Years of drinking at Teance (well, it’s been 2 years!) have hard-wired in me the proper way to make a good cup of tea:
- Warm the gaiwan/teapot, the server (tiny tea “pitcher”) and the cups.
- Rinse the tea leaves, which means quickly soaking the tea in hot water for 1-2 seconds and discarding the water (this step depends on the kind of tea.)
- Steep (the time varies depending on the type of tea)
- Pour from the gaiwan/teapot into the server (this step can be skipped if the tea cups are big enough to hold all the tea from the gaiwan/teapot, but the tea should not continue steeping in the teapot at all cost!)
- Pour the tea from the server into the cups for serving.
Step 1 makes sense, just as freshly grilled meats should be served on hot plates. It ensures that the heat is evenly distributed in the utensils and the temperature does not rapidly change for the tea. With a warm cup, you can also enjoy your tea warm for longer time.
Step 2 – rinsing the tea leaves – ensures that the leaves properly open up and release the flavors. However, Japanese green teas are not rinsed because they are so sensitive, and matcha is tea leaves in powder form, which cannot be rinsed anyway.
Of course, depending on the formality of the setting and how much you want to impress your guest (or yourself!), you can skip steps 1 & 2. (I often skip them when drinking at home).
Step 3 decides whether your tea comes out too light, smooth, fully developed, stringent or just plain burnt. I will write another post on steeping time to summarize my experience, but here’s a quick and dirty guide. Two rules of thumb: 1. Understeep is better than oversteep; 2. Greener leaves take shorter time.
Many Chinese yixing teapots are tiny (~ 80 ml in volumn) so that you can pour directly from the teapot into 3-4 tasting cups in one round, which is just right for tasting and pairing. Meanwhile, Japanese teapots are usually quite big (~ 200 ml), but the yunomi (tall tea cups) are also big, and their thick earthenware maintains the temperature longer, which makes them perfect for a relaxing tea time. (Japanese tea ceremony, which uses matcha, is a whole different story!)