Different teas have different brewing requirements. Over-steeping tea can result in a beverage that is both astringent and bitter. While there are a few teas that can be steeped for long periods of time (particularly Tung Ting, which we cover in a different section of this FAQ), following the basic directions that follow should result in a good cup of tea for anyone, with any type of tea.
- If using loose tea – To make a proper cup of tea, the hot water will need to circulate, so make sure that the leaves have enough room to fully bloom during the steeping process. A large teapot with a strainer is the perfect container.
- If using tea bags – Tea bags are perfectly acceptable, but do not really give the tea room to move around much during steeping. Some newer teabags are pyramidal in shape, which helps alleviate this issue, but regular tea bags tend to use fannings and tea dust to maximize flavor. Move the bag around a few times during steeping to help circulate the water.
- Measure your tea – Generally, 1 teaspoon per cup (8 oz.) of water is sufficient for brewing tea. Some varieties of tea, such as white tea and tisanes, require more water for steeping, up to 16oz. Often tea containers will tell you exactly how much to use.
- Water temperature – Different teas achieve the best results if they are brewed at their optimal temperature. Heavier teas, such as black tea and oolongs brew best at boiling temperature, 212F. Lighter teas, such as white tea, green tea, and some oolongs are better brewed at a lower temperature, such as 180F.If you do not have a thermometer to take the water temperature, one way to reach 180F is to let the water boil, remove from the heat, and let sit for a few minutes. Brewing tea at the proper temperature can make the difference between a perfect cup and something that merely resembles tea.
- Heat the teapot – Before adding your tea leaves, add some boiling water to your teapot and swirl it around to bring the pot up to temperature. Pour it out and commence brewing your tea. Adding boiling water to a cool teapot will immediately cool the hot water, and remember, we want to maintain the proper steeping temperature.
- Don’t over-steep – As a general rule, the heavier the tea, the less time it should steep. Over-steeping tea is easy and can produce a cup that you won’t want to drink, so be careful. Black teas will generally steep no longer than 3-4 minutes. In my experience, over three minutes is pushing it, as it can become astringent. Oolongs will brew closer to 4 minutes, and white tea can steep for 5-7 minutes. Green tea is a different story. Generally, the higher quality the tea, the longer it should steep. Cheap green teas, such as bancha and sencha will sometimes steep for only 30 seconds. Genmaicha will steep for 2 minutes, and some can steep for up to three. Tung Ting, which is technically an oolong, but brews more like a a green, can practically steep forever, and is often enjoyed gungfu style. Often, however, it is best to err on the side of caution and under steep your tea as it will still be enjoyable.
George Orwell’s Perfect Cup of Tea
The brilliant and quirky author George Orwell is as famous for his tea drinking requirements as he is for writing 1984 (among other works). For his fans and others with inquisitive minds, here is his recommended style for creating the perfect cup of tea.
- Use tea from India or Ceylon (Sri Lanka), not China.
- Use a teapot, preferably ceramic.
- Warm the pot over direct heat.
- Tea should be strong – six spoons of leaves per 1 liter.
- Let the leaves move around the pot – no bags or strainers.
- Take the pot to the boiling kettle.
- Stir or shake the pot.
- Drink out of a tall, mug-shaped tea cup.
- Don’t add creamy milk.
- Add milk to the tea, not vice versa.
- No sugar!
While George Orwell may be famous for his literary work, his tea making rules may leave a bit to be desired. Six spoons per liter is an awful lot of tea and will produce an incredibly strong pot of tea. Also, per our instructions on making a perfect cup, adding milk to hot tea can make for a sub-standard cup of tea as the milk will scald. Adding sugar or not is also a personal preference (sugar will, however, naturally curb the inherent bitterness of tea).