In essence the brewing process is one of extraction. You are taking the leaf and you are placing it into a solvent (water) in order to extract the water soluble nutrients from the leaf. Simple huh?
The brewing process is a perfect example of how something so incredibly simple can become an art of subtlety and complexity, one that has been written about and experimented with for millenia.
The fundamental point here is that the smallest of variations in the brewing process can lead to clear differences in the flavour, texture and effect of a tea. This is why YOU as a brewer are fundamental to the end result in the cup.
In China there is an expression that in order to make tea you require three things: Leaf, Water and the Person Brewing. You are a required element in tea, not a passive consumer.
There are machines out there that strive to standardise tea brewing - a push button approach that imitates the espresso machines. But all of these fail to understand that the brewing process is intrinsic to the understanding and enjoyment of this little leaf. The art of adapting the brewing to suit your mood or the specific leaves is part of the way of tea. It should be celebrated and not reduced to a general standardised brewing process. In the same way as driving requires you to be behind the steering wheel, tea needs you to be the brewer, otherwise you are simply a passenger along for the ride.
So lets dive in to the basics of brewing:
Let's assume that you have chosen your loose leaf tea leaves (NO TEAB*GS!). OK so here are the basic choices that you have when brewing:
How big is your brewer? How much leaf are you using? this is the main difference between GONG FU BREWING and WESTERN STYLE BREWING.
This plays a big part in the resulting tea. The material affects the extraction through different heat conductivities. The shape affects how the leaves can move and interact with the water. Of course the look and feel of the teaware changes the experience of the tea session too.
Pouring off the water after a few seconds vs a few minutes obviously produces totally different teas.
This affects the speed of the extraction process and changes the flavour and body of the tea.
It is no surprise that the quality of the water is one of the most important aspects. Finding CLEAN water with the right level of minerality is essential to good tea.
There are other parameters out there (height of pour, type of kettle) but then we are moving into advanced tea geekery.
So lets begin with Leaf to Water Ratio.