Tea Club

Sharing tea with each other

[Edited to fix some misformatting]

I was wanting to compare the real cost of some different teas and coffees recently, and thought I'd write up the process I used. First, the amount used in one session

1 session tea = 5g

This could be a 100mL gaiwan, or a half-litre pot made Western style.

1 session coffee = 20g

This is 3 cup moka, or a 3dL (or 12 oz) mug of filtre coffee. This could also be a strong double espresso. If you make espresso, and you use the classic proportions, that would instead give:

1 session coffee = 15g

Depending on how you make your coffee and your tea, you can adjust these to match what feels to you like equivalent preparations. Using these ratios, we can now compare prices!

5g tea * 4 = 20g coffee 1000/4=250 price/g tea * 250 = price/kg coffee


I have some Dong Ding that we like a lot, which I got for 600NTD for a 150g packet. That's 17.53€, or 0.1167€/g. Converting that into an equivalent kg of coffee, 0.1167*250=29,25€/kg, which is about 1€ less than the bag of coffee we're currently drinking. Nice!

What about pu-erh prices? There are still some perfectly nice factory bings available for around 18USD : 18USD/357g = 0.0504 USD/g. That gives an equivalent coffee price of $12.60 or about 11.80€ per kg. That's some very cheap coffee! Personally, I'd much rather drink the factory pu-erh.

Finally, let's look at converting coffee prices to tea. I'm currently drinking a 31€/kg coffee, and I generally buy in the 20-40€/kg range. 20/250=0.08, so that gives a range of 0.08-0.16€/g, or 0.085-0.17 USD/g. The equivalent 150g packet of oolong would be 12-24€ or 411-822 NTD. But we already know that the middle of that range is exactly what I paid for my Dong Ding. A 357g bing would be 28.50-57€ or 30.50-61 USD; a 400g bing would be 34-68 USD.


Nespresso charges eye-watering prices per kg, their ordinary offerings starting at 89.60€/kg. But to be fair, you're not using 20g of coffee per session! One capsule contains a mere 4.8g of coffee, so an equivalent double Nespresso gives a tea-conversion factor of 520. The entry-level Nespresso capsules are then equivalent to 89.6/520=0.172€/g tea; that's the same as a 0.172€/g * 357g = 61.45€ or $65.50 bing.

Edited to change the title from “FUD” to “misinformation” as the former might be interpreted as implying a commercial motivation, which is not my intention

This started as a reply to a thread on fedi, but it got long so I moved it to the blog. The thread describes a blog article in Chinese

I’m judging by this article alone (and in translation), so take this with a grain of salt, but this guy looks like a total crank.

Where to even start. I'll set aside the half of the article that's setting up his bona fides as the aggrieved party or attacking his critics, because I'm neither familiar with the history nor with sinosphere “discourse” to judge what's going on there, except to say: so-and-so's wife even chimed in, and she's just a singer? Assuming there wasn't a massive failure of machine translation going on, this reeks of both credentialism and anti-woman sentiment.

Fermented food production

This is the biggest red flag for me. He asserts that pu'erh production is completely out of control, and that normal fermented foods must be inoculated to control the fungal composition. This is flat out wrong.

Traditional methods of fermentation have been widely studied, from lacto-fermentation, to cheese production, wines, beers, etc. Sometimes the steps performed alone can produce a reliable fermentation with a predictable mix of bacteria and fungi (as in sauerkraut, kimchi, sour pickles, etc). Sometimes, as with spontaneous beers, and most traditional European cheese production, the environment in which the production takes place plays a key role. In these cases, there is inoculation, but it is informal, and happens from the ambient environment. It is not however, less effective for it.

All of this is well studied.


Shu is produced in specific facilities. They are able to turn out a consistently similar product, batch after batch, year after year. This isn't proof of controlled fermentation, but it is highly suggestive. That is what traditional controlled fermentation looks like.

I started seeing studies about the fungal composition of pu'erh tea maybe 20 years ago, and it always seems to contain mostly the same mix: Aspergillus and Penicillium in particular. Here's one random example from about a decade ago.

This is what one would expect from controlled fermentation.


I'm a bit more concerned about sheng, and here he may have a point, to the extent that the post-fermentation is performed at home by non-experts. The warehouses and cellars that produce reliable aging are probably more consistent. Given its age, I'd expect Yee On's cellar for example to inoculate teas with a pretty consistent profile of spores. I believe the studies on shengpu correctly draw their samples from these larger facilities, which is how most sheng is aged. But that probably leaves a larger gap in the data about home-aged teas.

Whither contamination

He just asserts that pu'erh is widely contaminated with carcinogens. From the studies I've seen, this is false. He presumes that this comes from uncontrolled fermentation, and thus doesn't apply to other tea types. The fermentation of pu'erh is certainly well controlled for shu (the results would be disgusting otherwise), and for sheng it really depends on the history of a particular sample.

But what about other teas? This is an interesting study on mycotoxins in various tea styles. The most contaminated tea was a black tea. In particular, the mycotoxin contamination of tea appears to occur in the fields, in the actual growing of the plants. If that is really the primary vector, then no tea style would be spared, and the focus on pu'erh is (almost) completely unwarranted. Almost, because poorly aged shengpu could of course continue to grow the hazardous fungi from the fields. That is a hypothetical, however, and so far the worst offenders seem to be badly produced black tea.

[Edited in 2023 to add more temperatures for green teas and such]

Here’s some simple recipes for water at different temperatures. If you can measure in grams or mL, you can make about one litre of water at common tea temperatures pretty easily. The power of stoichiometry and basic maths!


Have some filtered water at room temperature (20 C ideally, but 16~30 C is fine), and bring at least 1 L to a boil. Pick a container that can hold a bit more than 1L, and wash/preheat it by pouring some of the boiled water into it, then pour it out. If your room is somewhere between 18 and 30 C, you’re fine.

70 C

Mix 700 mL of boiling water with 400 mL room temperature water. This will make 1,1L of 70 C water.

75 C

Mix 700 mL of boiling water with 300 mL room temperature water.

80 C

Mix 750 mL of boiling water with 250 mL room temperature water.

85 C

Mix 900 mL of boiling water with 200 mL room temperature water. This will make 1,1 L of 85 C water.

90 C

Mix 1L of boiling water with 150 mL room temperature water.

95 C

Mix 950 mL of boiling water with 50 mL room temperature water.

The easiest tea to get started brewing is probably rolled oolongs. The second easiest is probably twisted leaf oolongs. So I’ll start with giving brew recipes for these two tea types.


The Taiwan oolongs I sent are rolled into small balls, which is typical. A wash is especially important for this style of tea, because it gets the leaf to very literally open up. The amount of tea you put in will look very small at first because it’s compacted. By the second brew it will nearly fill the whole gaiwan or pot.

Rinse for 5-10 seconds, the let the leaf steam for a minute. The first brew should be 30 seconds, the second 40, the third 50, and the fourth 60. These are the brews that have the most typical, nutty-sweet taste associated with high-mountain Taiwan oolongs.

Starting with the fifth brew, things go a little longer: 75 seconds, 90 seconds. If the tea still has a nice taste to you (especially likely for the aged tea), you can keep going: 2 min, 3 min, 4 min.

If you stopped sooner, you can take the used leaves, put them in a litre of room temperature water, and have cold-brew tea tomorrow.

Whole leaf

The Wu Yi oolongs brew a bit quicker, but are still fairly easy.

Rinse for 2-5 seconds, and save the rinse water. This has the flavor of the roast, which in the case of the carefully roasted teas I sent, is interesting. Especially for the aged one. I’d recommend setting it aside, and drinking it at the end of the session.

The first few brews go quicker: 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 seconds. For the next suite, start adding 10 seconds per brew: 50, 60, 70, 80, 90. For the young tea, you might stop here. For the older one, certainly keep going: 105 seconds, 2 min, 2:30, 3:00, 4:00. Keep going or stop when you think the tea is finished.


If you find the taste overwhelming or too bitter at any point, repeat the time for the next brew. For example, if you find the third brew of the Wu Yi too much, instead of doing 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 50, … you should instead try 20, 25, 30, 30, 35, 40, 50, etc.

If you find the brew too weak, first make sure your water is hot enough. Then skip a number: 20, 25, 30, 50, 60, 70, etc. If you find yourself skipping numbers a lot, you’ve got stronger taste in tea than I do, and we might want to adjust your recipes!

I could write too much just about brewing tea, but I’ll try to keep things simple, and with a focus on having a good experience with the tea. This post is a detailed overview of the technique I’ll have you use, then in later posts I’ll give specific brewing recipes. There are many other ways to do things, but this will work and give you good results.


Use filtered water, or failing that, low-mineral bottled water. Just ordinary good drinking water that doesn’t taste like chlorine.

The teas I sent can all be brewed at boiling: that is, you bring the water up to a boil, then turn your kettle down to keep it just under a boil. If you have a whistling kettle, it should just barely make any noise. Another way to keep your water up to temperature is to use a vacuum thermos: fill it with boiled water, wait 20 seconds, dump it out, the refill and seal it. You can also just bring the water briefly back up to a boil when you need to; that’s slightly worse than the other techniques, but don’t worry about the difference for now.


You’ll need a brewing vessel of about 100mL (80~120 or so). And a cup to drink from. A full set-up with a pitcher to pour the tea into, and a filter, is better.

The process

These teas are all brewed similarly: pour the hot water into the teapot or gaiwan. Once it’s heated up, pour the water into your pitcher, and from there into the cup(s). Put one session’s worth of dry leaf in the pot, cover it, and let it heat for 30 seconds to a minute. Lift the lid and smell the dry leaf.


Before any real brews, you’re going to wash the leaf. Pour hot water in, cover, and after a very short time, pour it out. This “wakes up” the leaf, and gets it ready for reliable brewing (don’t skip this step, I’ve A/B tested and it makes a big difference). Most of the time there’s just a bit of aroma in this brew, and little taste. Pour it into the cup(s) then pour it away. If you have a tea pet like my fatso kitty, you can give it to them.

After rinsing the leaf and letting it steam another half minute or so, look at the wet leaf, and take a smell. It usually smells quite different from the dry leaf.

The brews

Pour the hot water over the leaf, and cover the pot. After a certain amount of time, pour the tea into the pitcher. If you have a gaiwan, you’ll need to push the lid slightly off-center to make a small opening.

pick up the gaiwan without burning your fingers

pour the tea

For larger leaf teas it’s easier to keep the leaf in and pour the tea out. The smaller and more broken the leaf, the trickier this is, but that’s why it’s good to pour through a filter. If leaves come through, just dump them back into the gaiwan or pot.

Pouring into a pitcher is important if you’re sharing the tea. It lets everyone get a taste or two of each brew. It’s also important if you’re drinking alone out of small cups.

First brews

The first 3-4 or so brews of a tea give you the most aromatics. For most teas (certainly oolongs, whites, and usually shu), the second brew is the most loved.

Middle brews

After the initial few brews, there’s a first change in the flavor of the tea. Some of the initial aromas start to fade, and new flavors come up from deeper in the leaf.

Late brews

Once your brew times get distinctly over 1 minute, you’re into the deep leaf flavors. For some teas this isn’t very interesting, and it’s done. For some teas these brews are also very good and you get yet another set of flavors. Thick tea pots that hold the heat are better here. Make sure your water is as hot as you can get it.


Once you’ve gone through the process once or twice, it’s pretty easy, and shouldn’t be intimidating. It can be fun to get into all the details, and to learn all the different contradictory things you can do and learn why you’d do them … and you’ll eventually end out a tea master if you go far enough along that path. But it’s not necessary, especially when getting started. Enjoy the process, enjoy the tea, and share what you think of it, good or bad!