28 March 2009

How to Brew Green Tea

Most Americans do not know how to make green tea properly. I just read a book by chefs for chefs called On Cooking, and even they make the same mistake of thinking that you brew black tea, oolong tea, and green tea exactly the same way. Not true!

I lived in Japan. The Japanese taught me the correct way to make green tea, and their green tea is pretty much as tasty as it gets. They taught me that there are three stages to hot water: fish eyes, string of pearls, and rolling boil. If you're boiling a pot of water and there are bubbles that look like fish eyes, that's the first part. String of pearls is when small bubbles start rising one after the other to the top of the surface. The later end of fish eyes and the earlier end of string of pearls is when you want to turn off the heat and pour it over the green tea bag. Alternatively, you can bring tea to a boil, immediately turn off the heat, and then pour the water into 3 different cups before pouring it over your tea bag. Both methods work fine.

I like to use a tea kettle because it's faster than an open pot of water, so what I do is listen. While the water is cold, I don't hear the tea kettle making any noise. But when it's at fish eyes, it starts making a stuttering, breathy sound. I wait until the sound is steady and no longer stuttering, and then I pour the water over my tea bag. It works perfectly.

The next problem with American tea brewers is that they think you brew green tea 1-3 minutes, the same as black tea. That's incorrect as well. Black tea turns black right away but you need to keep brewing it to maximize flavor. With green tea, you can judge whether it's done by the color. I've never had to brew Japanese green tea (sencha, o cha, ban cha, or genmai cha) more than 45 seconds, tops. You want the tea to be a lovely spring green color, a grassy green. Chinese green tea is more complicated because sometimes it needs to be a deep yellow, but this is not the case for Japanese tea. And neither tea should turn brown!

The last misconception Americans have about green tea bags is that you need to throw out the tea bag or tea leaves after you've steeped it once. Actually, green tea tends to taste better the second time it's steeped. You can steep it up to 7 times and still have great flavor.

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