Making tea correctly isn’t difficult, but there are some guidelines. The best teas in the world can taste pretty bad if prepared incorrectly. Alternatively a very inexpensive tea can be delicious if made well. Every tea has its own quirks but here are some general guidelines.
- Tea leaf quality
- Water quality
- Using the correct amount of tea
- Correct water temperature
- Correct steeping time
- Whether the tea leaves are fully expanded
- Removing the leaves from the liquid after the correct steeping time
Tea Leaf Quality
Use the best teas available to you. Good tea is a bargain. A tea which is $100.00 per pound, is just 50 cents per cup!
When making any tea, be sure you begin with good water. Water makes up over 90 % of the end product. Water quality and taste can be very different between one location and another. If your water tastes really good out of the tap chances are it will make good tea. Luckily, here in Cincinnati we have some of the cleanest tap water in the nation! If any unpleasant taste is in the tap water, you will probably notice it in the tea.
An easy and reliable way to get good quality water is to use a water filter (Brita/Pür). You can usually find these at a supermarket or online via Amazon. Never, ever use distilled water!
Always start with water from the tap, not water which has been previously boiled or has been sitting around. First, use a small amount of heated water to warm the pot before beginning to make your tea.
Then measure the correct amount of tea into the pot. A good guideline is 1 rounded teaspoon per 8 oz. cup. I’m refering to a formal teaspoon, not the teaspoon in your silverware set which is usually much larger than a true teaspoon. A particle tea such as a Zimbabwean Black is denser allowing more tea on the spoon. As such you would probably use a level teaspoon per cup. With a very large leafed bulky tea like Himalayan Tips you would only have a little leaf on the teaspoon, so you might use two teaspoons per cup. Generally the weight of these would then be nearly the same.
Different teas require different steeping temperatures. Using the wrong steeping temperature is probably the most common error people make when preparing tea. You can buy a thermometer to gauge temperature or you can look for visual clues.
Black tea generally should be made with water at a full, rolling boil, 212 degrees fahrenheit.
Oolong tea (also known as wulong tea) should be made with water a little bit below boiling, between 190 and 203 degrees fahrenheit. The water should be steaming rapidly and there should many bubbles rising in the kettle, but not really breaking the surface.
Green teas should be made with slightly cooler water, between 160 and 180 degrees fahrenheit. You want the steam to be wafting or swirling out of the kettle.
White teas should be made with even cooler water, anywhere from 150 to 160 degrees fahrenheit, when you see the very first hint of steam.
Pu’erh teas are very different, I have had them made with cooler water, similar to a green tea. But personally I prefer to make them with boiling water and steep them a long time.
Herbal teas should typically be made with boiling water.
Different teas also require different steeping times.
Black teas should steep between 4 and 6 minutes. Darjeelings are an exception and should be steeped between 2 and 3 minutes or they’ll become bitter.
Oolong teas (also known as wulong tea) vary rather dramatically and you need to experiment or follow the suggested steeping instructions from the blender. Many oolongs (wulongs) are perfect between 3 and 4 minutes, some need between 6 and 8 minutes.
Green teas should typically be steeped for much less time, almost always between 2 and 3 minutes.
Whites teas should generally be steeped around 2 minutes, although some can be steeped much longer with decent results.
Pu’erh teas should be steeped between 7 and 8 minutes minimum. I like to steep Pu’erhs around 18 minutes. To keep your pu’erh hot while steeping such a long time, simply cover your pot with a tea cozy or wrap it with a dish towel.
Herbals typically should be steeped a minimum of between 4 and 6 minutes, some for up to 10.
Let the Leaves Dance
All teas need room for the leaf to expand as it steeps. Regardless of what preparation method you use, make sure the leaf has enough room to expand up to 3-5 times in size. Brewing the leaves loose and then straining works best. I like to use infusers, which allow the leaves to expand but are easier to clean than just brewing the leaves loose. Tea balls make poor tea, there’s no room to expand and the flavor never gets released.
Separate the leaves from the water after the tea has steeped the correct length of time. Almost all teas will turn bitter if steeped too long. An infuser makes this part easy. Straining the brewed liquid away from the leaves works also.
Making tea is very easy, but does require a little extra attention.