Volumes have been written on how to coax the best flavor out of tea leaves using special brewing methods. For the average tea drinker, however, it is good to know just a few of the tried-and-true methods for brewing tea correctly.
Like any other kitchen recipe, there are tricks that can make all kinds of tea taste better. The main thing to keep in mind is that each variety of tea needs to be treated differently. Whether you prefer black, oolong, white, or matcha tea will dictate how it’s brewed to obtain the peak flavor for that particular type.
General tips and tricks
• For most tea blends, the larger the leaf, the longer the required brewing/steeping time. Black, oolong, green, white, and most herbal tea blends call for 6 ounces of water per teaspoon of tea. To brew the very best-tasting tea, try to use loose leaves rather than bags or infuser balls. It’s less convenient, but loose leaves are able to release more of the plant’s natural flavors. Besides, it’s not too much trouble to strain the leaves out before serving.
• Try to use fresh tea whenever possible. Loose leaves tend to stay fresh much longer than bag tea. Loose tea leaves that are stored properly (away from light, heat, cold, and moisture) will not go stale for a long time. Tea bags, even if stored, can lose their freshness and go stale within a week or so.
• As soon as you finish brewing and steeping your tea, remove all the leaves from the liquid and avoid having to re-heat brewed tea. If part of your batch gets too cool to drink, just put it in a pitcher and use is for iced tea. It’ll keep for several days in the frig.
• To optimize taste, be sure that the teapot and all utensils are completely clean. It’s a good idea to regularly clean everything with very mild soap or baking soda to remove residue and mineral deposits that typically build up on the equipment.
• The quality of the water you use has a huge effect on the final flavor of the brew. Tap water, wherever you live, is usually not a good choice. Nor is distilled water. Try to use bottled or filtered water that contains no chlorine or other chemicals. If you must use tap water be sure to let it run for about 15 seconds and get rather cool before using it for tea-making.
Water and temperature
Temperature is important, and should be calibrated depending on the kind of tea you’re brewing. Most herbal and black teas need to be brewed in water that is between 205 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit (96C-100C). Black varieties call for about 3-5 minutes of steeping time, while the herbals usually need about 5 to 7 minutes. Oolongs and green teas, as a rule of thumb, should be steeped for 3-5 minutes, but white tea needs only 2 or 3 minutes in the hot water. Here are the suggested temperatures for oolong, green and white tea: Oolong 185F (85C) to 200F (95C), green, 165F (75C) to185F (85C), and white, 160F (70C) to175F (80C).
Special methods for cold-brewing
Cold-brewed tea is enjoying something of a renaissance. In the early part of the last century, cold-brewing was quite popular because it brings out a deeper, more pronounced flavor and requires no heat source of any kind.
Keep in mind that cold-brewed teas will contain less caffeine and fewer catechins; but some people prefer the fuller, smoother flavor and the easy preparation method.
Cold-brew is safer than mildly heated sun tea, which can encourage the growth of microbes and other nasty organic compounds that detract from taste and may even cause illness.
For cold-steeping, be sure to use fresh, filtered water and about 1.5 times the regular amount of tea leaves for a given measure of water. That usually comes to about 1.5 teaspoons of loose leaves per 6 ounces of water.
Let the tea and water sit in a pitcher in the refrigerator for 3 to 10 hours. More time means more caffeine, more catechins, and a stronger taste profile. You’ll not need to give as much brewing time to white, oolong or green teas as you will to black and herbal teas. (Note: For sanitary purposes, remember to rinse any herbal teas in a quick shot of boiling water because they are typically not cleaned during processing).
Be careful with sweeteners. Always taste your finished product first. Cold-brewing tends to bring out more of the natural sweetness in any kind of tea; so it is usually not necessary to add any, or much, sweetener. If you do prefer to add some, the natural sweeteners pair best with cold-brewed tea. Things like honey, organic sugar and cane sugars are wonderful additions to cold-steeped tea.
Contrary to prevalent myths, adding milk to tea will not negate any of the beverage’s health benefits. For many years, people were afraid to add milk to tea for this reason, especially in the U.S.
It really does help to begin with a high-quality tea, one that meets standards of quality, strength and purity. Many “off brands” and highly-processed teas are cheap and of very poor quality. Spending just a little extra money to acquire good tea is a smart way to start, whether you are a cold-brewing enthusiast or a more traditional, hot tea lover.
Most people in Western cultures are accustomed to drinking one of the many kinds of black tea at breakfast and when they go to restaurants. One of the reasons restaurateurs like to offer black tea is that it’s by far the easiest to brew properly, requires no special handling, and so many people prefer it with meals.
As times change and even Western tastes are gravitating toward more diverse tea choices, people are educating themselves about how to brew tea the right way. That’s why it is always a good idea to make note of a tea’s freshness, variety, and place of origin before preparing it. Delicious tea requires attention to a few details, but the effort is well worth the time.