As you may know, we don't like giving brewing guidelines for our teas. Tea is alive and always changing, so we recommend new tea drinkers start by building intuition, getting close to the tea, making mistakes, staying with the tea. Sitting with (and copying) an experienced brewer was how we got started.
But when a customer recently asks for brewing guidelines, I felt obliged to give something as a starter. We are doing this online after all. I thought I'd post my response here.
For the rolled teas, start with just enough to cover the bottom of your 120ml gaiwan in one layer of dry tea. Brew with boiling water. Start with about 30 seconds, then back off to 20 seconds (as it opens up, surface area has increased significantly), then you can start increasing with subsequent infusions. If it's not strong enough, you have two options. One, add a second layer of tea and go with the same amount of time. Two, increase the length of time of your first infusion to a minute, your second to 45 seconds, and go from there. With the second way, you'll get less infusions total.
For the open leaf tea (Oriental Beauty, Baozhong, etc), use a layer of dry leaves about half an inch thick. For the first infusion, start with 20 seconds, and then gradually increase from there. Same general idea as the rolled tea, if you want to add strength.
My number one "rule", if you can call it that, is USE BOILING WATER. I don't feel my teas show up properly without it, and I haven't found a way to make them do so. Try it both ways if you like. I don't feel the body of the tea can open up without boiling hot water.
These are just guidelines, not rules. Find out what works for you. Every tea is different, and every session will be different.
Reach Out With Your Feelings!
When I first went back to Taiwan and asked "how do you brew good tea?" they always answered "use your feeling". So I watched people brewing tea and tried to copy them. There were no timers or scales, just intuition and listening.
A timer and scale can be helpful when starting out, but they end up getting in the way of our direct experience with the tea leaves. Feel the weight and feeling of the tea leaves in your hands, and then watch the session as it unfolds. After you pour water into the pot, bring your attention to the brewing tea inside the vessel. My goal when brewing a pot of tea is to be present in that moment. The more present you can be, the more you will be getting from the experience.
Listen to your tea, and don't be afraid to make mistakes!
Pay attention to the color of the broth. Open up the gaiwan and check how the color is changing as it brews. When you sip the tea, stay with the experience. Don't just gulp the broth, watch it in your mouth and follow it down your throat. It will tell you what it needs.
So it turns out in order to know how to brew a good pot of tea, first we need to know how to taste tea good...