.

I am just tired of people arguing about Taiwanese green oolongs can't take boiling water. That's not what I see in Taiwan. If those people prefer to brew their tea in lower temperature, that's fine, but they shouldn't say boiling water is wrong.