Water Temperatures

Thursday, Apr 19, 2007

Not all teas require water at a full boil! Many tea sites are by British tea enthusiasts who will have you believe that all tea is black tea. Most of the world’s teas are scorched by water at a full boil. So how do you know when the water is the right temperature for the tea? First you need to know what temperature the tea requires, then you need to know how to tell what temperature your water is.

Generally speaking:
WHITE TEA-- 158-180deg F (70-82deg C)
Some say that you should use water at 158deg F (70deg C) and that higher temperatures will scald your more delicate teas, but generally people brew white tea at 180deg F (82deg C) without problems.
GREEN/ YELLOW TEA-- 158-180deg F (70-82deg C)
There’s a lot of debate on the "best" temperature at which to brew green tea. If the tea is bitter, your water is too hot. Trust your taste buds.
SCENTED GREEN TEA--190-212deg F (88-100deg C)
Scented green teas require a somewhat higher temperature than regular green teas. Certain shapes require higher temperatures than others, as well. For example, a flat-leaf jasmine will need a lower temperature than jasmine pearls.
OOLONG TEA--190-200deg F (88-93deg C)
Some say you should use fully boiling (212deg F, or 100deg C) water, some say it will destroy the tea. Some even say that 176deg F (80deg C) is plenty hot. They can fight it out.
BLACK TEA--190-200deg F (88-91deg C)
First Flush Darjeelings should be brewed at a lower temperature, about 180deg F (82deg C). British and Indian tea traditions also vary on this point. Many brew at a full boil (212deg F, or 100deg C) without complaint.
Some heavily spiced black teas require higher temperatures to unlock their full flavor. This is because most herbal teas require a full boil and the higher your ration of herbs to tea is, the closer your tea is to a tisane. Also, if you’re adding milk or sweetener to your drink, you want it to be very strong and, in some cases, even a little bitter beforehand.
PU-ERH TEA--200-212deg F (93-100deg C)
Once again, some advise against fully boiling water, some insist on it.
TISANES (HERBAL TEAS)--212deg F (100deg C)
There are exceptions to this. Check for each type you want to brew.

For more specific instructions, read Brewing Instructions.

Now you know what temperature your water SHOULD be. How do you know when it has reached that temperature? There are a few methods for this. The easiest way is to buy either a cooking thermometer or a water heater with different temperature settings, but where’s the fun in that?! Below are three ways to get your water to the right temperature without cheating (see above method).

Warm It Up

Contrary to the notion that "a watched pot never boils," as water’s temperature increases, it goes through several major, visually recognizable stages. These stages have been recognized and used in China since ancient times. Since it has been around so long, there is regional and chronological variance in the naming and in the corresponding temperature ranges for each name, but generally speaking the guidelines are as follows:

Shrimp Eyes: 158-176deg F (70-80deg C) This stage is marked by the appearance of tiny bubbles on the edges and bottom of the pot. They are, obviously, the size of shrimp eyes. (For those of you who haven’t looked a crustacean in the eyes lately, it’s under 3mm.) These bubbles are not from the breaking of the chemical bonds in the water itself, but from the escape of the dissolved gases in it.
Crab Eyes: 176-194deg F (80-90deg C) The transition from shrimp eyes to crab eyes occurs when the tiny bubbles begin to rise. It will have a gentle steam rising from it and it makes rapid, high-pitched sizzling sounds with the rise of the bubbles, which are around 3mm in size. This stage was also referred to as the "first boiling."
Fish Eyes: 195-203deg F (90-95deg C) Just like the name says, the bubbles are larger than crab eyes (around 8mm). There is much more steam, and the steam will rise faster than it did in the crab eyes stage. The sound of the hiss will lower in pitch. This stage is also called the "second boiling."
Dragon Eyes: 212deg F (100deg C) This stage is commonly referred to as a "full boil" or "rolling boil," and less commonly as "Old Man Water" or the "third boiling." It is marked by the absence of any small bubbles (as the dissolved gases have all escaped) and the presence of large bubbles (the size of dragon eyes, right?) formed by the evaporation of the water itself.

I know what you’re thinking, right? "No Snake Eyes?!? Come on!" Sorry, no dice. (Wah-wah.)

Cool It Out (Version 1)

Bring your water to a full boil, then let it cool to the desired temperature. This one is tricky because the rate of cooling depends on how much water you have boiled, what kind of container it’s in, and the ambient temperature. Basically, you need a thermometer to be anywhere near sure, and if you have a thermometer, then why are you warming it then cooling it instead of just warming it to the right temperature? If you want to use a standard pot and amount of water each time you make tea, then you could use the thermometer once for each temperature you plan to use and see how long it takes. Maybe make a little chart for yourself with how many cups of water, what temperature you want, and how long it takes to get to it. Otherwise, I don’t recommend this method unless you prefer a VERY intuitive method of preparing tea.

Cool It Out (Version 2)

This one’s pretty cool. It counteracts some of the effect of bringing the water to a full boil because you add in more fresh water to the pot. It’s also much quicker than the last method. And there are two versions--the Lazy Method and the Math Method. Both involve bringing the water to a full boil and adding room-temperature water.

The Lazy Method (as I like to call it) is absurdly easy, but somewhat limiting. All you have to do is blend two parts boiling water with one part cold water. The down sides? It’s only suitable for white, yellow, and green teas, as it results in water at about 158deg F (70deg C). And how cold is "cold?" Not an exact science, but it seems to work out OK. . .
The Math Method goes out to all you geeks out there. It was developed by geek blogger Tom Mortel. You simply (if you’re a geek like me, that is . . .) solve the following equation:

3 cups X 212deg F + x cups X 80deg F = (3+x) cups X 180deg F

"x" is equal to 0.96 (basically, 1). This would mean you add 1 cup cold water to 3 cups boiling water for 4 cups of 180deg F water. Obviously (once again, if you’re a geek), you can change the desired temperature, the quantity of boiling water, or (if you’re in a very hot or cold climate) the temperature of the "room-temperature" water. For those who prefer to leave basic algebra in their distant middle-school pasts, here’s a listing of the most common brew temps.

For 158deg water you need 2 cups cold water per 3 cups boiling water, or 2:3. For 180deg water you need 1 cup cold water per 3 cups boiling water, or 1:3. For 195deg water you need 1/2 cup cold water per 3 boiling, or 1:6. For 200deg water, it’s 1/3 cup cold water per 3 boiling, or 1:9. For 205deg, it’s 1/6 cold per 3 boiling, or 1:18. For 212deg, don’t add anything! You’ve got it right where you want it.
Once you have your water at the correct temperature, it’s best to maintain it during brewing. The Indian way of brewing tea requires that you keep the water on the heat source until the tea is done. Chinese and Japanese traditions include filling the pot with hot water until its temperature is elevated, then dumping out the water and brewing the tea in the warmed pot. When I’m brewing a cup, I either use the Indian method or I don’t bother (unless it’s a special tea). When brewing a pot, I like to preheat the pot.

Those of you at very high altitudes already know the deal about boiling water by now. I don’t need to explain to you how things work in your neighborhood.

Enjoy your tea!