Imagine it’s a quiet afternoon, and you are ready to have a meditative cup of your tea. You anticipate that first transformative sip and when you take it, it just doesn’t taste quite right. You measured the tea and the amount of water, but something is off. Did you know that using the wrong water temperature for your tea can ruin a perfectly beautiful leaf? With the wrong temperature, black teas will turn bland and insipid. Green teas bitter.
I remember the first time Kat tried green tea at home. She loved it in the local cafe, but just couldn’t get it right when she steeped it herself. She even stopped drinking it! Then one day she was at a local tea shop to pick up one of her favorite black teas. The salesperson asked if she wanted to try a sample of their jasmine green, and after she did, she declared she could never make it taste so delicious at home. The salesperson then asked what water temperature she was using. When Kat said she was using boiling water, the salesperson quickly pointed out that this was the problem. She was basically cooking the delicate tea, ruining the nuanced flavors.
Back when Char was in charge of our tea sessions, she used a very simple guideline to determine water temperature. In fact, it dates back to the Chinese Tang dynasty! Lu Yu was and still remains the sage of Chinese tea culture. His book written between 760 and 762 CE remains essential for any tea enthusiast today. It is a detailed poetic homage to tea, how to prepare it and consume it. He details the exact water temperatures for tea, and how to identify them without any fancy tea kettles or thermometers.
According to Lu Yu, here is what you need to look for:
Fish Eyes: 160-180°. This temperature is ideal for delicate green teas such as gyokuro. He called the tiny bubbles floating to the surface ‘fish eyes’ based on the size of the bubbles. Clever, isn’t it?
String of Pearls: 180-190° This is good for heartier green teas. You’ll see tiny bubbles in a connecting line, very much like a pearl necklace. I love this analogy! It makes me feel quite fancy to think there are pearls in the water.
Turbulent Waters: 190-210° This is basically a rolling boil. The surface of the water boils vigorously. I imagine a message in a bottle floating out at sea bobbing and swirling in the water. This is a good temperature for those hearty black teas.
So dearies, to figure out your water temperature you can use Lu Yu’s sage advice, or if you don’t want to sit and watch the bubbles in your water try giving a kitchen thermometer a try. For something a bit more convenient, Kat likes to use a variable temperature electric tea kettle. They can get very expensive, but there are reasonable models that have a few standard temperatures. This way you’ll be able to choose the right temperature based on the tea you are brewing.
Each type of tea needs a different water temperature. Even teas in the same family need differing temperatures. It’s important to pay attention to the instructions on the package.
Dearies, temperature guidelines are important but don’t be afraid to play around with water temperature, even if the package suggests something different. Sometimes you’ll like a tea better with warmer or cooler water. Be sure to experiment a little bit if you don’t like a tea at first. You may discover you just need to adjust the temperature.