When my family recently came for brunch, I offered my Japanese father a special green tea. I served the tea and one sip later, learned I'd been making green tea all wrong. I always boiled the water, poured it directly over the leaves into a teapot, let it steep for several minutes, and then poured it directly into mugs. My father, accustomed to the subtlety of the Japanese tea ceremony, gently took me to task -- and I decided to learn how to do it right.
For a tutorial, I went to the Ippodo tea company, who just celebrated their 300th anniversary. For six generations, this esteemed family-run business has been growing and producing the highest quality tea in verdant fields outside of Kyoto.
Tomoko Honda, manager at Ippodo’s elegant shop in New York City, showed me the simple steps to brew the perfect pot of sencha, the most popular type of green tea.
1. Add 2 tablespoons of sencha for 7 ounces of water into a teapot. Honda uses a kyusu, a small Japanese teapot.
2. Boiling water brings out the astringency in green tea, making a bitter brew. The ideal temperature for sencha is 176°F (80°C). Start by boiling water, then pour it into 3 teacups to cool down the water and also warm up the cups. (Each time you pour hot water into a cup, it drops the temperature about 50°F or 10°C.) Another way to know the water is ready is to look at the steam, says Honda: When it stops rising vertically but instead dissipates sideways, it’s ready for the teapot.
3. Pour water into the teapot. Be careful not to disturb the leaves while they steep, which will bring out bitterness. Wait about 1 minute.
4. Pour the tea, distributing a little bit into each cup like you’re dealing a deck of cards, to keep the flavor consistent. Now, it’s okay to give the teapot a quick shake over each cup to make sure you get out every last drop. You don’t want to leave any water in the pot to continue to steep and get bitter.
5. For a second or third cup, start the process all over again but this time don’t steep. Just add 176°F water into the same teapot, immediately pour into cups, and enjoy.
Made the proper way, the tea tastes so much better. Gone was any unpleasant bitterness and astringency. The cup was fragrant, mellow, and rich. We’re ready to make my father another pot!