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The Perfect Cup of Japanese Tea: 4 Steps You Should Follow

Nicholas Noble | January 24, 2021 | Recipe

Most people identify tea-drinking as a source of good health. Although not all of us may be familiar with the whole range of unique or exotic Japanese teas – it shouldn't stop us from participating in what can be a delicious ritual!

In fact, for many a well-prepared cup of green tea becomes a daily practice. And it’s on that note why we believe that the finest Japanese teas should not only be accessible to source, but they should be understandable to the average newcomer.

Whether in terms of tea utensils (like kyusu pot or tea cups), or in terms of whether they should be used distinctly based on the type of tea (e.g. Hojicha, Sencha, or Kukicha) – here we demystify the preparation and drinking of a good cup of Japanese tea.

Did you make tea that didn’t taste good? Common reasons

Even though green tea is one of the healthiest natural drinks out there – a lot of times there are complaints over taste, temperature, water type, tools, and more…

The wrong mix can leave you with a bitter or astringent drink. In fact, without the right guidance it’s not uncommon that a person be turned off from tea in general.

This guide will see to it you have a delicious tea experience! With many more to come. We’ll review the “how” behind:

  1. Avoiding poor quality tea
  2. Storing your loose-leaf tea correctly
  3. Getting the right serving size
  4. Avoiding over steeping/too hot of water

Best possible tasting cup of Japanese green tea, every time!

Simple as it may be, how your tea is “made” is perhaps the most essential determinant on how it will taste. For example, no matter how well you steep or pour – if you’re starting with a low quality tea, there’s really not a lot you can do to fix that.

This is why choosing from a reliable source is the most paramount recommendation above others. Already done that? Just follow these 4 steps:

The 4 Step Guide to Great Tasting Daily Tea [Preparation Instructions]

Pick Your Tools – What Tea Utensils You’ll Need

What many people are unaware of is the utensils you use to brew your tea can have as much impact as other factors like steep-time or temperature. In order to fully release the balanced flavors (tasting notes) of your tea, choose a brewing pot so as to allow the dried leaves to fully unravel.

Japanese Kyusu Pot

Nothing is to say you cannot use a mesh ball strainer if you’re in a pinch – but consider an authentic Japanese Kyusu Pot when possible – these traditional brew pots have actually been designed so the tea leaves are able to fully expand, infusing with the water to become tea in a more level manner.

Some of the premium clay types used by artisans in Japan have an additional benefit to tea preparation – some being able to soften certain tasting notes in the tea, such as certain astringent (i.e. bitter) flavors.

boil water for Japanese tea, what temperature?

Water (Yes – water)

There wouldn’t be tea without water, but choice of water can be considered an implement as part of a delicious sip – just as anything else. Like the above, where certain kyusu clays may positively act on the end flavor experience, your water also plays a role in how certain flavors come through.

You can see our whole guide to choosing water (and for matcha!) at this complete resource. A general recommendation is spring water – a source with some levels of dissolved solids (TDS), and not distilled. 

Stove-top or Electric Water Kettle

In this day and age, many kettles are not only just electric but also featuring temperature controls. The Fellow Electric Kettle is an excellent example of setting the dial to the exact temperature you need.

Since most teas require their own unique range for the water temperature, so if you’re wanting to experiment with a few types of Japanese tea this could be a valuable feature to you. Alternatively, you can boil the water and let cool, measuring with a household food thermometer after some moments.

Japanese Loose-leaf Tea

Alright, this one’s a given too. You might already have your source of Japanese loose-leaf, but before we move on to Tea Water Ratio, here’s a quality pro-tip to know about instead:

Once you’ve opened your tea, store in an airtight container, one which ideally is light-proof as well (to prevent oxidation). This will preserve the original quality of the tea and give you time to enjoy within 1-3 months.

adding Japanese tea to your brew pot

Tea Leaves to Water Ratio | How much water for Japanese tea preparation

There’s incredible breadth to the array of Japanese teas out there. Each truly with their own distinct qualities, from the toasty Matcha Genmaicha, to the sweeter Sencha Tea. No matter the tea, it’s an easy mistake to make to overdo the amount of tea OR underdo the total water content.

By far the more common of the two is having too much tea for the intended serving size. You can achieve the correct proportion by first determining the water capacity of your tea pot and working backwards.

Most brewing pots, including Kyusus are designed with a common serving count in mind – and thus a respective volume. This will vary based on the tea you are brewing, but it’s a good first step to see what you’re working with.

One pro-tip to keep in mind is that Japanese teas should be (and most often are) measured in grams for serving size; since all teas vary in density it’s not sufficient to use standard measuring utensils like 1tsp – unless otherwise directed from your tea product’s label.

  • See more below for a chart for how much tea to use for common hot or cold teas.

Determining the Right Water Temperature for your Japanese Tea

You might not only be interested in standard green teas – but they make a good example out of water temperature (and its importance!).

Temperature that’s running too hot essentially pulls the bitter/astringent notes out of green tea – and any Japanese tea – although this is most relatable in standard green teas (e.g. Sencha).

The antioxidant compounds in Japanese tea are most abundant in the green varieties – these have a distinct bitterness to them. While that bitter bite is a sensory assurance to key health benefits (antioxidants), with the right water temperature they should be brought in balance with other flavors on the palate.

Two Choices for Getting Temperature right

Make use of these two temperature methods when making Japanese tea:

Electric Kettle

Many electric kettles these days offer temperature control so you can set the perfect brew right to the degree (not yours? See Method #2 ↓). That means right out the spout the temperature will be ideal for brewing tea.

The most common denominator in brewing temperature for Japanese teas is 176º F, but a few vary like Gyokuro (<160º F) and Hojicha (boiling; ~212º F) 

how to pour Japanese tea [guide]

Traditional Method

Unlike the precise method above, traditional stove-tops require a bit of guesstimation. Unless you have a kitchen thermometer to go hand-in-hand with your stove-top kettle, there’s at least one rule of thumb to know about as you gauge the right brewing temperature.

Bring water to a boil, which is approximately 212º F. Pour into your empty Kyusu and allow it to warm for about half a minute. Roughly, this should bring water temp down to 193-195º F – that’s step one.

Step two, pour the water from the kyusu pot to empty tea cups, and pour away any remaining water. As hot water sits in the tea cups, add your loose-leaf tea to the now-empty kyusu – at which point you can pour each tea cup of water back into the brew pot, now with temperature in the healthy range of 163-175º F.

how to cool off your water for Japanese tea Kyusu method
  • Although there is a range to potential water temperature, it’s within the guidelines for a delicious cup of tea in most every case. More importantly, you’ll be sure to avoid the main problem of excess heat.

Water Temperature – Final thoughts

A last note on water temp – if you’re ever at a loss of how to brew a new tea, start at a temperature in the range of 165-180º F. If from that point you find it to be not the ideal flavor, such as if it’s too bitter – then you can lower the temperature next time until you find that sweet spot.

Final Steps: Steeping and Timing of your Japanese Tea

Although most tea will come with directions on the label, most everyone will want to know what steps to follow if without specific instructions.

brewing time for your Japanese tea (image)

Unlike water temperature though, timing can be a shot in the dark if you really don’t have instructions. Most have a brewing time of 30-60sec, but some can be between 1-3min (like Hojicha green tea), including teas with a lower temperature brew (like Gyokuro).

So here’s a helpful table to get your bearings:

Chart of Japanese Tea Brewing Instructions

What Tea

Water

How Much

Water Temp

Steep Time

Matcha

Genmaicha

8 oz (250ml)

4 grams (~1 tsp)

158-194F

15 – 60 sec

Tencha

8 oz (250ml)

7-8 grams (~3 tbsp)

140-158F

1.5 – 2.5 min

Gyokuro

8 oz (250ml)

5-8 grams (~2-3 tsp)

122-140F

2 – 3 min

Hojicha

8 oz (250ml)

5-6 grams (~1 tbsp)

180-212F

1 – 3 min

Sencha

8 oz (250ml)

4 grams (~1 tsp)

158-176F

45 – 60 sec

Something to note: When your tea is steeping, avoid mixing or swirling the preparation. Such agitation can change the flavor and enjoyment of the tea by causing imbalances in how flavor is pulled from the leaves.

how to pour Japanese tea into tea cups (slowly)

How many times can you brew Japanese Tea?

Considering the short brew time of most any Japanese tea, it’s an easy thought that comes to mind, “Can I brew it again?”

The answer is yes, but here’s what you need to know: The first steep you should follow the recommended time, however, during following brews you should adjust the time to be shorter and shorter.

Bolder and bitter notes will become more dominant as the more subtle and mellow flavors are pulled during the initial steeps.By shortening the brew time each successive brew you can account for this.

pouring Japanese green tea made from this ultimate guide

Bonus: Japanese Tea Cold Brew Style - DIY Guide

Cold brew is an option (and a delicious one!) for virtually any Japanese tea. With that said, there is less technical instructions and more of personal preference in preparing a cold green tea. Also, steep time will vary as will concentration of tea used.

Varieties of conventional green teas (Gyokuro, Sencha, Tencha, etc) can be enjoyed cold within 10min of brewing, whereas certain specialty teas like Genmaicha and Hojicha may take up to 60min of time.

A very rough rule of thumb to follow is to double the amount of tea recommended for a hot preparation. Here’s how to cold brew:

First Step – Add your Tea

First step is to add your tea to the tea pot. The average 12oz cold brew would have 5-8g of loose-leaf tea; double the amount for between 25-30oz of prepared tea.

Second Step – Add Water (cold or room temp) and Ice [optional]

If you need the brew to take flavor faster, try a room temperature water. If you aren’t in a hurry or if you want to favor the sweeter notes – use cold water. 

If you’re heading out of the house, considering adding ice (leave ¼ of space at the top of your bottle).

Lastly, no ice or cold water is needed if you’re planning to leave the cold-brew overnight in the fridge. Feel free to fill entirely with room temp water.

should you drink all of your green tea when it's brewed?

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