The Best Water Temperatures for Japanese Tea (2021)
A complete guide for understanding how temperature effects the taste of Japanese tea, and what you should do.
This article was last modified October 29th, 2021. by Yuki
What is the single most important tip for making a good cup of Japanese tea?
The proper water temperature is certainly up there!
Although very underestimated, the temperature at which you brew the tea is very key in perfecting a cup of delicious Japanese tea.
Why is Water Temperature so Important for Brewing Japanese Tea?
These are easy to prepare because you essentially just pour boiling water into the tea cup!
Other Japanese tea on the other hand, will require lower temperatures.
They would range around 80 degrees, 70 degrees, and even 60 degrees Celsius.
Tea such as Gyokuro or Matcha just to name a few, fall under this category. The preparation of these tea, I must say, is a little bit tedious as the water temperature needs adjusting after the water is once boiled.
But what exactly happens when you get the temperature wrong?
Is the water temperature like a "good to have" that only slightly changes the outlook of the taste? Would it be something I (as a newbie Japanese tea drinker) wouldn't really notice?
Or does it cause a huge difference with significant influence on the tea experience.
The truth of the matter is, it DOES have a big influence and could change your tea experience 180 degrees!
I call the brewing temperature of tea, the "Astringency control". If the water temperature is high, you get more astringency. If the water temperature is low, you get less.
It really controls that bitterness in the tea.
So is hot water bad? Well, not necessarily. Hot water has some good attributes as well.
Hot water can extract more aroma. It helps Matcha powder mix and foam easily. Also, warm tea just - tends to feel nicer sometimes.
So this art of nailing down the proper temperature of tea is not as straightforward as it seems.
Here are some examples of things you'd want to stay away from when brewing tea.
3 Example Don't Dos
No-no 1: If you brew a high-grade Sencha using boiling water?
The Sencha of course, is perhaps the most standard of Japanese Teas. It's a beautifully rolled green colored tea leaf rich with umami and flavor.
However, if this tea is made with boiling water, the astringency will become so strong it will punch your tongue with a wham, and won't be able to enjoy the taste!
And that's really not what you want with a high-grade Sencha. You want to enjoy the mellowness and umami of the tea instead. The piercing astringency will take away from that lovely experience.
Now, all astringency isn't bad of course. The sensation that pulls back the tongue is an important part of the tea you should enjoy as well.
It gives it substance. It gives it body.
It's just that too much is not something you'll like, and controlling the temperature will keep the astringency at bay.
No-no 2: If you brew a Houjicha using lower temperature?
The Houjicha is Japanese green tea which goes through an additional process of roasting. It's a brown or yellow looking loose leaf tea loved for the heartwarming aroma it emits.
However, if this tea is prepared with a lower temperature, it won't extract the aroma quite enough! Houjicha is by nature, already a very light tea to the mouth - so It'll just become a.... light tea with not much aroma either!
Yes, that's horrible!
Instead, what you DO want to do with the Houjicha is boil water in a kettle, and immediately pour it into the teacup with the tea leaves inside.
You want to pour it in as if to cook the Houjicha tea leaves in the teapot as it bubbles and releases the roasted smell.
This is maximizing the aroma.
Now, before you drink it you'll want to have it cool down a tad. The human senses won't be able to enjoy the scent or the taste if it's too hot.
But wait, aren't there cold-brew Houjicha?
Yes there are!
For high-quality Houjicha, sometimes it's not all-the-way "Light" in taste. It might have some nice umami to the tea to enjoy as well.
For Houjicha like this, there is an option of "cold brewing" the tea. Instead of going for the "aroma", you can focus more on the taste. That's a perfectly fine scenario as well.
But what I'm saying here is that if you're intending to enjoy the aroma of the Houjicha, make sure you're going for the 100 degrees water.
No-no 3: Preparing Matcha with boiling water?
Depending on the Matcha powder you use, it can turn out to become so astringent that it's instantly repelled by your mouth! Your tea might come right back out from where it came in! (definitely not a pretty sight!)
For Matcha's case, since the tea is so strong, it really is important that the astringency is reduced as much as possible.
It's like the "1st No-no" we've talked about on using boiling water for Sencha - and then amplifying the astringency by 3 times!
If a lower grade Matcha is made with boiling water, it may be too strong an astringency for you to finish the cup.
Also, if it's a high grade Matcha, the stakes are even higher! You're wasting precious and expensive Matcha powder by extracting the astringency and making it less enjoyable!
So this is something you should definitely stay away from!
Why does using boiling water increase the astringency of tea?
Why can the water temperature work as the "astringency control"?
There's actually a very interesting science to this.
The astringency is determined by the substance found in tea called catechin. This catechin starts to get extracted into the tea from around 80 degrees Celsius.
Therefore, if the water is less than 80 degrees, the astringency won't be put into the tea as much.
Additionally, the Theanine which is responsible for the umami taste of the green tea can be extracted at much lower temperatures – at around 50 degrees Celsius.
Below is a rough relationship between the taste of the tea and the temperature of the water.
For Gyokuro, since it is so rich in umami and you don’t want the astringency to bother the taste, it is best to use hot water of around 50-60 degrees to brew.
For Sencha, it’s best to extract the Umami but also have some of the pleasurable astringency while containing it to a certain extent. Therefore, you would brew Sencha at around 70-80 degrees Celsius. This will extract the umami, and also some of the astringency taste as well.
However, at the end of the day it's important to read the instructions for each individual tea. Each tea may have different preferences depending on their grade.
(*we always enclose English instructions with our tea)
For Japanese Teas which has less nutrients and best enjoyed with the aroma, such as Houjicha, Genmaicha, and Bancha, it is best to brew in boiling water at 100 degrees Celsius.
How to Control Water Temperature
Lowering the water temperature before infusion is a tedious part of preparing Japanese green tea. There are a few easy ways to do this.
1. Use a Yuzamashi (bowl to cool water)
To lower the temperature, you can use a “Yuzamashi”, which is a bowl to lower the temperature of the water.
If you don’t have one, well, you can use anything! A bowl, a cup, or whatever else you have in your kitchen.
Yuzamashi (left) and Kyusu (right)
2. Transfer from bowl to bowl or Chawan (cup) to reduce 5 degrees
Each time the boiling water is transferred to a bowl or a Chawan, the water temperature will drop between 5 to 10 degrees. This will depend on many factors such as the size of the bowls and room temperature, but generally, you can expect the drop to be closer to 5 degrees. You can use this mechanism to reduce the temperature of the boiling water to optimal levels.
3. Wait 1-2 minutes to reduce 5 degrees
You can also just wait for the water to cool as well. Waiting for 1-2 minutes will lower the temperature approximately 5 degrees.
4. Build a routine
It'll be easier if you already have a routine you can stick to to reduce your temperature.
So for example...
- Boil the water (100 degrees)
- Pour water into the teacup(s) to cool the water down. (95 degrees)
- Wait for 2 minutes (90 degrees)
- Transfer the water into a bowl (85 degrees)
- Transfer the water into the teapot (80 degrees)
Once you reach step 5, try measuring the temperature and see if it's actually 80 degrees.
By using the same dishes you used this time around, now you'll know exactly how to reach 80 degrees each time.
5. Ultimate: Temperature Controlled Kettle
This is really the game changer here, it makes is so much easier to get the right water temperature.
I admit- I use one as well! I highly recommend getting one.
There are many types out there, but essentially all you have to do is select the temperature and push a button. There's really economically friendly ones out there as well.
However, even if you can control the temperature, you still want to boil the water once. This is to remove the Chloride in the water. (It changes the taste of the tea)
What I do is I boil a full kettle of water in the morning, and then leave it to cool. After that, I can make whatever temperature water I like.
How to Tell the Water Temperature
It’s easy if you can tell the water temperature from how the seam raises from the Chawan (cup).
Although it's not easy - you can somewhat tell the temperature by how the steam is emerging from the cup. You can use this as a guide as well.
At 90 Degrees: You will be able to see the steam vigorously rising from the cup.
At 70 Degrees: The steam will wave to the side as it rises high from the cup.
At 50 Degrees: You will barely be able to see the steam rise.
Mastering the temperature is indeed one of the keys in mastering Japanese tea!
Initially it may be a little tedious to understand and figure out ways to control, but it's really fun once you get the hang of it.
Have fun trying out different temperatures to find the combination of tea and temperature you like!
Temperature controlled kettles very vastly in prices. Is there a recommended one?
A: I don't really have a particular type that I'd recommend. Many temperature controlled kettles are limited in the variety of temperatures that can be set, so make sure you know which temperatures are possible. Outside of that, I wouldn't be too picky as long you're using it for normal uses.
Yuki is the Editor-in-Chief AND Community Manager at Tealife. He bleeds Japanese Tea and loves being a part of the Japanese Tea journey of others. Writes, does events, conducts tasting sessions, drinks, drinks and drinks tea! Easily accessible - hit him up on whatsapp (+65) 85882980.