Green tea is horrible and bitter!! Yes, I would have agreed based on my early experiences of green tea, which were generally low grade tea bag versions brewed in boiling hot water. Sadly this is the only encounter most Australians have with green tea and if this is you, please, please give it another go. Green tea really is delightful, sweet and refreshing when made properly.
So how does the temperature affect the tea? If all tea comes from the same plant then why should it make any difference how hot the water is? It all comes down to differences in production methods.
Black tea has been fully fermented, beaten and oxidised and really needs good boiling hot water to pull the flavours out and create a full bodied tea. Yes! You have been doing this correctly all along.
Green and white teas are the most delicate and require the lowest temperature of 80 degree water. The bitter alkaloids are extracted more easily and if the water is too hot, your tea will be bitter. Japanese green tea is the least processed, using boiling water cooks the tea leaves and loses the beautiful sweet, floral flavours.
Oolongs have differing schools of opinion, because they are partially oxidised they are half way between a green and black tea. Some claim you should use cooler water like green tea and others say go for a full boil. My first experience of a good quality oolong was a present from a Malaysian home-stay student, it was his father’s favourite. I brewed it up with boiling water and although it had some bitterness it had a delicious complexity. The high quality of the leaf made it more forgiving in the boiling water. I loved it and spent the next ten years searching for its equivalent. I now brew oolongs at just under boiling temperature which eliminates some of the bitterness and brings out the delicious nutty flavours.
How do I get the temperature right? For green and white tea the ideal temperature is 80 degree water, which can be attained by adding a splash of cold water. Oolongs require near boiling 90 degree water, wait 3-4 minutes after boiling the kettle. Another option for getting the temperature right is to invest in a variable temperature kettle such as Breville Smart Kettle which has five temperature settings, making it as easy as pressing a button.
With all this being said it still comes down to personal preference. We have recommendations on all of our teas, but please, by no means take them as gospel. Experiment, have fun and most of all enjoy your tea.