Newbie questions about heating water

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Newbie questions about heating water

Postby fern » Jul 15th, '13, 00:28

To put it as succinctly as possible, my questions are: is it a bad idea to microwave water for tea, and, when you want to brew your tea at a temperature below boiling, is it necessary to bring the water to a full boil first? And, if either answer is yes, why does it matter?

A little background: Until recently, I just brewed all of my tea with near-boiling water, and I'm only just getting into the habit of brewing teas at the recommended temperature, having recently acquired a proper thermometer. Perhaps needless to say, I'm pleased with the result, especially for my greens! My new method for heating water is to use a basic kettle when I want boiling water, and the combination of my microwave, thermometer, and Pyrex container when I want less than boiling. I brew at the temperature recommended on the packaging--mostly from Adagio--and brew 12-16 ounces at a time for solo drinking.

However, I'm wondering if I could do better, based on some claims I've heard here and there. First of all, I've read several disparaging remarks about microwaving water for tea. I've also seen a few tea guides that said you should bring the water to a full boil and then let it drop to the desired temperature, rather than just heating it to the desired temperature. However, I didn't find a satisfying explanation for either of these claims. Does it really matter? Is it just superstition or is there a scientific reason behind it?

Even if microwaving the water is considered "wrong", I'm enjoying my tea that I've made this way, so the method is definitely good enough. However, I'd like to make the best tea I can. I suppose I could do a comparative tasting with microwaved and kettle-boiled water to see if I can tell the difference and/or care, but in the meantime, I wonder what the more experienced drinkers on this board have to say?
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Re: Newbie questions about heating water

Postby tenuki » Jul 15th, '13, 12:40

Thing to watch out with microwave water is superheating.

( )

Just putting a nonmetallic chopstick or something in the cup takes care of this problem.
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Re: Newbie questions about heating water

Postby IzzieBot » Jul 15th, '13, 13:29

Well if you are satisfied with how your tea is coming out via microwaved water, than by all means (safely) continue to.

That said - if you want to brew tea the BEST way you can, boiling traditionally is optimal if you have the means.

There's definitely some science to it - uneven heat from microwaves (and above boiling temps from microwaves which risk burning yourself), risk of ceramics breaking, lack of oxygen bubbles, and other factors.

When you brew tea a chemical reaction happens - which is why multi-steeps of the same tea will often yield different flavor profiles. THis also happens with microwave vs heat-boiled water - I just couldn't tell you how.

I really dislike microwaved water for tea. If you can get a personal electric kettle, or if your office as a Keurig machine, those alternatives I find are better.
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Re: Newbie questions about heating water

Postby Chip » Jul 15th, '13, 13:30

I have "superheated" our well water in the mic. It was not boiling, but when I dropped a teabag in, it did not "explode," but it did instantly and crazily boil seemingly all around the bag ... like it was attacking the teabag. Pretty cool, but needless to say, the tea was "bitter brew" and undrinkable.

I wonder why I could do this with our well water, but normal municipal tap water would boil in the mic? Maybe it is the chlorine or similar additives present in municipal water.

I have not microwaved water for tea since.
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Re: Newbie questions about heating water

Postby Evan Draper » Jul 15th, '13, 14:41

No, you don't need to boil the water first and let it cool down. In a highly ritualized setting, boiling water and then doing things to cool it helps you reach a consistent (sub-boiling) temperature when you have time and equipment constraints. (No thermometers allowed in chanoyu.) It also kills microbes.

Yes, superheating is a danger of using a microwave, but I think most people just find a microwave inelegant. I can have a much more satisfying tea session if all the preparation equipment is within my grasp in the same place I (and my friends) enjoy the tea. That way, making the tea becomes part of the enjoyment, and not a chore to be done before I can finally relax with a completed cup. For me, that setup works best with a small electric kettle at the table, or a gas camp stove outside. My microwave lives in the kitchen, which is not ideal for entertaining. I'm sure there are many problems surrounding heating and pouring mechanics, but the microwave's location is enough to rule it out for me.
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Re: Newbie questions about heating water

Postby fern » Jul 16th, '13, 19:11

Aha. Microwaving is perfectly convenient for the way I make my tea. I'm preparing a big mug in a single steep, so I don't mind doing it it the kitchen and taking it with me. I use the microwave as a timer anyway. If I was doing multiple infusions, I'd need another water heating system.
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Re: Newbie questions about heating water

Postby Teaism » Sep 5th, '13, 11:55

Heating water for tea is a lifelong endeavor for serious tea drinkers. It is good to take it as a long journey rather than conclude what is good enough. It is never good enough. So try all ways possible.

You can start by buying all mineral water available and try in all tea. Boil them in gas, charcoal, firewood, spirit etc. use all kettles you can get hold of...silver, copper,tin, clay, purion, glass etc. Try different boiling types, slow boil, fast boil, when not to boil after boiling...etc learn how to control the boiling water and consciously watch your reaction time. The chazhou brewing style always have one famous saying on this. i.e. "Walk 7 steps and lose 5 degrees"

Many Teamaster can go on talking on this topic for days but still never find it good enough.

So I suggest you continue to experiment and explore on and on and on in this issue. Don't take the short cut and say it is good enough.

Cheers! :D
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