Green and white tea are more delicate than black teas. So to get a great tasting cup without the bitterness, they need to be treated differently...
For years I thought I didn't like green tea.
I wanted to like it. I saw others drinking it regularly. I read all about the benefits of green tea, but I just never enjoyed it. Why is green tea so bitter, I said to myself. I thought it was either an acquired taste, or it was just something you "put up with" purely for it health benefits.
Well it turns out the reason I didn't like it, was because I was just brewing wrong. I made the one simple mistake a lot of people probably make when it comes to green and white tea. I brewed it like I was making black tea.
Why is brewing green tea different to brewing black tea?
Well for start, green tea is a lot more delicate than black tea. It hasn't been handled or processed as much, it hasn't been oxidised as much. Which all boils down (pardon the pun) to one issue....
Green tea hates boiling water.
Well, that's not quite true. But it hates extremely hot water. When you brew most black teas you really want the temperature to be as close to a full rolling boil as possible. Generally if it's straight off the boil, the water is probably above 95 degrees celcius (203 Fahrenheit). If you pour water that hot on green tea, it scalds it. The tannins leech out of the leaves very rapidly and your cup of delicate green tea flavours is overpowered by the bitterness of the tannins.
So what temperature should you use to brew green tea? Well it's all personal of course, but generally somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees is appropriate and a little lower for white tea. That way you'll get the flavours without too much of the bitterness.
So how do I get the right water temperature for green tea?
Apparently the Chinese have some fabulously descriptive terms for how to get the right temperature without a thermometer. Things like Crab Eyes and Shrimp Eyes, which describe the size of the bubbles coming off the bottom of the pot. I love this, but I don't boil my water in a pot, nor is my kettle glass.
Four different ways to brew green tea.
You can boil your kettle and then let it sit for five minutes. If you have a thermometer, you could test this once to find out how long it takes your kettle to cool to the desired temperature, and from then on just time it with your watch/phone/clock.
You can listen to the sound of the boil and switch off your kettle before it gets to the rolling boil. Again, trial and error should tell you - but it will vary depending on how much water and what kind of kettle.
You could pour cold water into your kettle full of already boiled water to cool it down. Once again, trial and error will tell you how much.
Or lastly, and purists will probably boil me in a kettle for suggesting it - but I have found this works very well - pour a little cold water over your leaves in the pot before pouring boiling water in. It's easy to see how much cold water you've poured in (enough to just cover the leaves), it protects the leaves from the initial shock of boiling water, and it's easy to replicate when using different kettles and different teapots.