Trying to figure out green tea
December 15, 2006 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm now trying loose leaf green tea instead of supermarket green tea bags. It seems to be coming out weaker. Is that normal?

Basically with my first attempt, I got a pleasant-tasting but somewhat colorless (very slight yellow) and weak tea.

Well, my first guess is that I didn't use enough tea leaves. The canister says to use about a teaspoon per cup, which I did. But the leaves were whole, sitting on the spoon, so maybe the mass would have been higher if we were talking about a teaspoon of crushed leaves.

Does loose leaf/gourmet tea just look weaker than the supermarket variety? Maybe supermarket tea is supposed to overpower the palate? I can buy that possibility.

Also am I supposed to get the water fully to a boil? I've read that ruins the tea by making it bitter. Maybe I've made it too weak by not having hot-enough water.

The type specifically is Long Jing (Dragon Well). Maybe my variety is weak? I guess it would help if I had a lot of tea experience, but I don't.
posted by hodyoaten to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How long are you letting the tea steep? That has more of an impact than water temperature.
posted by cmonkey at 10:05 AM on December 15, 2006

That's the miracle of teabags, by grinding the tea they decrease the steeping time dramatically. If you don't use ground tea, you have to let it steep much longer, at least 15 minutes. A common 'trick' with whole tea leaves is to put in double the normal amont of leaves, let it steep for 5 minutes, pour it off and then make a second batch with the same leaves and let that batch steep for another 15 minutes.
posted by boaz at 10:07 AM on December 15, 2006

Green teas should not be a strong, zazzy "in your face" tea. If you're looking for bold flavor, straight green tea is not for you. You might like red or black teas, like traditional pu erh. Try to find it sold in little cakes or "bird nest" forms; loose leaf pu erh isn't the best. One of the stronger green teas that comes to mind is Bi Luo Chun, though, and it may be more to your taste.

A lot of supermarket tea is made from a class of tea that is "less whole" than loose leaf. This means that there's more surface area for hot water to extract flavor from, and you get a stronger cup. It'll also pull out more bitter compounds, though, making for a bitter cup. Stronger, yes, but less palatable.

Perhaps you are using too much tea? The leaves need to have a lot of room for the hot water to extract flavor. If you're using a tea ball, or a pot with a steeping basket inside, the tea might be wadded up inside without room for water to circulate inside.
posted by boo_radley at 10:10 AM on December 15, 2006

You can actually brew loose leaf tea in the same way as the supermarket stuff - in a bag! Melitta makes single use tea filter bags that allow the water to infuse with the loose-leaf tea in the same way that tea bags work, only of course, the quality of the tea is much better since it wasn't processed to hell.

For green tea, fully boil the water and let it cool for about thirty seconds before pouring on the tea. If you don't boil the water, it won't be hot enough to brew, but green tea can't take boiling water without becoming bitter. Infuse the tea with either a filter or one of those cunning tea-balls for about five minutes. Experiment to see how much tea you like, perhaps you simply need to add more to get it as strong as you prefer.

(I'm a big time tea drinker myself and I make hot beverages for a living, I hope this helps!)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:14 AM on December 15, 2006

Response by poster: A common 'trick' with whole tea leaves is to put in double the normal amont of leaves, let it steep for 5 minutes, pour it off and then make a second batch with the same leaves and let that batch steep for another 15 minutes.

Are you saying to discard the first batch of tea, or reheat it and use it again?
posted by hodyoaten at 10:14 AM on December 15, 2006

Just let it sit until it reaches the desired strength. If I leave it for a half hour it can get as dark as black tea. The great thing about loose leaf tea is that you can reuse it to make at least 3-4 mugs from the same teaspoon.
posted by any major dude at 10:19 AM on December 15, 2006

Personally, I would never steep green tea for more than a couple of minutes, because I think it tastes like ass when it's steeped for too long. My favorite green tea is Green Cherry Blossom from Tehku.

I get hot water from the, um, little hot water thingy attached to our work coffee machines and let it sit out for a few minutes. I use a filter basket very similar to this one, put in a little over a tsp of tea and let it steep for a minute, tops. I think it's delicious, but it is a delicate flavor.
posted by amarynth at 10:20 AM on December 15, 2006

Also, while I'm no tea aficionado, a friend who is, when the water boils, pours in a tiny amount with the leaves, like a 1/2 cup, swirls it until the leaves come apart, then pour out that water immediately before filling the pot for the first steep. He says that gets rid of any chemicals and some bitter compounds.

Are you saying to discard the first batch of tea, or reheat it and use it again?

No, I'm saying to make 2 batches of tea with the same leaves.
posted by boaz at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2006

Actually, I just looked at the directions printed on my tea, and it says, "Use 1 tsp of tea per 6 oz of water. Brew at 180 degrees for 1 minute."
posted by amarynth at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2006

Boaz has the right advice. I also add more leaves than recommended, drinking off them until they become too weak.
I don't know exactly how you are steeping them, but I tend to just throw the leaves in a big, clear mug and watch the color of the tea until it gets to where I want it. The leaves tend to sink to the bottom by the time it is done, so drinking the leaves with the tea is not too much of a problem. I find that green tea tends to get bitter if over-steeped, I don't seem to have the same problem with white tea though.
posted by worstkidever at 10:25 AM on December 15, 2006

I also use the color of the tea.

Loose tea might be an acquired taste compared to the crap in the bag... if you are use to bags, then you might need time to learn to taste...
posted by ewkpates at 10:37 AM on December 15, 2006

Good advice above. If you want to add more flavor, but avoid becoming bitter, try adding some mint leaves, a small stick of cinnamon, an orange or lemon peel, vanilla bean, etc. to the tea leaves as they steep. This will take trial and error to find the tastes you enjoy.
posted by iurodivii at 10:38 AM on December 15, 2006

Amaynth noted an important thing: a "cup" of tea is six ounces. With the harsher compounds coming out of a tea bag, you could probably get away with more water, but with loose tea, the volume is pretty important. I have a variety of mugs, and none of them have less than eight ounces. Adjust accordingly

Also, if you're making a pot of tea, it's always a good idea to follow the old British adage of adding an extra spoon for the cup.

That said, with whole leaf green tea (I love the kind with toasted rice) I usually add heaping teaspoons of leaves rather than level ones, make sure the water is just off boiling (because Alton Brown says so), and steep for about six minutes. Any longer time or hotter water and I tend to notice a sort of dirty pennies taste.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:49 AM on December 15, 2006

Finally bought a MeFi account after a year of lurking so that I could post a reply here.


I got into loose leaf green teas a couple months ago, and after chatting with friends who had been making them for much longer and then experimenting a little, I figured out a few things about what I like and what works well. I don't yet know much beyond my own limited experience, though, so I'll just tell you about what I do.

Before anything else, I found a store that stocks lots of different loose leaf teas--so fun to sniff--and has a knowledgeable staff--to tell you about amounts, water temperatures, and steeping times.

As far as the brewing process goes, I usually take the kettle off right when the water starts to steam (which is about thirty to sixty seconds and a couple tens of degrees before it comes to a boil). I haven't noticed too much of a problem if it does start to boil, though; I'll just let it sit for a minute before pouring over the tea.

For most teas, I'll add a heaping tablespoon per (16 oz) cup, with one extra tablespoon for the pot (whatever that means). For pearl or gunpowder teas, I'll add much less (which can be as few as 15 pearls (about half a tablespoon) for 32 oz of water).

Depending on what the store recommends, I'll let the tea steep for 2 to 5 minutes. Any longer, and the tea becomes wretchedly, mouth-turningly, nauseatingly bitter. I love strong tea, and let my tea bags steep until the water's cool (I drink bagged tea when I'm at work), but never understood how nasty overbrewing could be until I started with the loose leaf.

When it's finished steeping, I pour it all through a strainer (that sits on top of the cup). If it's a cheap green tea, I'll dump out the leaves and rinse my pot. If it's an expensive pearl tea, I'll leave them in the pot and make some more (only the first infusions have caffeine).

In addition, you can get good loose leaf tea for pennies. And since the most common cause of weak tea, I've found, is not adding enough tea to the pot, measure with a heavy hand.



As an added bonus, here's my favorite oh-no-I-think-I'm-coming-down-with-a-cold remedy:

1 large cup hot tea (usually a green or white tea, so there isn't too much caffeine to interfere with sleep)
1 jigger bourbon (make it a small jigger; this is medicine, not booze-ahol)
lots and lots of honey (lots)
lots and lots of lemon juice (fresh, if you have it)

The vapors are almost even better than the actual drink.
posted by J-Train at 10:52 AM on December 15, 2006 [3 favorites]

There's a joke my Jewish relatives like to tell. It is almost funny.

An old rabbi was famous throughout the land for making the best tea. Everyone tried to get him to reveal his secret, but he wouldn't budge.

Finally, he was on his deathbed. His friends, family, distant relations all crowded around him. At last, his oldest daughter asked, "Father, how do you make such great tea?"

"Oh, Jews... " the old rabbi croaked with his dying breath, "don't be stingy with the tea leaves...."
posted by nasreddin at 12:15 PM on December 15, 2006

Get yourself a baseline to work from: Go to a trustworthy local cafe that serves loose tea, order green tea there, ask them how long they recommend steeping it, and compare that to what you get at home.
posted by mendel at 1:03 PM on December 15, 2006

And a plug for my favorite bulk, organic, fair-traded, tea supplier. I drink about 8-10 cups of their silver needle white tea every day. Good stuff.
posted by worstkidever at 1:09 PM on December 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

On the note of where to get tea from, there is a local online store (wrap your head around that one!) to me that has a ton of great tea, and just like worstkidever, I'd recommend the white tea. It will be cheaper trying teas at The Tea Table since you can buy quantities as small as 1oz, while twohillstea that was pimped above has a minimum order of 1lb (a LOT of tea...).
posted by cschneid at 1:31 PM on December 15, 2006

I buy bulk bancha green tea (I think that's the name -- it being bulk there is no label handy). I also use teabags when I'm not at home. I find the bulk tea comes out stronger, but I never measure it so I could not tell you how much I use. When it gets down to the last of the container, the loose tea is in smaller bits and tends to brew stronger. I use boiling water with loose tea, however I am at about 5000 feet.

One thing that will make the tea weak is overfilling any 'closed' style of tea paraphanallia -- the water won't be able to get in. I prefer to use an 'open' holder for the tea, it hangs on the lip of the cup and the water is poured through it into the cup.

You might also try the gunpowder green tea if you can find it.
posted by yohko at 1:59 PM on December 15, 2006

gunpowder teas

What is gunpowder tea?
posted by stam_broker at 8:32 AM on December 16, 2006

Gunpowder teas are rolled up into very small pellets (like a quarter the size of a pencil eraser).

See more.
posted by J-Train at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2006

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