Nowadays, boiling tea is often seen as a way to spoil excellent tea leaves. However, if done right, this method of brewing tea deserves much more credit than it gets.
Boiling tea leaves is among the most ancient methods of making tea. Back in the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907), when tea culture was gradually at its rise, tea leaves were boiled for prolonged periods. Sometimes they were cooked together with different spices. Different kinds of herbs, roots, fruits, and even chili and scallions weren't uncommon accompaniments to tea leaves.
In ancient times the boiled tea was first compressed then ground to a powder. To make the tea, one would bring a pot of water with a pinch of salt (to make the water smoother) to a boil. The powdered tea would then be dropped in and boiled for some time. The resulting liquid would be thick and smooth, with frothy foam. Much similar to present-day matcha!
In these times, tea processing was very different from today. The methods we now know — firing, rolling, and the like didn't exist yet. The modern-day tea processing techniques allow us to get the best tea taste from short and concentrated 5-second infusions. However, it was a journey to come to this point.
The Legend Of Boiling Tea
Although this is but a legend, it holds a warm place in the heart of many tea enthusiasts around the world.
It starts with Shennong, the Chinese God of agriculture and Chinese medicine.
While sitting in the wilderness meditating, with a slowly boiling water kettle by his side, a single leaf dropped from a nearby tea bush and landed in his pot. Shennong’s senses were keen. He immediately realized the faint aroma coming from his kettle of a tea leaf being brewed. He felt the medicinal scent and knew it would be good for the body to drink this new brew. One sip was enough to taste the delicate aroma and feel its healing powers. Thus, the first tea was brewed.
Which Teas Are Good For Boiling?
Boiling Tea Ceremony
Although this requires boiling the tea leaves instead of flash-brewing them, we recommend taking a ceremonial approach to any tea session you are about to have. Treat the experience as you would with Gong Fu Cha. For this reason, it is best to have a portable heat source. Stove-top works fine, too, as long as you are willing to stay in your kitchen for the duration of the tea ritual. Plus, it would help if you prepared an extra tea kettle/thermos with hot boiled water for adding into the tea boiling vessel.
• Warm-up the teaware by rinsing it with hot water
• Pour enough water to fill your brewing vessel 2/3 of the way (you may wish to use less water if you have a large kettle)
• Turn on the heat
• Once the water is coming to a boil, add a small pinch of salt (optional)
• Flash-rinse the tea leaves with cold water
• Using a spoon or tea pick, stir the boiling water creating a whirlpool
• Add the tea leaves into the whirlpool. It will help sink the leaves to the bottom and ensure an even brew (the amount of tea leaves will depend on your brewing vessel, follow instructions for western-style brewing)
• Boil for about a minute and quickly pour in your teacup, using a strainer to catch the tea leaves
• Continue doing this, gradually increasing the brewing time and adding water along the way
Tea boiling ceremonies last as long as Gong Fu tea ceremonies, often even longer. Usually, they can last up to 3 hours. As the boiling method gradually extracts more from the tea leaves, it is possible to enjoy them for a longer time. The tea reaches its best taste after about an hour of the tea ceremony. Especially so in the case of hei cha and pu-erh, this is when the tea becomes exceptionally sweet and smooth.
Boiling Spent Leaves
Using the tea leaves to their fullest extent is one of the best ways to honor a tea. Pouring tea to the last drop is one way. But how about when the tea leaves have already been spent and are faint in flavor? The tea leaves still hold plenty of nutrients even after being brewed many times and losing most of their flavor.
Although you can try experimenting with reboiling many different tea types, the best ones to reboil are aged teas or teas of high value.
To boil spent leaves use a pot that does not readily absorb flavors unless you are willing to dedicate it specifically to boiling teas.
• After finishing a tea session, save your leaves, ideally in an airtight container, by making sure there is no tea liquid left. Do put them in the fridge; otherwise, they can get moldy. (Try not to save the tea leaves for more than 24 hours)
• Wake the tea leaves up by soaking them in cool drinking water for about an hour
• Strain the tea leaves and pour out the water
• Bring water in your tea kettle to a boil
• Drop a pinch of salt (optional) for pu-erh or hei cha, but not oolongs
• Drop in the tea leaves
• Lower the fire and simmer for 3-10 minutes; the longer you simmer, the more intense the taste will be
• Pour the tea and enjoy
For subsequent boils, increase the boiling time according to personal taste until you feel the tea has lived its full cycle.
Other Methods of Boiling Tea
Aside from boiling Chinese teas, certain cultures around the world have adapted boiling tea leaves into their daily lives.
Some of the more famous ones are:
The Tibetan style of making tea has been around for centuries since the notorious Tea Horse Trade Route was in its prime. Pu-erh (or sometimes black tea) leaves are boiled together with yak butter and salt to make Tibetan tea. This results in a rich, creamy, nutritious, warming, and energetic beverage that helps survive the cold mountain weather.
Chai Tea is drunk primarily in India, although variations exist. It consists of boiling Indian black tea leaves with milk, various spices, and often copious amounts of sugar. The beverage is both comforting and delicious.
Strong Chinese Gunpowder green tea (or sometimes black tea) is boiled with fresh mint leaves and large amounts of sugar. The tea is rich, energizing, and aromatic. By the way, Morocco is one of the top importers of Chinese green tea.
In this way, each country has adopted the ancient Chinese methods of boiling tea, adapting their native ingredients in the region.