The Four Elements of Tea Brewing
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
“Ananda, it is just as you have said, all the varieties of this world are manifested by means of the combinations of the Four Great Elements.”
There are Four Elements to tea brewing: Leaf, Pot, Water, and Time. The variations and combinations of these four elements give birth to all varieties of tea experience. The brewing elements interact with each other, so your decisions about one will inform the others.
There are no formulas for tea brewing; there is no right or wrong brewing, there is only each person’s experience of the tea.
“Some like it hot, some like it cold; Some like it in the pot, nine days old” (not recommended!)
The recommendations here are just guidelines to get you started, to demystify the brewing and make it more accessible. We encourage you to play with the elements to suit your personal preference.
The Leaf Element
How much tea leaf to use? For convenience sake, we often rely on the trusty teaspoon, a good amount of (most) tea for a single cup. But many wiry or non-shaped leaves (like white tea) don't fit well in a teaspoon. A more accurate measure is by weight in grams, usually 3-5 grams for a cup or small pot. This requires an accurate scale. When in doubt, just enough leaves to coat the bottom of the pot is a good guide. Remember, the leaves will expand!
The Pot Element
Any pot can work for tea, or you can brew directly in the cup (using an infuser to remove the leaves after brewing). Some pots are ideal for certain teas, but any pot will do. The size of the pot determines how much tea is being brewed, and therefore how much leaf to use.
The Water Element
Teas on the greener end of the oxidation spectrum need lower temperature water to avoid bitterness. This is especially true of unroasted Japanese green teas. In general, 80C/176F for green teas, 90C/194F for white teas, roasted greens, younger raw pu'er, and some greener oolongs, and 100C/212F (full boil) for everything else.
The Time Element
Time is the most personal of all the elements. How do you like your tea? Strong and bold, ready to get in someone’s face? Or soft and calming, a feeling that comes over you gently? In most cases, 2-4 minutes will make a proper cup of tea. If you're using more leaf in a smaller pot ('gong fu' style), 30-40 seconds will do.
We'll delve more deeply into these elements and various brewing tips and techniques in upcoming posts. Happy brewing!