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Tea Preparation

The traditional method of making a cup of tea is with loose tea placed either directly, or in a tea infuser, into a tea pot and pouring boiling (or very hot depending on the type of tea) water over the tea. In the second half of the 20th century the use of teabags has largely supplanted the use of loose tea in the Western world; this has enabled brewing directly in a cup or mug.

Historically in China, tea is divided into a number of infusions. The first infusion is immediately poured out to wash the tea, and then the second and further infusions are drunk. The third through fifth are nearly always considered the best infusions of tea, although different teas open up differently and may require more infusions of boiling water to bring them to life.

Typically, the best temperature for brewing tea can be determined by its type. Teas that have little or no oxidation period, such as a green or white tea, are best brewed at lower temperatures around 80 C, while teas with longer oxidation periods should be brewed at higher temperatures around 100 C.

The amount of tea to be used per amount of water is obviously of critical importance, yet is the subject of some confusion. One reason is to do with knowledge in popular culture (one spoon per person and one for the pot etc), another to do with the varying nature and quality amongst different teas and within the same garden from season to season. One basic recipe may be one slightly heaped teaspoon of tea (about 5 ml) for each 200 ml of water prepared as above. This may be varied according to tea and taste, with a stronger Assam to be drunk with milk prepared with more leaf, and a more delicate high grown tea such as a Darjeeling prepared with a little less (as the stronger mid-flavours will overwhelm the champagne notes).

Another way to taste a tea, throughout its entire process, is to add hot water to a cup containing the leaves and after about 30 seconds to taste the tea. As the tea leaves unfold ("the Agony of the Leaves") they give up various parts of themselves to the water and thus the taste evolves. Continuing this from the very first flavours to the time beyond which the tea is quite stewed will allow an appreciation of the tea throughout its entire length.