Read next: A Word on Kettles
Water that is just coming to a boil (212 degree Fahrenheit), or just off the boil, is ideal for black tea or most oolongs, though greener oolongs prefer lower temperatures. Boiling water is much too hot for white and green teas, however. Most green teas seem to taste best when steeped in water 30 to 40 degrees below boiling, which is to say, in the 170 to 185 degree Fahrenheit range. At this temperature, the steam from the kettle rises in lazy, curling wisps rather than in a vertical column: let this be sign unto you. If you acquire a taste for rare green teas, even this is too hot. The Chinese distinguish five stages of tea water as the boiling point is approached: “shrimp eyes,” the first tiny bubbles that start to appear on the surface of the kettle water, “crab eyes,” the secondary, larger bubbles, then “fish eyes,” followed by “rope of pearls,” and finally “raging torrent.” Green teas require fish eyes or cooler; in fact, the Chinese think water too hot to pour into your palm is too hot to brew Biluochun, the finest Longjing, and their peers. The rule to remember is the lower the temperature of the water, the longer the time you allow for steeping – not that green teas ever require very long.