Newbie Tips : How to enter the world of Japanese Green Tea
- Holly Helt
Everyone loves an acronym, so at Chiki Tea, we decided to get in on the game too: WATT.
It’s a helpful way for beginners to remember the vital points of making potentially fussy Japanese green tea.
WATT stands for:
We often take for granted the foundation ingredient in a cup of tea. Water!
For your usual cup of Lipton’s or PG tips, this isn’t a very big issue. But when it comes to very delicate, highly sensitive sencha, kabusecha and matcha, the type and quality of water you use becomes imperative.
At the very least, ensure your water is filtered or bottled. Filtering can be done through a Brita or similar water filtration system, but avoid using an RO (that’s reverse osmosis!) system. For tea, an RO removes the many minerals along with the gunk making your tea taste flat. We are advocates of adding binchotan (Japanese white charcoal) to both filter and add minerals to the water.
Bottled water should be high quality and not the cheapo gallons you buy at Walmart… where you can actually smell the plastic before you take the first sip! Evian on the other hand has too many minerals in it, so avoid that too. Distilled is also a tea-taste killer.
If you’re lucky and live near a natural spring, draw fresh living water straight from the source. You wont’ believe how amazing your tea will taste! We have natural springs and mountain water all around us in Kyushu, including a natural spring 80 meters below our building which comes straight out of the tap! It’s worth a trip to Japan just to taste this water!
For the best cup of tea, the amount of water and the amount of leaves is vital. It’s all about ratio. And over time, you will find the ratio of tea-to-water that your tastebuds prefer.
It sounds obvious, but if you use too few leaves, the tea will taste too weak! But often times people think they can get around this by steeping it longer. This might work with Chinese or Indian black and oolongs but not for fresh Japanese teas. See below for ‘Time’. Likewise, adding too many leaves and the tea can quickly taste overbearing, bitter, even fishy.
I suggest the following ratios for most Japanese green teas:
Single serving: 8g tea / 200ml water
Double serving: 16g tea / 400ml
Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes a few more leaves for a slightly stronger profile is recommended, but these ratios are a good starting point to find your perfect taste.
Tea connoisseurs might roll their eyes at this point, but the truth is, outside of our tight-knit circle, few people know about this rule: when it comes to Japanese green tea, avoid using boiling water.
If the water is too hot, it will force the extraction too quickly, in effect scalding the leaves, and result in a very bitter flavour brought on by the caffeine. The balance is completely thrown off kilter.
Aim for water between 70ºC and 80ºC (158ºF – 176ºF) for pure greens and 90°C (194°F) for houjicha and some genmaicha teas.
Hon Gyokuro and regular Gyokuro require very cool water - around 55°C (131°F) for the first steep, slightly hotter for the second and slightly hotter yet for the third steep. The waiting time is roughly 2 minutes, 90 seconds and 30 seconds respectively, depending on your leaves.
One minute is the universal guide. Once you become proficient at steeping Japanese tea, you will instinctively learn how to read the leaves and know when the time is up. If you go into any tea shop in Japan and watch the owner making a pot of tea, she will never use a timer, or a thermometer for that matter. Soon you will be able to do this!
As a general rule, hotter water requires less steeping time; therefore, a 90°C pot of houjicha is generally steeped for 30-45 seconds max for the ultimate flavor, without that burned taste if you go too long.
All four of the WATT aspects of tea-making are inextricably linked. It’s what makes steeping Japanese green tea both an art and a science!
WATT FUN (water amounts temperature time for ultimate newbies)! We hope this little acronym is useful - it makes our cute Japanese customers giggle as they practice their English.
About Holly Helt
Holly is American and grew up in Japan drinking Japanese tea from age-three. She has studied two methods of tea ceremony, Urasenke and the lesser-known Yabunouchi, which has a direct lineage to Sen-no Rikyu (known as the father of the tea ceremony) ; it's also the school of practice for samurai. In 2012 she founded Chiki Tea - an online retailer of Japanese green teas, all sourced directly from small farms in Japan. Splitting her time between Japan and her home in Texas, Holly strives to bring the best teas from Japan to as many people as she can find to share in her life's passion.