Why Tea Tastes Bitter & How To Get Rid Of It (Part 2)

In last week’s blog post “Why Tea Tastes Bitter & How To Get Rid Of It (Part 1)“, I promised I’d provide more reasons tea is sometimes bitter and how you can get rid of it. So here you go!

  1. Time of day during harvesting: Leaves are harvested on sunny days to lower the water concentration of the picked leaves, since higher water concentrations increase catechin levels. Sunny weather completes the withering/wilting step of tea production, removing excess water from the leaves. The withering step controls the oxidation of the leaves during production, further breaking down the polyphenols and giving tea a milder taste.
  2. Insects: Tea trees are always being fed on by insects. To protect themselves, the plants produce a defensive and healing response which gives teas a more aromatic fragrance, but increases bitterness at the same time.
  3. Poor production quality: Withering and tossing are two early steps in the tea manufacturing process. If these steps are not carefully controlled, the water concentration in the tea leaves at the cellular level may be too high, which leads to finished teas containing a higher level of anthocyanin, which causes astringency.
  4. Oxidation and fermentation: Catechin levels can be decreased by increasing the degree of oxidation or fermentation used in the tea manufacturing process. Since green tea, white tea and yellow teas are subjected to the least amount of oxidization during processing, these can have the most bitter tastes if not brewed properly. Semi-oxidized teas (like oolong tea) are the next least bitter, then the fully oxidized teas (black tea) and then the post-fermented teas (Shou/Black Pu-erh tea) which have the least amount.
  5. Roasting and aging: Chinese roasted teas are renowned for their unique tastes. Roasting is done during the initial processing or every few years using aged leaves (Aged Old Bush Wu Yi Shui Xian Tea, Traditional Aged Oolong). Pu-erh teas are aged without any roasting (except the Shou or “Black” varieties which have a fermentation step in the manufacturing process. Long periods of high-temperature roasting and long periods of aging accelerate oxidization and the breakdown of polyphenols, which lowers the caffeine levels in the tea and in turn, reduces bitterness.

Here is a quick method to use what you have on hand to get rid of the bitter taste in any tea:

  1. Fill your teapot, small teacups and a small pitcher with hot water, wait a few seconds and empty.
  2. Put one tablespoon of tea leaves in the teapot for every two people being served. Use more for large leaf tea.
  3. Pour enough hot water (see Water Temperatures below) into the teapot to cover the leaves. Empty the teapot immediately.
  4. Pour enough hot water into the teapot to cover the leaves. Wait 8 – 10 seconds and pour the tea into a small pitcher and serve.
  5. For additional brews, repeat Step 4, deducting two seconds for the next brew and adding two seconds for each additional brew. Adjust the amount of water to just cover the leaves.

All the ingredients in the tea are now properly balanced. As the aromatic compounds dissolve in the water, you will notice subtle flavours of the tea begin to change with each brew. You will be amazed at the difference in the taste of your tea and with no bitterness!

Water Temperatures

Green, White, Yellow Tea or any tea made from tips:
75 – 80ºC / 167 – 176º F

Taiwan, High Mountain Oolong Tea, Black Tea,
Pu-erh, Da Hong Pao (Cliff/Rock Tea),
Tie Guan Yin (Iron Buddha, Chinese Oolong):
90 – 97ºC / 194 – 206º F

Phoenix Oolong Tea:
95ºC / 203º F – slow boil

If you would like to see full instructions on how to make tea using the traditional Chinese method of tea-making used by the masters, see our complete article in our Library at The Chinese Tea Shop: Gong Fu Cha – The Complete Guide To Making Chinese Tea – By Daniel Lui

Don’t know which tea is right for you? Answer a few questions and the Online Tea Wizard will show you all the Chinese teas that suit your taste. Amazing!

Why Tea Tastes Bitter & How To Get Rid Of It (Part 1)

Many people who visit me at the Chinese Tea Shop in Vancouver’s Chinatown say they would like to enjoy tea more but don’t like the bitter and astringent taste. I ask them to pick a tea (any tea! Oolong tea, white tea, black tea, or puerh tea, for example) and I make it for them using the Gong Fu Cha method of traditional Chinese tea-making.  They are always surprised that the tea is smooth, sweet and refreshing.

There are a number of reasons why tea tastes bitter and astringent. This week I will show you some of these reasons. Next week I’ll show more reasons and a quick way to make your tea to get rid of the bitter taste.

  1. Chemical Compounds: Tea’s bitter and astringent qualities come from two types of chemicals that are found naturally in tea leaves; polyphenols (tannins and catechins) which cause astringency and theophylline which causes bitterness
  2. Plant Species: Most westerners drink Black tea from India. The Indian tea plant (Camellia sinensis var. assamica assam) is a tougher plant than the Chinese variety (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis) with higher levels of natural caffeine and the chemicals that cause bitterness and astringency. The leaves are often broken, causing bitterness while brewing
  3. Harvesting Season: Longer hours of sunshine increase the concentrations of catechins in tea leaves and so increase the astringency.  Teas made from leaves picked in summer (which are usually the cheapest and lowest quality teas) tend to contain the highest concentrations of catechins, followed by spring tea, autumn tea and then winter tea which has lowest levels. Since a tea tree or bush has had its leaves picked multiple times by autumn, new autumn tea shoots contain less nutrients and bitter compounds. Autumn tea is prized for its fuller taste and aroma compared with spring or summer tea.
  4. Growing Altitude: High altitudes have more unstable weather patterns and less sunlight than other regions. Tea leaves produced at high altitudes contain lower levels of catechins, hence, tea from these leaves tastes less astringent than teas grown at lower altitudes.
  5. Natural Sugars: The presence of natural sugars and amino acids in tea leaves help to balance the bitterness in tea. There is a higher concentration of these sugars in spring and autumn picked leaves, which gives these teas a sweet and less bitter taste than teas made from summer picked leaves.
  6. Size/Age of Leaves: Young, tender leaves have high levels of catechins. They also have higher levels of caffeine which intensifies the bitter taste of tea. Tender leaves also contain higher levels of sugars and amino acids which balances bitterness. Old leaves contain lower levels of polyphenols and caffeine as well as lower levels of amino acids, which gives these teas a lingering bitter taste.

Next week I’ll show more reasons why tea can be bitter, and a quick way to make your tea to get rid of that bitter taste.

For more information on how to buy Chinese Teas, see our complete article in the Library at The Chinese Tea Shop: How To Buy Chinese Tea – by Daniel Lui

For full instructions on Gong Fu tea-making, see our complete article in the Library at The Chinese Tea Shop: Gong Fu Cha – The Complete Guide To Making Chinese Tea – By Daniel Lui

Don’t know which tea is right for you? Answer a few questions and the Online Tea Wizard will show you all the Chinese teas that suit your taste. Amazing!

2 Secrets of the Tea Masters

Today, I am sharing two advanced techniques of tea-making and why they make your teas taste so much better. The first is a better way to use your teapots and the second is about water temperature.

Tea masters always have a large selection of Chinese Yixing unglazed clay teapots on hand for every kind of tea (including Oolong Tea, Pu-erh Tea, and White Tea). These are the tools of their trade when making tea the traditional Chinese way called Gong Fu Cha (Tea With Great Skill). Each teapot is designed to be used for a specific type of tea. This chart shows the basic guidelines that are generally used by Gong Fu Cha tea-makers.

The different densities and firing temperatures of the clays used to make Yixing teapots regulate heat and oxygen in different ways which are very important factors in tea-making. Even the shapes of the teapots are designed to optimize the different ways tea leaves expand in water. So a lot of consideration goes into the selection of a Yixing teapot. You can get a real Yixing teapot at a Chinese tea shop for around $25.

Yixing teapots also absorb the oils that give tea its bitter taste. Low-fired teapots are thick and porous and are used for strong and robust teas like Black tea and Pu-erh teas. High-fired teapots are finer, denser and less porous and absorb less oils. These are used for more delicate teas like Green tea, White tea and Oolong teas.

For better tasting tea, try this technique. Use a higher-fired teapot for aged teas that have already mellowed like aged Pu-erh teas and aged Oolongs like Wu Yi Shui Xian or 20 Year Old Iron Buddha and any tea made from tips. Many people would like to drink Green teas like Long Jing Dragon Well and Silver Needle  but don’t like the grassy, bitter taste. This is largely because they use glass or porcelain teapots. Use a high-fired Yixing teapot for these teas which will make them taste sweet.

Water temperature is another important factor in tea-making. The higher the temperature, the faster the tea leaves dissolve but this gives less control over the brewing time. An advanced technique is to find the lowest water temperature possible for the tea you are making. This chart will give you a good starting point:

*Boiling means when the water has just reached a slow boil with big bubbles.

A great accessory that we use every day to control water temperature is the new digital variable temperature kettles. With a little experimentation using different teapots and water temperatures, you will be able to control your tea brewing with more precision and get the very best taste for each brew. You will be amazed at the results. You will also use less tea and save money which will make you happy.

More information about clays, firing temperatures and using Chinese Yixing Teapots can be found in a complete guide here, in the Chinese Tea Shop’s Library.

Myths & Facts About Caffeine

Which have the higher level of caffeine: coffee or tea, Indian tea or Chinese tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, or black tea?  

There are many opinions, and good facts are harder to find.  Scientific studies can be less than detailed about what products were used so this can add to the confusion.

A well detailed and easy to read study published by the British government in 2004 concluded that:

  • All Teas – mean 40 mg per serving
  • Instant Coffee – mean 54 mg per serving
  • Ground Coffee – mean 105 mg per serving

For those who are sensitive to caffeine, there are ways to reduce the caffeine levels of any tea. The traditional Chinese method of tea-making called Gong Fu Cha (Tea with Great Skill) makes tea in small amounts with many brews to concentrate the taste and minimize the caffeine.  The first step of Gong Fu Cha is to rinse the leaves. Caffeine is water soluble and this first step washes away a significant amount of caffeine but keeps the taste.

Here is a quick guideline:

  • All coffees are higher in caffeine than all teas
  • All Indian teas are higher in caffeine than all Chinese teas
  • Chinese green teas are higher than all other Chinese teas.

The camellia sinensis var. assamica tea plant that is used in India is a heartier and more robust species than the variety used in China. It produces stronger flavours, a higher yield of tea leaves per plant, and the leaves have naturally higher levels of caffeine.

Of all teas, green teas have the highest caffeine levels followed by Oolongs and then Black tea. This comes as a surprise to many people because green tea does not taste as strong as Oolong and Black Tea. Green teas (along with Yellow and White Teas) have a subtle taste but use the least amount of processing to produce the tea, so most of the natural caffeine from the plant is still intact in the leaves. The process used to manufacture Oolong and Black teas removes more of the caffeine.

One of the strongest tasting Chinese teas is the Pu-erh tea which has some of the lowest caffeine levels due the processing methods used and the fact that they are aged and the caffeine breaks down over time.

To learn more about us,  come on in to The Chinese Tea Shop today. To find out which of the various teas will suit your tastes, try The Chinese Tea Shop’s Tea Wizard now!