Maybe this is true of most things, but the variance between great tea and terrible tea is absolutely enormous. If tea was what nearly everyone thinks tea is, I would never drink it. A great cup of tea, though, is one of life’s great pleasures. And despite being a luxury and an indulgence, it’s very healthy for you.
I’d like to share a few of my favorite types of teas and how to brew them to make them delicious.
#1 — Gyokuro
Gyokuro is a Japanese green tea that’s shaded for the last three months of its life, which causes it to struggle and produce more theanine and caffeiene, which gives it an incredibly intense sweet and umami-rich flavor. Amongst my friends who like it, most of us consider it to be the best flavor on earth!
Gyokuro is best brewed in a flat side-handled Japanese pot called a kyusu, but a regular gaiwan will work fine, especially if you have a mesh strainer to pour it through.
Buy the best Gyokuro you can find. Its quality tracks very directly with price, so expect to pay a decent amount of money for it. A great deal on good Gyokuro would be around fifty cents a gram, and a fair price would be about one dollar per gram. Several people can share one serving.
Put the 7-8 grams of leaf in your brewing vessel and add just barely enough room-temperature water to cover the leaves. This will be a very small amount of water. Some of the leaves will float, but they will eventually become soaked and fall in, so don’t worry about covering every single one.
Wait seven minutes. During that time the leaves will absorb most of the water. After the time is up, drip the remaining liquid into tiny cups. You can forcefully shake the pot downwards to extract a little more liquid from the leaves.
You will be left with just a few sips of room-temperature tea, but they will have more flavor than a whole cup of most other teas. Take tiny sips and enjoy.
You can then resteep the leaves several more times. Use around 100ml of water at 70°C and for only a few seconds, increasing as you go. For the first warm steeping I pour the tea out as soon as I’m finished pouring the water in. Some people don’t like the cold steeping, but will enjoy the warm steepings. I also have friends who do two cold steepings up front, and some who skip the cold ones.
#2 — Mi Lan Xiang Dancong (Honey Orchid Phoenix Oolong)
There are probably hundreds or thousands of types of Oolong tea out there, but a good Phoenix is a real classic. More than any other tea, it’s what I find myself reaching for for a daily drink. I’ve had some very cheap Phoenixes that were good, but also some that were either flavorless or bitter. Expensive ones from good tea shops tend to be worth it.
Brew your Phoenix in a gaiwan. Use 6 grams of leaf with 100-150ml of water and brew at 85°C. The leaves are twisted and need time to unfurl, so let the first steeping go for 30-45 seconds. The second steeping should be much quicker, maybe only 15 seconds. A good Phoenix can often be steeped 10-15 times and still be delicious. By the end you might steep for a good 5 minutes.
Like many rolled or twisted oolongs, the second and third steepings are usually the best, as the leaves have maximum surface area in contact with the water.
#3 — Matcha
Lots of people have had matcha, but very few have had good matcha. That’s because it’s extremely expensive. My number one favorite matcha is Kinrin, sold by Sazen Tea (you can have it shipped). Samovar’s best matcha is excellent, as is just about everything from Breakaway Matcha. If you are paying less than $1 per gram, you are almost certainly not buying good matcha (Kinrin is an exception, but it ends up being $1/gram with shipping).
The most important part in making matcha is sifting the matcha first. Otherwise it will be clumpy and gross. You can use a very clean cooking sifter or any sort of small fine screen.
Measure out 2-4g of matcha. If you are new to matcha, 2 is plenty. Heat 80ml of water up to 80°C and pour it into the sifted matcha in a cup or matcha bowl. If you don’t want to whisk it manually, a milk frother works fantastically. Drink while it’s still hot and frothy.
#4 — Li Shan Oolong
Taiwanese oolongs are considered to be the champagnes of the oolong world. They are truly excellent. Their best known ones are very light rolled oolongs from high mountains like Li Shan and Ali Shan. No one mountain is always the best — different ones edge out the others on different years. Generally speaking, though, oolongs from higher up on the mountain are better than lower ones.
Use a Gaiwan and heat water to 85°. Pour 100-150ml over 6g of tea and wait for 2-3 minutes (until the balls are mostly expanded). If you don’t have a way to weigh the tea, cover the bottom of the gaiwan in a single solid layer of the rolled tea balls, with maybe a few on a second layer.
After the first steeping you will, like the Phoenix, do quick steepings and gradually increase the brewing time.
I wanted to add a black tea to this list as well, but I find it hard to consistently find black teas that I find excellent. The best ones I’ve had were black teas grown around Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan. So if you get through these four teas, maybe go out searching. You’ll be shocked at how fruity and smooth a black tea can be.
And if you try all of these four teas and don’t like any of them, I’ll concede that tea maybe isn’t for everyone!
Photo is my little tea room in my house in Vegas. Once I can waterproof my cabin on the island I’ll build a bigger one there.