I love tea, but just how much does water temperature really matter?
Water Temperature is one of the keys to enjoying a perfect cup…
When you are looking to make every cup of tea all that it can and should be, water temperature is…important.
Ideally you want to use the hottest water you can when steeping. The steeping process softens the surface of the leaf which in manufacturing has been dried to about 3% moisture content to avoid molding.
When we extract the goodness of the leaf, we of course start by wetting the surface and allowing water to penetrate deeper into the leaf material. Hot water penetrates more quickly reaching the water-soluble material in the leaf, releasing into the water.
When we add hot water there is no immediate change in the water color because softening of the leaf surface is needed before we begin to see whisps of color begin to emerge from the leaf. As the softening continues the extraction accelerates and the leaf material relaxes, releasing more ingredient into the broth.
All this leads us to think that the hottest possible water will release the goodness most quickly, which is correct, but there are factors that require us to adjust water temperature when pursuing that perfect cup.
Green teas are the best example. They are delicate. Using water that is too hot will force out too much water-soluble ingredient too quickly making our cup over flavorful to the point of unpleasantness. While it is possible to steep green teas with the hottest water, the opportunity for over-steeping is very likely.
To avoid this mishap and to widen the tolerance for steeping delicious green tea, lowering your water temperature to 170-180 degrees makes the process very much more forgiving and increases your likelihood for success.
The processing of black teas leaves them more sturdy & tolerant to any sensitivity of hot water. This means we can steep them just below a boil. Even though the leaves processed into most black teas will allow steeping with water from 205-210, I usually steep even my blacks and dark oolongs at about 195. The reason is that although it will take slightly longer to get the broth color I desire (my sweet spot) the tea will drop in temperature into my tasting temperature tolerance range much sooner giving me the ability to enjoy that cup sooner.
Broth that is too hot shuts-down out tasting mechanism which prevents us from understanding the character of the tea.
Because they range from Jade to medium to dark, temperatures for Oolong Teas range from 185 for the jades to just under a boil (212) for the darks.
Most herbal infusions have a desirable medicinal purpose, so with these we want to be sure to steep with hotter water, 205 to just under a boil and to allow enough steeping time (or multiple steepings) to extract all the intended goodness.
Bottom line…water temperature matters a lot and controlling yours will be well worth the effort.