How to Brew Loose Leaf Green Tea

Perhaps even more so than with black tea, there's a world of difference between loose leaf green tea and the stuff that comes in a tea bag. While it's brewing technique a little fussier than dropping a tea bag into some hot water, the subtle, yet complex, flavor profile of a quality green tea is well worth seeking out. Read on for my method.
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While black tea and green tea have some obvious things in common, they need to be brewed in significantly different ways. Green tea is much less robust than black tea, requiring lower water temperatures and less brewing time. It has a short window in which its fullest flavor profile can be enjoyed, so it needs to be brewed and drunk immediately. No tea cozies needed!

For me, green tea requires more attention and care than black tea, so I tend to brew it when I'm able to really stop what I'm doing and put all of my focus on the process. This is often a really wonderful, soothing thing to do and a big part of the experience.

How To Brew a Pot of Green Tea

1. Choose your tea. Quality loose leaf green tea is widely available these days but it is also a very perishable product, so be sure to buy from a reputable seller. The tea should be fresh and come in an air-tight container that ideally can be resealed. Air is an enemy of green tea as it causes oxidation.

2. Choose your pot and cup. Green tea is best when the entire batch is drunk right away. So choose a pot and a cup appropriate to how many people you are serving. The pot should be large enough that the leaves can fully expand and steep in the water. (See note below.) Cups for green tea tend to be smaller as you want to sip the tea somewhat quickly before it cools too much and the flavor changes.

3. Time and temperature. Your tea should come with specific brewing instructions but in general green tea uses 180-190°F (82-89C) water and is brewed for no more than 3 minutes. When you are starting out, an accurate thermometer is helpful for water temperature, but with time you will be able to tell by feel.

4. Water. Some people insist on using distilled or bottled water. I don't bother (San Francisco water is pretty good) but you may want to do this if your water has a strong taste.

5. Heat your water. Never brew green tea with boiling water! The method below does start with boiling water, but allows for it to cool.

6. Gather some tea treats, if having. It is traditional to serve a small, very sugary treat with green tea but you can also serve pieces of candied ginger or a butter cookie, if that appeals more.

7. Warming the pot, cooling the water. When the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat and pour it into your teapot. This will heat the pot and cool the water a little. After a minute or so, pour the water into the cups, discarding any remaining water. This will do three things: cool the water further, heat the cups, and measure the amount of water you will need for the tea.

8. Measure your tea. While the cups are warming, place a large pinch of tea per person being served into your pot. (Or if you need more specific measurements, 1 tablespoon per 16 ounces of water is often recommended.)

9. Brewing. Check the temperature of the water and if cooled sufficiently (180-190°F), pour the water from the cups into the tea pot and cover. Brew from 2 to 2-1/2 minutes.

10. Pour. Carefully, gently, pour the tea back into the cups. It's OK if a few leaves fall into the cups but if you find you can't control it, use a strainer. Eventually with practice you will be able to pour without too many leaves escaping.

11. Enjoy. Green tea should be sipped somewhat quickly as the taste will really shift as the tea cools down. I also like to pause and just focus on drinking the tea in order to enjoy and give my attention to it's subtle flavor. All in all, the brewing and drinking takes less than 15 minutes (more like 10) which makes it a perfect break time activity.

12. More? You often can get up to three brews from your leaves, so if one cup isn't enough, brew a second or third cup by simply pouring the hot (180-190°F) water over the leaves in the pot and steeping for the same amount of time.

Recommendations:
• If you want to avoid any leaves in your cup, use a teapot with a wide mesh strainer, like the Hario.
• Here's a nice description from Samovar on how good green tea should taste.
• The Adagio site has customer reviews of their green teas, which can help in choosing a good tea.

Related: Good Question: Help Me Learn About Tea

(Images: Dana Velden)

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