Tea Tips from a Master

Though James Labe, a tea sommelier, could probably fill volumes with his tea expertise, he agreed to boil down his advice for us into the following tips:

**ALWAYS **use good, fresh water—either filtered or spring.

**HOW MUCH **tea to use? Teas vary in strength, so it's hard to be precise, but for compact teas such as Indian black ones, try 1 heaping teaspoon per 12-ounce pot. For looser-leafed green teas, use 2 heaping teaspoons.

**IDEAL STEEPING **temperature for most black teas is 195°, somewhat below that of boiling water (212°), so before you stir the leaves into the pot, pour in the hot water and let it cool a bit. Many ceramic pots absorb enough heat within the first minute or so to cool the water properly. Fine-quality Japanese green teas are best steeped at even lower temperatures, between 125° and 170°; if you make them with boiling water, they'll end up tasting like overcooked vegetables. The easiest way to get the right temperature for these teas is to add ½ cup cold water to the pot, then fill it the rest of the way with boiling water.

**HOW LONG **a tea steeps affects its character. Try steeping the same tea in gradations of 2 to 4 minutes; the taste will tell you when you've brewed it right.

**TRY TASTING **fine teas when they've had time to cool, because they'll gain nuance and body. Hot tea feels thin in the mouth.