The Ultimate Guide on How to Make the Perfect Tea
A comprehensive list of tips and tricks to make the best tea ever!
If you are anything like me, you may have been spending your tea making years pouring boiling water over a tea bag, and pressing the tea bag manically against the cup side to speeden the drawing time. Tea is tea right?
No, I was wrong. As it turns out, as with coffee making, there is a fine art to making the perfect cup of tea. A cup of tea that is fragrant, strong enough, and yet not bitter. A cup of tea to lift the spirits and be proud to serve to any one!
And the good news is that in order to make such cups of tea, you do not need any fancy equipment, or to follow too many extra steps. Making good tea is simple, so simple in fact that it can be broken down into 5 main elements.
Switch to Loose Tea
Ok, so first up is the actual tea itself.
Tea is most commonly sold today in prepackaged tea bags. Tea leaves in bags are great for ease of use, but does no good for the actual tea that it makes.
Why Loose Tea Makes Better Tea than Bagged Tea
The reason that loose tea makes for a better tasting cup of tea than bagged tea has got to do with how the loose leaves infuse when in the hot water, versus how the bag infuses.
Bagged tea is chopped up finely, and is packed relatively densely into the tea bag. These factors negatively impact how the flavor and compounds of the the tea infuse into the hot water.
Loose tea leaves on the other hand are whole, and not chopped up. When they are placed in hot water, they curl open and release more flavor and beneficial compounds into the tea. Also, if you use a generously sized tea infuser, then this will also assist in infusing out the maximum amount of flavor and antioxidant components.
Did you Know? Because of the enhanced release of antioxidants associated with loose and whole tea leaves, they are actually healthier than bagged tea! Also, the porous paper used in tea bags is commonly bleached to make the bags bright white in color. Bleach with your tea anyone? Loose tea leaves of course do no pose this risk.
The Best Type of Tea Infusers
We keep mentioning infusers, but what exactly are they, and does one need one?
Infusers are designed for using with loose tea leaves. The come in various forms, and are designed to contain the tea leaves while you are steeping your tea, by letting hot water in, but no tea leaves out.
Go for Larger Basket Style Infusers
There are a lot of different types of infusers out there, made from various materials and of all shapes and sizes. With so much variety, things can get a little confusing. Thankfully the real tea experts in the East have pointed the way. The most popular types of tea infusers sold in Asia tend to be the larger basketer style designs.
The reason for this is that the more hot water there is around the tea leaves, the better the infusion. You want them to be floating in a generous amount of water in the infuser. Not crammed into a tiny infuser, and only coming into contact with a small amount of water at a time.
Do I Need an Infuser for Loose Tea Leaves?
No, you do not NEED an infuser when brewing tea with loose leaves. Because the loose tea leaves are whole, you can simply place them into your cup or teapot, and pour in the hot water. You will get a great infusion this way!
The downside of course is that you will have the leaves floating around in your cup or tea pot. Some people simply sip through the leaves. If this is not your style, you can use a teapot and strainer. Of course then you still need to clean the teapot of leaves afterwards.
So, as you can see, you can easily brew tea without an infuser. However for long term convenient brewing with loose tea leaves, you may want to invest in a nice infuser to make the clean up / drinking easier.
Do Not Over Boil Your Water
They say good tea needs only two ingredients, quality tea and hot water. We have looked at the tea, now let’s tackle the water.
The most important thing when it comes to the hot water for your tea is not to over boil it.
According to general consensus, water for tea making should usually not exceed 205 degrees Fahrenheit (96 Celsius). This about the optimum temperature for black tea. For more delicate teas such as green and white tea, the water temperature should be even lower, at around 160 degrees Fahrenheit (about 75 degrees celsius).
How to Measure the Temperature of Your Water
Ok, so no full boiling of water for tea. But how does one know when the water has reached the optimum temperature? Well there are two ways, measuring and eyeballing.
Use a Thermometer
If you like to be precise and hate guess work, then you can use a thermometer. Just make sure that you do not scald you hand when dipping the thermometer into your kettle!
Buy a Kettle with an In-built Thermometer
If you don’t like the idea of having to manually measure your hot watering, you can also invest in a kettle which comes with a built in thermometer. Depending on makes, these can be pricey, but can also be worth the money.
If you have no interest in absolute clinical precision, and would rather develop a feel for what water looks like at different temperatures, then you can use the eyeball method.
Thankfully, when water is approaching boiling point, the bubbles that form give an indication of what temperature it is at. Here is a handy list of eyeball terms for water that is busy heating and has reached a certain stage of bubbling:
Shrimp eyes – about 70-80 °C (155–175 °F) – separate bubbles, rising to top
Crab eyes- about 80 °C (175 °F) – streams of bubbles
Fish eyes – about 80-90 °C (175–195 °F) – larger bubbles
Pope of pearls – about 90-95 °C (195–205 °F) – steady streams of large bubbles
Raging torrent – rolling boil, swirling and roiling
Isn’t that interesting!
Do Not Re-boil Water
When water is boiled, it loses some of the oxygen which it contains. The more you boil it, the more oxygen it will lose. And what has oxygen got to do with tea? Well, the oxygen component of water helps with infusion of flavor believe it or not!
So if there is old water in the kettle, throw it out and run some fresh. Also, try to heat your water UP to the right temperature for tea making, rather than overheating it and then letting it cool DOWN. This way there will be unnecessary oxygen loss.
Use A Teapot and Tea Cosy
Water tick, tea tick!
Now for the steeping.
The ultimate way to steep your tea is in a teapot with a tea cosy. Why? Because in a teapot the hot water will retain the most heat, staying as close as possible to the ideal water temperature that you heated the it to.
A teapot and tea cosy is best for keeping the steeping tea at the right heat, because the lid of the teapot helps to keep the heat, and the tea cosy acts as an insulator.
Using a teapot and tea cosy is one of the methods to use for making great tea. However it is arguably not the most important one. If you do not want to always brew your tea in a teapot, you can also opt to steep the tea in cup. The flavor might be impacted slightly, but not nearly as much as over boiling or steeping. Which brings us to steeping time.
Time Your Tea
Brewing time is very important when it comes to making a perfect cup of tea. Under steeped tea will taste weak and flat. Over steeped tea will taste bitter and acrid.
Different teas require different steeping times, and a good brand of tea will probably tell you on the box what is the recommended steeping time.
As a general rule of thumb however, here are the standard brewing times for the main tea types.
Steeping Time for Loose Tea
Black tea: 3-5 min
Oolong tea: 5-7 min
Red or herbal tea: 5-7 min
White tea: 2-3 min
Green tea: 3-4 min
Take note, these steeping times are for loose or whole tea leaves. If you are using bagged tea which is cut and much finer in consistency, then the optimum steeping time will often be shorter.
Here is a list of the common recommended steeping times for bagged teas.
Steeping Time for Bag Tea
Black tea: 3-5 min (remains the same)
Oolong tea: 3-5 min
Red or herbal tea: 5-7 min (remains the same)
White tea: 30-60 sec
Green tea: 1-3 min
Steeping your tea for the correct time is one of the easiest and most important things to do to get a good cup of tea. Even if you do none of the other things, regulating steeping time correctly will instantly improve your tea’s flavor.
Get a Good Cup
Last but not least, did you know that it’s not only how you make your tea, but also what you drink it out of? This may sound like knit picking, but what cup you use to drink your tea out of can impact taste and temperature.
Plastic cups are notorious for tainting contents with a signature ‘plastic-y’ taste. This is especially bad with hot drinks, which cause the plastic to expand and release elements of the plastic into your beverage. Not only is the taste unpleasant, but the contaminants from plasticware are dangerous for one’s health as well.
So bottom line avoid plastic cups for tea, or any other beverage for that matter, particularly if drunken hot.
Metal cups are also not appropriate for good tea drinking, as they impart the tea with metallic hints.
Ceramic cups do not impact the flavor of your tea, however they do cause rapid cooling due to their porosity. If you are someone who likes to drink their tea nice and hot, then ceramic cups can be a cause of frustration. Or continual microwaving – which needless to say at this point will ruin a well made cup of tea.
Which brings us to the ultimate cup.
Time tested and treasured by many, porcelain cups are the ultimate vessel for drinking your perfectly made tea out of. They impart no foreign unwanted tastes, and retain heat like nobody’s business.
Contrary to assumption, the buying of porcelain cups do not have to sink you into debt either. If you are a bargain hunter with an eye for potential antiques, you may want to look at into the second hand porcelain cup market. it is possible to amass gorgeous mis-matched porcelain cup collections by trawling charity shops, flea markets and car boot sales. Etsy is also a convenient place to start.
And What About Milk and Sugar?
So you have made your cup of tea. But what about the milk and sugar? Well, that is up to you.
Some people are of the opinion that tea made from loose leaves is of such good quality of flavor that it does not need milk or sugar. And that the milk and sugar actually ruin the tea.
For those of us who are less die hard types – we can do what we please.
I like the to drink my black tea with a fair amount of milk – no sugar. My mom likes only a little milk. I have often thought, I wish that it was custom to specify milk amounts when asked how one likes one’s tea. 1 sugar, 2 milks please. I always find myself agonising over whether or not I have put enough milk for the person whose tea I am making!
Tips and Tricks for Good Tea on the Go
Now that you know how to brew great tea, let’s quickly take a look some ways you can brew good tea while on the go. Not all of us spend all day at home just making tea. If you work away from home, then here are some tips for how to achieve great tea without too much faff.
What You Need
If you want to enjoy great tea at work (who wouldn’t) but don’t want to be seen toting a teapot back and forth to work all week – then here is a simplified list of what you can use to make the perfect cup of tea away from your teapot.
Of course, you will have to bring some loose tea to work, there is just no getting around it. On the bright side, chances are no one will use any of it, because it will look very weird to the average tea bag user.
You will also need to have a tea infuser to make your cuppa, unless you don’t mind loose leaves floating in your tea.
Again, the best kind of infuser is deemed to be the larger more spacious basket kind.
An Eye for Bubbles
Unless you want to be seen as a total tea nerd, with a thermometer in every kettle that you boil at work – you may want to practice using the eyeballing method to gauge the water temperature.
The ‘string of pearls’ stage of bubbles is what you are looking for if you are making black tea, and is quite easy to identify.
A Dish Towel
And the other humble item you may want to use is a simple dish towel. Because you do not have a teapot or tea cosy, use the dish cloth to wrap around your mug of tea while the leaves are steeping. This will help to retain some of the heat of the water for optimum steeping.
And there you have it. Good tea, at home or at work. QED.
All these tea making nuances may have come as a surprise to you. They certainly did to me! However considering the science of infusion and plant compounds, as well as past cups of tea – good and bad – these old fashioned tea making standards make good sense.
It is also actually not surprising that tea making has some intricacies to it. After all, it is one of the oldest beverages on the planet, and has been steeped and sipped for hundreds of thousands of years!
So, get your steeping techniques polished up, and join the ancestors in the drinking of excellent tea.