Tea in a good tea house is special.
I spent a lot of time in Asia and the best cups of green tea I had were all in tea houses in China and Japan.
I always though how nice it would be if every cup of green tea I had could taste like that. If I could brew a similar cup of tea myself at home.
With Japanese green tea, it is difficult. It can be done, but the tea is delicate and a bit more difficult to brew correctly.
But Chinese green tea is a different story.
Anyone can easily learn how to prepare green tea like a Chinese tea house. And that surprises people.
So let’s begin with Chinese green tea. We’ll get into Japanese green tea further down and then get into a few different types of tea from each country, plus answer some common questions.
How To Brew Green Tea Like A Chinese Tea House
When you think of having a cup of green tea in a tea house in China, you likely imagine them using an overly complicated process to brew the tea.
It’s somewhat romantic to believe they learn how to prepare green tea from their ancestors, using secret methods passed down through generations
But that’s not really the case.
True, some tea houses do use the traditional gongfu style to brew green tea, but most cafes and restaurants use a much simpler process.
Probably the most common method is to use a traditional lidded gaiwan, but many places will also simply use a regular, tall, clear glass.
A glass is especially popular for certain teas, like Longjin (aka Dragon Well), as they allow you to watch the tea leaves slowly unfurl in the hot water. The methods of preparation for either vessel are virtually the same.
While I do love seeing the leaves unfurl in front of my eyes, I have to say I still prefer a gaiwan. There’s just something about preparing your tea in a traditional vessel. I’m sure it doesn’t really impact the flavor, but you’ll swear it tastes better anyway.
That’s the power of suggestion. And truthfully, I don’t care if it doesn’t make a real difference; I just enjoy the process more when I adhere to traditional methods and that helps me enjoy the tea more. That’s all that matters.
That said, there are a lot of modern tea mugs with infusers that are basically updated versions of the gaiwan and work just as well. If you don’t already have a gaiwan, it may make more sense to get one of those. It really just depends on your preference.
What You Need To Brew Chinese Green Tea
To prepare green tea in a glass or gaiwan, you really only need three things: tea leaves, hot water and the vessel itself. You can either get a vessel on its own or just get a complete tea set.
What kind of tea is served in Chinese restaurants? Many different types. Oolong, green, jasmine and pu’er are the most popular, along with special blends. In this article, we’re only focusing on green.
For green teas, you do not want to use boiling water, but water that ranges from 60° C (140° F) to 85° C (185° F). The ideal tea temperature varies with the variety, with teas picked early in the year generally requiring cooler temperatures, due to their higher amino acid content.
80° C (176° F) or so is a good temperature to aim for, if you are unsure which temperature is ideal for your type of tea.
The main thing you want to avoid is going above 85° C (185° F), because it will result in a bitter tea or going under 60° C (140° F), because water below that is unable to fully extract all the flavor and aroma from the tea leaves.
The reason for that are amino acids and tannins, two of the many different compounds and substances in tea leaves that all contribute to its aroma and flavor. The bitterness of a tea is contributed by tannins, while the sweetness and overall flavor of the tea are determined by amino acids.
Amino acids dissolve at 60° C (140° F). Tannins, on the other hand, dissolve at 80° C (176° F). The correct temperature achieves the perfect balance of sweet and bitter.
Naturally, the perfect balance varies, depending on personal tastes, so you’ll want to try out different temperatures until you get the flavor you prefer from your particular tea leaves.
How do you know when your water is the correct temperature?
If you don’t have a way to ensure the exact temperature, you can estimate it, though this is obviously not idea. To do this, simply boil the water in your stove top kettle and let it sit for a few minutes to cool off. You could also add cold water to the tea leaves first, before adding the boiling water (fill the glass about 20% with cold water). If you don’t have a kettle, there are ways to make tea without a kettle.
How To Prepare Green Tea From China
- Whatever method you use, you’ll want to first fill the empty glass or gaiwan halfway with hot water then tilt the glass to let the water run up the side. Keeping it tilted, turn it slowly to let the hot water warm up all parts of the vessel. Then pour the water out.
- Next, fill the gaiwan with about one teaspoon of dry tea leaves. If you are using a glass, double the amount of leaves.
- Pour 80°C (176°F) water onto the leaves, until the vessel is about one third full. Now tilt it a bit and rotate, so that all the leaves get wet. Then continue pouring in hot water until the glass or gaiwan is 80-90% full.
- Let the tea steep for 2-3 minutes. If using a gaiwan, cover it with the lid while steeping. You’ll know the tea is ready to drink when most of the leaves have sunk to the bottom (for Dragon Well tea).
- Enjoy your tea, but not the whole cup—once you get down to about one quarter remaining, refill with hot water and steep again, adding thirty seconds to the steeping time. Most Chinese green teas will give you 3-5 good infusions and you’ll probably want to increase the steeping time by thirty seconds for each successive one.
And that’s how to brew green tea from China! Pretty simple right?
Now let’s learn how to brew Japanese green tea. It’s not quite as easy, because it is less forgiving, but even if you don’t get it exactly right, the tea will still turn out pretty good.
Brewing Green Tea Like A Japanese Tea House
Japanese tea houses brew tea quite differently from their Chinese counterparts. The most obvious difference is in the brewing vessel. While Chinese places generally use a gaiwan or even just a regular glass, Japanese places almost always use teapots.
Specifically, they favor the kyusu, which is a side-handled teapot commonly used in Japan. You can check out some of them here.
Apart from that the actual brewing process differs quite a bit as well. Let’s take a look.
Preparing Green Tea From Japan
For these instructions, I will use a kyusu pot and sencha tea leaves, since 80% of the tea consumed in Japan is sencha and it is the most common type outside Japan as well. Make sure the leaves are fresh for the best flavor. This means you need to store your tea properly.
The first few steps are not necessary if you have water that is at the correct temperature of 80°C (176°F). But if you do not have a way to measure the water temperature, pouring the water into the teapots like this will cool boiling water down to about the right temperature.
- Pour enough boiling water into the empty teapot to fill everyone’s cup. There should be NO leaves in the pot yet.
- Pour the water into each cup, filling it to the desired level (usually about 80% to 90% full). This helps cool the water down to around 80°C (176°F).
- Add one large teaspoon of tea leaves into the empty teapot for each cup of tea. My kyusu pot has an infuser, but you can also put the leaves directly in the pot.
- Pour the water from the teacups back into the kyusu.
- Steep the leaves for one minute.
- Pour a small amount of tea into the first cup, then pour the same amount into every other cup. Continue filling the cups a little at a time. DO NOT fill up one cup all the way, then move on to the next. This ensures that every cup contains the same amount of the weaker first pours and the stronger last drops.
- Continue pouring until the teapot is completely empty. The leaves should be as dry as possible to ensure a quality second infusion
- For the second infusion, don’t add any fresh leaves. Pour boiling water from your kettle directly into the cups, wait about 30 seconds, then pour the water into the teapot. You want a higher water temperature than you used for the first infusion.
- Steep for 20 to 30 seconds, then pour the brew into the cups a little at a time, just like before. Once again, empty the pot completely, leaving the leaves as dry as possible.
- For the third infusion, do the same again but lengthen the steeping time to 1 to 3 minutes.
- Any subsequent infusions depend on the quality of your tea. Try more and see how they taste. Add 1 minute to the steeping time for each subsequent infusion.
All the times and temperatures are approximate and will vary according to the tea used, the altitude, the outside temperature and, of course, personal tastes.
Feel free to experiment. If you find the resulting tea too bitter, try reducing the water temperature; if it is too strong, try using fewer leaves or decreasing the steeping time. If the tea is too weak, do the opposite.
It might sound like a lot of trial and error, but trust me, once you figure out how to prepare the perfect cup of green tea, it’ll be worth it.
Green Tea Varieties
Like other types of true teas, green is often used as a base for different types of herbal teas including ginger and jasmine. We will not discuss those here.
When it comes to true green tea, the two most common by far are Japanese and Chinese. Japanese green tea is usually steamed to stop oxidation, while Chinese teas are typically pan-fired. This results in Japanese teas tasting grassier and Chinese teas tasting milder and sweeter.
Let’s look at some of the most common types of Japanese and Chinese teas. You’ll find a more complete list on this page.
Japanese Green Teas
Sencha is the most popular variety of green tea by far, and is pretty recognizable due to its thin, rolled strand form. This is the type of green tea you’ll commonly find in restaurants and it accounts for about eighty percent of the green tea farmed in Japan.
Sencha can be combined with roasted or popped rice kernels to make Genmaicha tea. The roasted or popped rice adds a nice toasty flavor that goes well with a large meal.
Matcha is a green tea powder, which means the whole leaf is consumed, not just the steeped essence. As a result, matcha has far more nutrients and health benefits. It is also the tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. It is commonly used for cooking.
Chinese Green Tea
Chinese green tea has a distinct flavor that’s very different from the Japanese varieties. This is a result of the leaves being fried (instead of steamed) to halt oxidation.
The most famous tea is Dragon Well, which is known for its toasty flavor and leaves shaped like swords. It is generally pretty easy to find, though much of what you find is not really a true Dragon Well. Only teas from the West Lake area in China are considered true Dragon Wells, and this area is very small.
Gunpowder is another variety that is commonly found all over the world. It is known for its pearl-shaped leaves. It maintains flavor longer because these rolled leaves which only unfurl slowly while they are being brewed.
Biluochun is another famous tea that is not usually too difficult to find. The literal translation of Biluochun is Green Snail Spring. ‘Spring’ because that is when the tea is harvested and ‘green snail’, because the tightly rolled leaves resemble snail meat and are green.
How Do You Make Green Tea Using Tea Bags?
First, I should note that you will never get tea made from a tea bag in a real tea house. In fact, tea bags are almost never used in Japan or China, period. And I always recommend loose leaf tea as well, for many reasons.
The reason they are common in the west is because they are so simple. And that simplicity is largely due to the brewing process. Just put the tea bag in your cup and add hot water. Let it steep for the time indicated on the package, then remove the tea bag and discard. That’s it.
Where Do I Buy Good Green Tea Leaves?
If you live in a larger city, there may be a tea store somewhere near you. Most tea stores carry several varieties of Chinese green tea, with Dragon Well and Biluochun being available most places. They may not be the greatest quality, though.
When it comes to Japanese green tea, you sill find Sencha almost everywhere. Other varieties are usually more difficult to find.
Luckily, you can get great tea online. There are a number of excellent online vendors that sell quality green tea at good prices. Amazon has some good teas, too. This post lists the best places to buy green tea online.
What Is The Best Tasting Green Tea For Beginners?
I usually recommend Dragon Well tea for beginners, because it is mild and easy to brew. It is the most famous Chinese green tea, period. Another good option is Lu Mountain Cloud Mist tea. It is also a mild, sweet Chinese tea. For Japanese teas, houjicha is the easiest to brew.
How Many Cups Of Green Tea Should I Drink A Day?
The general recommendation is to drink 3 to 5 cups per day, but you can have far more than that, if you like. I drink tea all day long and have 10+ cups a day. Some people will suffer adverse effects from drinking too much green tea. If that is you, you will notice and should cut back.
Can you brew green tea for too long?
Yes, you can. If you overbrew the tea, it will become bitter. This is especially true for Japanese teas. Brewing the leaves for longer also means that subsequent steepings will not be as flavorful and you won’t get as many steepings out of a set of leaves.
What’s The Best Way To Make Iced Tea From Green Tea?
If you ask this question you’re sure to get a variety of answers. The most important point, really the only one that matters, is that you absolutely want to use loose leaf tea.
Tea bags are filled with the dust and fannings that are left over from the processing of loose teas. As a result, tea bags simply do not deliver the same flavor and aroma as loose leaf tea.
The difference is huge. Loose leaves give you an ice tea with a strong, rich flavor. It also contains more antioxidants and other nutrients your body needs. For much more, read my article on how to make iced tea with loose tea leaves.
How Can I Add More Flavor To My Green Tea?
If you’re looking for a new way to drink your green tea, try it iced (see previous question). You can also steep your tea with fresh fruit, for a nice fruity flavor.
Add some peaches, raspberries, or lemon wedges to the tea while it is brewing. Allow the fruit to soak in the water, which will draw some of the flavor into the tea. Feel free to experiment with a variety of fruit combinations to develop new flavors.
Once the tea has steeped for the appropriate amount of time, let it cool and pour it over ice cubes for a nice refreshing drink, or enjoy it hot on a colder day
Can I Use Fruit Juice To Sweeten My Tea?
Yes and no. Never use fruit-flavored juice to sweeten your tea. These juices are usually flavored with a variety of artificial ingredients and often contain a large amount of sugar. Increasing your daily sugar intake can increase your risk of heart disease, tooth decay, and weight gain.
Instead, search for juice that’s one hundred percent natural. Never add sugar to your tea, in addition to fruit. The fruit is naturally sweet on its own, so you won’t need to worry about adding sugar or any other type of sweetener.
In fact, I would avoid sugar altogether, even if you are not adding fruit. Go with a natural sweetener instead, like one of the ones detailed in this article.
How To Prepare Green Tea: Final Thoughts
Green tea is a wonderful drink. It can warm you on a cold day when drunk hot and can be incredibly refreshing on a hot day when taken cold.
And learning how to brew green tea doesn’t have to be complicated. The main thing to look out for is getting the right water temperature. If you get that right, your tea will be good, even if it is not quite perfect.
And good tea is already a wonderful drink. Perfect tea will come with practice. So keep brewing!