Honestly as tea drinkers a lot of thoughts go through our head every single time we sit down to brew tea. Granted not all of them are tea related, however I have found ten things we should all definitely think about every time we sit down to brew. These are split into the three large categories which really encompass the main things that are used when enjoying tea.
Temperature -- How hot does the water need to be? How hot should it be? Is there anything I want to do out of the norm? If the tea is the end of the bag and mostly broken up, do I want to go a little cooler to account for the increased bitterness from the broken pieces?
Type / Mineral content -- Is there any reason I would want to use a special water today, or for the tea I picked out? (Mostly I care less about this one, however for a fun experiment try varying water sources for a little while and notice how it can change even the teas you are used to having every day.)
Volume -- How much tea do I want to have? Does the type of tea I am brewing lend itself to large or small steeps? In the case of teas that demand a large leaf to water ratio, is it even practical to brew a large cup, when you'd need to use basically the entire bag of tea you have to do so? Sometimes cost is the largest factor in determining steep size. Well I guess teaware as well.
Amount -- How much of a jump start do I need right now? Last time I had this tea, was it too strong or too weak? Are these large full leaves, or small broken pieces. Is it compact or "fluffy"?
As I personally don't weigh my leaves for each session, I have a rule of thumb that with compact leaves I use less than I think I should, while with fuller larger and more "fluffy" leaves I tend to go a little more than I think I should. Practice always makes perfect, but the eyes can lie when it comes to amount of tea with certain types.
Storage -- Did I store the tea well, is it freshly opened? Have I had this tea for far longer than I should have? If anything is amiss I should definitely wade into this carefully to try and avoid a bitter disappointing cup, because I was expecting it to have lost it's punch, when in reality the time made the tea extra bitter.
Type -- What type of tea do I feel like? Or sometimes more realistically, what type of tea do I have? Is there anything special I want to try this time when I am brewing tea?
The easiest way to avoid a stale tea routine, is to occasionally just try something new. Like I normally like my sencha brewed extra cool, but I'm in a rush today, and feeling adventerous, lets go hot and quick, and still see if I can make an enjoyable cup by experimenting with the variables available to us as a tea brewer.
Material/ Glazing -- Is the vessels unglazed to the point that they may potentially round out harsh components of the tea? If it is glazed and very neutral can I use that to my advantage to brew an awesome cup of tea? (Smelling the underside of a gaiwan lid while brewing, to judge brew strength, done-ness.)
Heat Retention -- How thick is the piece, and tying into the materials, does this cool very quickly or very slowly. If it is not preheated with it take all the heat out of the first steeps water, or will it take almost none? For future steeps, is the teapot still too hot to handle meaning water temp should be near perfect, or basically between each steep does the vessel return to basically its room temperature state?
This can make or break tea brewing. It is often the hardest to understand and get a hold of, especially as with others, we can often brew at a different pace than when brewing alone. Thankfully we hopefully still have *some* intact nerve endings in our hands to be able to judge the temperature with a touch or two. Gaiwan users, may not have any working nerve endings in their finger tips, but that is something we have come to live with. ;-)
Ease of Use -- Am I using a vessel that always clogs? Am I using a vessel that I am unable to pour without leaving half the water in the pot, or spilling half the tea down the front of the teapot? Am I trying to use a handle-less vessel with no noticeable gripping points with a tea that is brewed with boiling water?
If you do not understand the point of the last question, consider yourself lucky. However once you do something like try and brew sencha extra hot from a houhin that has no well defined gripping point on the outside of its body you will know exactly what I mean. If you already know what I mean, I am sorry you put yourself through that torture test of will, of trying to grip a well loved piece of teaware that just might be hotter than the sun, precariously above a teacup to pour out the molten tea, while trying to keep the flesh on your fingers from vaporizing from the intense heat.
Practicality -- Do I really want to brew with my smallest teapot yet also use my largest cup? Or on the other side, I really want to use this teapot, for this tea, with these cups, I know I am drinking tea alone, but surely I shouldn't feel bad about using 5 different teacups for one person, because I want to use the entire set at once, right?
I need to work on this one! ;-)