New Feature: Try This At Home

If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably noticed something of a theme in my writing–I’m something of a stickler for accuracy when it comes to information about tea.  As a result, I do a lot of head-butting with the received wisdom of nearly five thousand years of product marketing and other forms of not-quite-accurate information.

In the hopes of getting people to engage more fully with their tea, to question their assumptions, and to stimulate conversation, I’m launching a new occasional feature of the Tea Geek blog.  I’m calling it Try This At Home.  While I enjoy getting orders at the Tea Geek store, these experiments will be ones you can do with teas and equipment that you may already have–or can easily find online or at your local specialty tea shop.

Each Try This At Home will be like a mini science experiment–equipment, procedure, and so forth.   I want you to have some fun, play with your tea, and do the experiment.  You’re welcome to send me the results or not as you see fit.  I will collect the information that people send, which may turn into future blog posts.

I’m starting with an experiment I’ve done myself a number of times that came up at a recent tea class I taught.  It takes aim at the idea that you need to brew certain teas at a certain water temperature.  Here’s what I want you to try at home:


  1. Two identical brewing vessels.  These can be anything you want–English teapots, gaiwans, cupping sets, whatever.  Shape isn’t too important, but material and capacity should be the same.
  2. Tea–specifically high-end, unflavored, green or white tea.  Enough to make the same tea in both vessels.
  3. Water and something to boil it in
  4. A timer
  5. A scale, as accurate as you can find


  1. Weigh out two equal quantities of tea, appropriate for the size of vessel you’re brewing in.  If you need a guideline, try about 4.5 grams per US cup (236 ml).
  2. Put a measure of tea into each brewing vessel.
  3. Bring the water to a boil; while you’re waiting, set the timer to 15 seconds
  4. When the water boils, fill the first brewing vessel and start the timer.
  5. Strain the tea as soon as the timer goes off.
  6. Wait two minutes; meanwhile, reset the timer to five minutes
  7. Use the water that has now cooled slightly more than two minutes to fill the second teapot and start the timer.
  8. When the timer goes off, strain the second pot
  9. Compare the two tea liquor samples you’ve made.   Note differences in color, fragrance, mouthfeel, flavor, astringency, and bitterness.

Questions for Discussion

What qualities did the first sample have that were absent or reduced in the second sample?  What qualities did #2 have that #1 didn’t?  Try to describe inherent qualities of  the tea, differentiating them from whether or not you like/dislike them.

Given these differences, what conclusions can you draw about brewing the type of tea you used?

It is often said that green or white tea should never be brewed with boiling water because it will ruin the tea.  Given the differences you’ve noted, what do you think of that advice?

And if you decide to report your findings to me, please include the name and source of the tea you chose to use.  Thanks!

4 thoughts on “New Feature: Try This At Home”

  1. Great idea. Reminds me of studying chemistry at university.

    One thing I’m wondering: The two teas will be drunk at different temperatures, right? I remember reading (and I’m sure you would be able to source this immediately, though I cannot) that Chinese often think of tea in terms of drinking hot, warm, cold; and at each temperature, there will be different characteristics. Different aromatics will be revealed at different temperatures (which is the beauty of using wenxianbei, the aroma cup).

    Also, isn’t it true that by allowing the first tea, which only steeped 15 seconds, to wait all that time, that the chemistry in that hot but cooling cup will alter what compounds are in the tea?

    I have found what I think of as the Second Cup Effect, in which the second cup from a pot always tastes better than the first cup. I think this is because there is quite a bit of chemistry still going on in the hot pot, even after the tea leaves are removed: substance a reacts with substance b, creating substance c, which reacts to b and results in substance d, and so on; each chemical reaction adding to the complexity and nuance of the cup (Flavinoids, and catechins, and tannins, and whatnot being developed). And if you were to analyze the chemistry of the cup when newly steeped and when it’s been sitting, you’d find more compounds in the latter.

    Anyway, my point is that this effect might confound some of the results your test is designed to illustrate.

  2. Don’t you mean nine identical brewing vessels? I figure a tea geek would really want to isolate the variables 😉 In my experience, longer steeping increases what I call “flavor saturation.” However, I find “initial bitterness” DECREASES with higher brewing temperatures, and I’m hard pressed to explain it. Someone told me they brewed Darjeeling a little cooler because it was “greener.” But when I tried to decrease a Darjeeling’s bite with lower temperatures and less steeping time, it just got worse. Now I make sure my Darjeeling water’s boiling martially, thank you. I haven’t gone so far as to try any green teas at 212°F, but I now go up to 190°F, especially with the mouth-dessicating Bi Lo Chun I got from Upton Imports.

    Incidentally, a comprehensive explanation of the water solubility profiles of tea’s component chemicals is my Holy Grail. Are you going to post any “answers,” now that we’ve tried it at home?

  3. Part of the problem with both your question about “bite” and a comprehensive profile of solubility is that there are interactions between compounds that make it more complex. For example, it’s easy enough to find solubility profiles for most of the compounds in tea. However, that’s measuring how easy they dissolve by themselves, not how quickly they come out of the leaf–and THAT depends on leaf grade, among other things.

    The bite thing depends on your sensitivity to various compounds (which in some cases are genetically determined) and what other chemicals are present. I can’t find the reference at the moment, but if I’m recalling correctly, the concentration of certain amino acids counteract the bitterness in some methylxanthines (of which caffeine is one). So just looking at the solubility of caffeine, for example, isn’t going to give you a reasonable answer for your “initial bitterness” question. You’d need to know the relative concentrations of various substances in any given tea to even start predicting how they’d react…and then add your own personal body chemistry and genetics and psychology to deal with how you’d perceive what’s there. (Update: “[Theaflavins] in solution are normally very astringent, but in tea the astringency is reduced due to an interaction with bitter caffeine.” I think this is the relationship I was remembering–theaflavins are astringent, but less so in the presence of caffeine, meaning you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell with your senses what the relative strengths of these different compounds are.)

    And no, I’m not going to post answers. The purpose of “Try This At Home” is to get people to stop thinking they know about tea because they read about it somewhere and actually TRY new things. In the case of this particular experiment, people often don’t brew white teas in boiling water for a very short period because (a) they’ve read you have to brew white tea in cooler water, or (b) assume you have to brew tea for several minutes. The only “right answer” then is to try it and see what the result is like for you.

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