Brewing Japanese green tea
Brewing Japanese green tea is easy and fun, and can yield some delicious results.
Senchado (“the way of sencha”) is the preferred way to prepare higher grades of green tea, particularly gyokuro and sencha, as it helps to concentrate their flavour and aroma, and enhance appreciation through multiple infusions.
In this guide, we’re using a condensed version of brewing, adapted from the Senchado ceremony. Hopefully, you find this style to be easy to perform and understand. It suits all kinds of Japanese teas.
Similar to gongfu cha, this brewing style offers a wonderful way to appreciate tea, whether for your everyday ritual of personal focus and introspection, or for welcoming guests to Japanese tea.
Key factors to brewing
There is adage in the tea world that says, ‘the fresher the leaf, the lower the water temperature’ should be.
This is particularly true of Japanese steamed green teas. Steeped too hot or for too long, and the tea can taste bitter and undrinkable.
Thankfully, getting the temperature right is easy. For one thing, you can simply get hold of a temperature controlled kettle.
The traditional way is transfer hot water from one small ceramic vessel (such as a Japanese yuzamashi) to another, which helps because the temperature drops by around 8-10 degrees Celsius with each pour.
Hence, this is why it is common sight in Senchado to find several small yuzamashi bowls that transfer water before being decanted into the teapot containing the tea leaves.
If your infusion isn’t as strong tasting as you'd like, it’s tempting to increase the steeping time. Try not to. The reason is that longer infusions of steamed green tea, especially when using hotter water, will rapidly extract mouth-drying astringency and bitterness. It can ruin your cup of tea.
Instead, we recommend that brew with more tea to get a stronger flavour. Even with more leaf, stick with a 1-2 minute brewing time for any single infusion.
Teas like gyokuro are an exception to the 1 minute rule, because they are lower in astringent and bitter-tasting compounds (thanks to being shaded prior to harvest).
Other shaded teas like this are brewed at a much lower water temperature anyway, which slows the extraction of these compounds.
With every infusion, the tea will absorb some of the water; don’t worry, we’ve factored this in to the guides below. Naturally, tea will absorb the most water from the first infusion, which helps to soften the leaf. Subsequent infusions will reveal more flavour and aroma as a result of a gradually unfurled leaf.
Suitable types of tea
Gyokuro, Kabuse Sencha
For these deep-shaded, tender teas, our recommendation is to start lukewarm and finish with water that is a few minutes off the boil. This allows you to appreciate the taste spectrum of this exquisitely tender tea.
• 5–7g tea
60ml water at 40°C • 90 seconds
50ml water at 60°C • 10 seconds
50ml water at 90°C • Serve immediately
Black tea and roasted teas
Japanese black tea, roasted green tea and rice-blended teas respond well to higher temperature brewing. As a general guide, we recommend abiding by the following parameters, though you can increase the amount of water by 50-100mL to suit your taste.
• 4g tea
100ml water at 90°C • 40–60 seconds
100ml water at 100°C • Serve immediately
Sencha, Bancha, Karigane
All steamed green teas
If you’re ever in doubt, try brewing with these parameters, which are effective and easy to follow. Feel free to adjust brewing time and temperature to your liking.
• 5-7g tea
60ml water at 60°C • 30–60 seconds
60ml water at 80°C • Serve immediately
60ml water at 90°C • Serve immediately