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Beginner's Guide to Brewing Tea

Beginner’s Guide to Brewing Tea

| On 02, Dec 2013

 

Did you ever notice that the same tea tastes differently when you brew it at home, order it in a coffee shop or enjoy it at your friend’s house?

Pot of brewed tea Where I live there’s this cozy library café and they have dozens of tea assortments to choose from, so I often go there in the morning, to enjoy a hot cup of tea while doing my work. I usually order the same beverage, it’s kind of a morning ritual for me, and I love the fact that it always has the same taste and flavor.

However, I recently visited an old friend in another city and we decided to meet in the same café, as I wanted her to test the much praised tea I’m so fond of. And guess what: the beverage was the same, but the taste was different. I kept telling her that it’s usually a little bitter when I order it in my city, and a little more flavorful, and a little tastier.

So my experiment failed and I’m sure it happened to you as well, but just because it’s a common happening, it doesn’t mean it’s normal or desirable.

In fact, tea should taste the same regardless of where it’s prepared, as the procedure it’s the same: you place the loose tea leaves in the teacup or tea infuser, then you pour the freshly boiled water over the leaves and allow the beverage to steep for a few minutes. Last, you remove the infuser or remove the leaves by straining the tea in the serving cup.

This is the basic tea brewing procedure, so it shouldn’t be so difficult to prepare the perfect cup of tea, right? However, there are some factors that influence the tea’s taste and strength and these are the quality and temperature of the water, the amount of leaves added in the cup and the steeping time. To adjust the taste of your beverage, you can play with the amount of lose leaves or with the steeping time, but if you want to get the most of your tea, it’s useful to follow the general guidelines below.

1. Water’s quality and temperature

Tea is 90% water, so its quality is given not only by the amount of loose leaves added in the cup, but also by the purity and freshness of the water you use. Here’s how to pick the water for a tasty cup of tea:

  • Opt for filtered or bottle spring water, and avoid distilled water, as this is purified of its natural content of minerals and will lead to a flat tasting beverage.
  • Go for fresh water instead of water that has been boiled previously, as it contains more oxygen and this contributes to an enhanced tea taste. Avoid using hot tap water as you’ll get a dull beverage instead of an aromatic one.
  • Avoid over-boiling the water as this will also deplete the oxygen and compromise the final taste.

Also, keep an eye on the proper water temperature, as this varies depending on the type of tea you prepare. The table below gives you more details in this direction.

 

Tea type

Amount of leaves

Water’s temperature

Steeping time

White tea

1-2 teaspoons

149-158°F (65-70°C)

1-3 minutes

Yellow tea

1-2 teaspoons

158-167°F (70-75°C)

1-3 minutes

Green tea

1-2 teaspoons

167-176°F (75-80°C)

1-3 minutes

Oolong tea

1-2 teaspoons

176-185°F (80-85°C)

3-5 minutes

Black tea

1 teaspoon

194-210°F (90-99°C)

2-5 minutes

Pu-erh tea

1 teaspoon

203-212°F (95-100°C)

2-5 minutes

Tisanes (Herbal teas)

1-2 teaspoons

210°F (99°C)

Depends on the kind of herbal tea

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

As you can see in this table, the temperature varies greatly, and this is mainly because teas have different oxidation periods. Green tea and white tea for example have little to no oxidation periods, so they need to be brewed at lower temperatures, while the tea types with longer oxidation periods – such as black or pu-erh tea – need to be brewed at higher temperatures, so that the large molecules of phenols can be properly extracted.

If you’re using too hot water for white or green tea, you’ll notice the taste is bitter than it should be, so this factor does make a huge difference in the beverage’s final taste. Also, if the water you pour over black tea leaves is not hot enough, you may not be getting the best of your beverage.

An important aspect to keep in mind is that the pot you’ll be preparing the tea in needs to be preheat before pouring the water. This prevents the water’s temperature from dropping too quickly and helps in extracting the full flavor from the tea leaves. Use a covered teapot and pour some boiling water, then continue with the tea’s steeping procedure and preheat the serving cup as well.

2. The amount of loose tea leaves

When preparing tea, we’re tempted to let it steep for longer for obtaining a stronger taste, but the general rule says you should add more leaves, not extend the brewing time, as this may lead to a bitter taste. Also, keep in mind that tea leaves expand so it’s preferable for them to move freely inside the brewing pot, as this way more flavor will be extracted.

The usual amount of tea used per cup of water (7-8 oz. or 200-240 ml) is one slightly heaped teaspoon, so about 2 grams of leaves. However, for teas with larger leaves, such as white for example, you can use an extra teaspoon, but only after trying the standard recommendation, as you may prefer the lighter tea.

3. The steeping time

The third factor to consider when preparing your tea is the steeping time. Generally, white, yellow and green tea are steeped for 1 to 3 minutes, while stronger teas, like black, oolong or pu-erh tea are steeped for 2 to 7 minutes, depending on the type of tea you prepare. The table above gives you some general guidelines on steeping as well.

 Brewing green teaAn interesting fact that’s worth being mentioned here is that many teas can be steeped for more than one time, and the second or third steeping can bring out even more subtle flavors and notes. Green tea for example falls into this category, so the next time you prepare your beverage, give it a shot and see whether the second infusion is tastier than the first one.

In order to avoid over-steeping, it’s useful to taste the tea after the first 1-2 minutes. If you like how it tastes, then you can pour the beverage into your serving cup even if it doesn’t have the color you think it should have. In the end, it’s the taste, and not the color, that convinces your taste buds.

As you improve your tea brewing skills and discover the tastes you like best, you can start experimenting with the amount of leaves or the steeping times. The more you practice, the faster you’ll learn how to prepare the perfect cup of tea for your taste.      

 

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Comments

  1. What a lovely guide!

    Thank you for this.