Every Tea in its Right Place: Time and Temperature
Jan 11, 2023
HOW TOEvery Tea in its Right Place: Time and Temperature
Japanese tea is nearly endless in flavor and tradition, including the grassy matcha and nutty, roasty hojicha. Production method and season affect their flavors, but brewing method and timing are just as important.
Japan loves green tea, so much so that it loves several different kinds. Sencha, to start with, is an infusion using steamed leaves that results in a bright-colored brew with a mellow, delicate flavor, making it Japan’s most commonly drunk style of tea.
Matcha, meanwhile, is made with powdered tea leaves, meaning that when you’re drinking matcha, you’re also drinking the leaves themselves. That’s why it has a more complex flavor, bitter but with a clean finish and almost hidden sweetness, plus a deeper, more opaque color. Because matcha is a heavy hitter in the flavor department, blended teas with a sencha base and a touch of matcha powder are popular as well.
Then there’s hojicha, a green tea that’s actually brown. That’s because the tea leaves are roasted before their infusion, giving them a toasted, slightly nutty flavor that’s especially comforting during the colder months of the year.
Tea and temperature: The right way to brew
The recommended amount of tea leaves to put into the pot is one tablespoon per cup you plan to brew. There’s some leeway as to how much water to use, depending on how strong you like your tea, but 170 ml (5.7 ounces) for three cups is considered a good baseline ratio.
The leaves go into the teapot first, and you might be tempted to pour the water into the pot as soon as it’s boiled, but experts would say that’s a waste of good leaves. Instead, you should let the water cool down to somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees Celsius (158-176 Fahrenheit) first, so as not to scald the tea and damage its flavor.
Another common temptation is to let the tea steep for an extended time. Really, though, one minute, or two at the very most, is all the time sencha needs to reach its best flavor, and hojicha is even quicker at just 30 seconds. Finally, if you’re planning to brew a second batch with the same leaves, make sure you pour all of the water out of the pot, as letting them sit in hot water will harshen the resulting taste.
Timing your tea break
Unlike coffee, green tea is never meant to be slammed down as a jolting caffeine-delivery system. It’s all about a feeling of comforting relaxation, and so as long as the mood strikes you, there’s never really a wrong time of day for a green tea break.
Because green tea’s subtle complexity can make it tough to pair with main dishes, it’s commonly enjoyed after breakfast by early risers with time to spare before clocking in at work, or after dinner while winding down from a busy day. But arguably Japan’s favorite time for a cup of green tea? 3 PM, the societally agreed-upon time for a mid-afternoon sweet snack. After all, there’s no better accompaniment to Japan’s vast variety of tea sweets than a good cup of green tea.