Tea Measurements: What is the best way to measure tea leaf?

by Lainie P on July 20, 2009

In  “What’s Your Cup Size” I noted that the water capacity of a teacup could compromise the flavor of bagged tea: Teacups and mugs can hold anywhere from 6 to 16+ ounces of water, yet many people always use just one teabag per cup, resulting in tea that is either too weak or too strong.

I recently considered the problem of measurements from a different angle: What is the best way to measure loose leaf tea?

I set about doing some experiments, and here is what I discovered:

1. It is wise to be wary of generic “formulas” for measuring tea leaves.

Two common formulas tell tea-lovers to use either one teaspoon or three grams of tea leaf per 8 ounces of water. These aren’t bad formulas, actually, but they have their pitfalls.

For example, in each selection of the tray below is 1 teaspoon of tea:

From L to R: Ginseng Oolong from Dream About Tea, Amor from The Simple Leaf, Shou Mei from Dream About Tea

From L to R: Ginseng Oolong from Dream About Tea, Amor Assam from The Simple Leaf, Shou Mei from Dream About Tea

As you can see, the amount of tea that fits into a teaspoon varies considerably by the shape and size of the tea leaf.

Now let’s look at the same three teas, this time measured by weight. Each sample of tea shown weighs three grams:

threegrams

While Dream About Tea’s Ginseng Oolong (a very heavy rolled tea) weighs in at three grams per level teaspoon, 1.5 teaspoons of Amor Assam is need to reach three grams. Three grams of Shou Mei, on the other hand, was about 4 difficult-to-measure teaspoons, which brings me to my next point. . .

2. Some teas simply cannot be measured properly in a teaspoon, and are best measured by weight.

Shou Mei, for instance:

whiteteaspoon

Shou Mei White Tea from Dream About Tea

As you can see in this photograph, the Shou Mei leaf is simply too large and varied to fit in a teaspoon. Plus, there is nothing uniform  about Shou Mei, so even a larger spoon/scoop wouldn’t work well.

3. Each Tea Requires its own Standard of Measurement

Let’s say that you buy TeaGschwendner’s Yunnan Downy Pekoe, and you determine that three grams of leaf per eight ounces of water is the best ratio. Then, you find that one teaspoon of Yunnan Downy Pekoe is exactly three grams.

(Since measuring by teaspoon is easier than hauling out the scale, you find this to be very convenient.)

But be careful!  You can’t apply the same measurement conversion to other types of black tea without first weighing them out.

For example:

golden

L to R: 3 grams each of TeaGschwendner's Yunnan Golden Downy Pekoe, Dream About Tea's Yunnan Gold Silk & Teaism's Golden Monkey

The Yunnan Downy Pekoe is a very tightly rolled long leaf tea, so three grams fits neatly into a teaspoon measure. But other similarly named Chinese black teas are not quite so dense: It took two teaspoons of Yunnan Gold Silk and two-and-a-half teaspoons of Golden Monkey to reach three grams.

A Word About Pearl Teas

An interesting situation is posed by pearl teas, particularly those that are scented or flavored. Jasmine pearl teas (sometimes known as Dragon Phoenix Pearls) are beautiful teas that can easily become bitter and disagreeable due to mistakes in preparation (such as using too many pearls).

Narien Teas makes one of my favorite Jasmine Pearl teas, and they take a sensible approach in composing their package instructions. Instead of advising either a volume or weight measurement, Narien suggests using 6-8 pearls per 8 ounces of water, a ratio that works well and produces a lovely tea.

I decided to see how many pearls are actually in a teaspoon of Narien Jasmine Pearls.  So I scooped out a teaspoonful:

jasminepearls

There are about 20-22 pearls in each teaspoon. Using a teaspoon of jasmine pearls in a cup of tea will not only produce a bitter and disagreeable brew, but it also wastes the tea!

Moral of the story: When working with pearl teas, always read the package directions in order to avoid disappointment!

Lainie’s Tips For  Proper Tea Measurement

1. To make the best tea, use standardized measurements: Eyeballing a tea for measuring purposes can be unreliable.

2. Teaspoons work well for measuring out smaller leaf teas, as well as tightly rolled oolongs, while larger leaf teas are always best measured on a scale.

3. When working with a new tea, try out different leaf amounts and measure it on a gram scale. When you come to a good water/tea ratio, then see if the tea can be easily and accurately measured out with measuring spoons.

4. Pearl teas require special handling, particularly if they are scented. Try counting out pearls instead of measuring by volume or weight.

Affiliate Links in this Post?: Yes.

Samples Provided by Manufacturer?: In some cases, yes.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mitchel Noble July 24, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Thank you for a good review of measuring out the proper amount of tea before you steep. It makes most drinkers think before they steep.

We use a rapid steeping method which uses more tea (2-3 times as much), less time (sometimes less than 30 seconds) but we get many more steeps (5-6).

Teas which are wrapped and compressed like our jade fire green tea and also some of the tie quan yins will gradually open during steeping. Because of the type of processing, it is not possible to get your best cup of tea on the first steep.

Tea drinkers should both experiment and go back to the Chinese ways of preparations. Don’t over steep, use lower water temperatures and use whole leaf tea.

Rob Chant July 24, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Great advice. Measurement and quantities can trip up even relatively seasoned tea drinkers, let alone the less experienced (such as me!)
.-= Rob Chant´s last blog ..Administrator collaboration tools head scratching =-.

Jason Witt July 27, 2009 at 1:54 pm

I now have two scales (one is electronic and one is an old-fashioned pair of balances) but I must confess I still often use a teaspoon to measure teas. This is partly because I’m in the habit of just approximating in measurement and not weighing everything before it goes in the cup. Perhaps I’ll want to start weighing in the future.

ValerieH March 24, 2010 at 5:20 am

I like TeaGschwendner because they tell you how many tsps, the temp of the water and how long to steep it. After you make it their way, then you can tweak it.

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