It’s been a busy year for Rong Pan, co-owner of 17-year-old Ku Cha House of Tea. In 2022, she and her husband, Qin Liu, expanded their Boulder-born business to include outposts in Denver Pavilions and Park Meadows Mall (they already had locations in Fort Collins and Cherry Creek), and they plan to stock select products at local King Soopers stores by late 2022. The hectic schedule enhanced Pan’s appreciation of gongfu, a Chinese ritual of preparing and drinking tea she regularly enjoys with Liu and her two young children. “Brewing some good loose-leaf tea and drinking it with either friends or family, or by ourselves, is a very therapeutic thing to do,” Pan says. Read on for her tips for crafting your own cup of tranquility.

A. Whole tea leaves B. Wood draining tray C. Cast-iron teapot D. Ceramic tea pet E. Two types of metal strainers F. A lidded cup. Photo by Sarah Banks

Step 1: Pick

Tea bags sold in grocery stores are often filled with tea particles that yield quicker-to-make, stronger brews than their loose-leaf counterparts, but it’s more difficult to ensure the origins and quality of the usually mass-produced sacks, Pan says. Instead, ditch the dunkers for whole leaves, which have more complex flavor profiles. At its five locations and online, Ku Cha sells more than 170 kinds—from robust blacks and wellness-forward greens to versatile oolongs—each hand-selected by Pan and Liu and imported from around the world. The team also carries many varieties of tea-making wares.

Step 2: Prepare

Although gongfu sets can encompass a draining tray for discarding water, a pot, multiple vessels, and even a ceramic pet (“so you don’t have to drink alone,” Pan says), those aren’t required for everyday consumption. All you need is a kettle for heating water, a cup, and a strainer for submerging the tea. To make the best-tasting brew, start with one teaspoon of dried leaves for every eight ounces of water, though the amount will differ depending on the product’s density (some are puffier than others) and your preferences. “I tend to use more leaves because I like richer tea,” she says. “As you drink tea, you will know, I like stronger or I like weaker. There is no wrong answer.”

Step 3: Pour

Pan recommends following the brewing instructions listed on packages. (Ku Cha’s products come with directions.) This is easier with an electric kettle that heats contents to specific temperatures. Boiling water can kill the flavors and health benefits of green teas and other more delicate varieties, but pouring the liquid slowly helps cool things down. Before she steeps, Pan warms her cup by adding and discarding hot water, which she also uses to give the leaves a quick, preliminary, fragrance-awakening rinse before making a cup to consume.

Step 4: Pause

Some of Pan’s favorite whole-leaf teas, including earthy White Crescent Puerh (a fermented white tea) and floral Tie Guan Yin (a green oolong), are made to be re-steeped multiple times in one sitting. She submerges batches of those leaves for only 10 seconds before enjoying the liquid goodness, though you can adjust that timing to the tea’s specific directions and your liking. The most important step? Savor the results without interruption for as long as you can, whether it’s five or 45 minutes. “Tea is an art, not a science,” she says. “Sip the tea rather than just gulping it down.”

This article was originally published in 5280 November 2022.
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to oversee all of the magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.