Updated: Oct 19, 2018
We have talked about the importance of water quality in making tea. Today, I’d like to discuss how to cook water and what the right temperature is for making tea.
Before you snap your fingers and say: “A-ha! I’ve heard about this!”, I’d like to invite you to finish reading and see if there’s something new or different from what you knew.
The oldest guidance on how to make water for tea is probably in Mr. Lu Yu’s The Classic of Tea, a 1200-year-old book that first recorded nearly all aspects of tea-making in that era. In the book, there is a chapter describes how to cook water. More specifically, Mr. Lu narrowed the water cooking down to three boiling points. The first boiling point is called “fish eyes”, which is about 85℃/185℉; the second boiling point is called “strings of bubbles”, which is about 92℃/197.6℉; the third boiling point is called “pounding waves”, which is about 100℃/212℉. Mr. Lu’s theory on cooking water is the foundation for all subsequent theories. I’ve met some tea lovers who were so fascinated by this theory and wanted to dig deeper into it to determine which boiling point is the best. While I admire their enthusiasm, I have to point out that this is pointless. In 1200 years ago, the water, the tea, the tea-wares and the way of drinking tea are entirely different from what we have in modern days.
This brings us to the next talking point. Since old guidance doesn’t work anymore, what should we rely on when making water for tea? Different teas require different temperatures. For example, Wu-Yi oolong rock tea always requires boiled water at its peak temperature. Many tea lovers know about this and many tea producers have a suggested water temperature on their packages. While I believe this suggested “ideal” temperature is subjective, I do not object my fellow tea lovers following it. However, the way many people practice this temperature instruction is wrong.
You should always bring the water alive by boiling it, then let the water cool down to the desired temperature. The most common mistake when following a temperature instruction is that people only heat the water to the suggested temperature. For example, if the suggested temperature is 200℉, most people would shut the kettle off when it reaches this temperature. In practice, unboiled water often fails to bring out the best taste of tea. Tea made with unboiled water tastes numb and enclosed, and it smells exhausted as if it has been infused many times. It almost feels like you are smelling a flower bud instead of a full-blown flower. Another common mistake I’d like share is that using reboiled water or reheated water. We should avoid reheating or reboiling water at all cost. Reboiled water contains too much salt. Not only is it bad for making tea, but also harmful for your health.
Finally, I’d like to suggest that use your intuition and taste bud to determine what water temperature makes the best tea for you. Water is important, but not nearly as important as the person who prepares the tea. For high quality premium teas, every leaf, every serving of tea can be unique. Just follow the basic guideline below and keep experimenting, one day you will become the expert in preparing water for your tea.
The temperature required: oolong > black > green
I hope you enjoyed this blog. If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below or tweet us @valleybrooktea.