Tea

How to Brew Your Best Cup of Tea

April  9, 2015

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. 

Today: Avoid over-steeped, bitter tea for good. Here's how to brew the perfect cup, whether green, black, or herbal is your tea of choice (or your cup of tea, if you will).


Exclusive Art et Manufacture tea cups, saucers, and dessert plates and 
King Arthur Flour's Never-Fail Biscuits

All of Edith Bourgault of Art et Manufacture's pieces are handmade in white porcelain and then detailed with cobalt blue designs. We planted our herbs in her flower pots, bake in her pie plates, and now, we want to drink tea from her delicate, gorgeous tea cups and saucers she created exclusively for our Shop

  

Thing is, her cups deserve only the best-brewed tea. Bitterness just doesn't fit into this scenario. Leaving leaves of black or green tea steeping and steeping isn't going to get you the cup you want—there's more of a science to it. The interaction between oxygen, water, and tea leaves isn't unlike the way ingredients in a cake come together like an edible science project. So if you spend a few minutes perfecting the procedure, tea time can be a relaxing part of your day.

First, choose the right teapot:
Picking the perfect pot matters. Different materials can influence the taste and affect heat retention, and you may not realize it, but some can even over-steep your tea. Each material has different pros and cons:

  • Glass: Great for visibility but does not retain heat.
  • Ceramic: Unlike glass, ceramic teapots retain heat; they also won’t absorb any flavor. You can brew various types of tea in a single ceramic pot without having to worry about the pot imparting flavor from your last batch of tea into another. 
  • Porcelain: Similar to ceramic, it won’t absorb flavor. However, because it's typically thinner than a ceramic teapot, it will not hold in heat. It therefore is better suited to lighter teas like white or green, rather than black or a dark herbal tea. 
  • Clay: Clay is known to draw in heat, but the porousness of this teapot will also draw in flavors. If you choose to use a clay pot, be sure to only use it for a single kind of tea.
  • Cast Iron: The density of a cast iron pot means it retains heat very well, which is good for teas that require high temperatures (see below), but also means over-steeping is a big possibility. The pot may even leak some of the flavor from its enamel coating into your drink. On the upside, it is great for keeping a black or herbal tea hot for hours.

  

Pick the right tea:
Use high-quality tea bags or make your own. For 1 cup of tea, use a heaping teaspoon of loose-leaf tea. Some teapots come with built-in strainers, but you could also use tea bags to contain the leaves. Be sure to store tea in an airtight container at room temperature. If the tea aisle at your grocery store overwhelms you, uses these tasting notes as a guide:

  • White: Subtle, light flavor, delicate, caffeinated
  • Green: Complex flavor, herbaceous but caffeinated, wide range of variations from light to dark 
  • Black: Full bodied, deep flavor, can be mellowed and sweetened by milk, lemon, honey, and/or sugar
  • Oolong: Floral, smoky taste, caffeinated
  • Rooibos: Red tea, light flavor, pairs well with sweet flavors like caramel or vanilla, caffeine-free
  • Herbal: Made from flowers or dried fruit, sweeter than other teas, can be dark, heavy, or full-bodied depending on herbs used

More: Grow, make, and drink your own herbal tea.

Prepare the water:
Consider two things when readying your water for tea: quality and temperature.

  • Quality: While filtered tap water is an option, fresh or spring water is best because it has plenty of oxygen and a clean taste. Having oxygen in your tea water is important because it stimulates or “energizes” the leaves to bring out flavor and character. 
  • Temperature: Consider the type of tea you're brewing when thinking about the temperature of your water. Because they are more robust, black teas can handle higher temperatures, like 195° F. However, more delicate teas like white or green need to be steeped in cooler water—around 180° F. An easy way to get your water to the right temperature is, after the water comes to a boil, let it sit for 2 minutes if you want 195° F and for 3 to 5 minutes for 180° F. 

  

Steep your tea:
Once you've picked your teapot, prepared your tea leaves, and boiled the water, the only thing left to do is brew your tea. Place the tea leaves in the teapot and pour in the hot water. You'll need to steep the leaves for a different amount of time, depending on your choice of leaves. For every 1 teaspoon of leaves, brew as follows:

  • White: 4 to 5 minutes
  • Green: 45 seconds to 1 minute
  • Black: 2 to 3 minutes
  • Oolong: 3 minutes
  • Rooibos: 5 to 6 minutes
  • Herbal: 5 to 6 minutes

When brewing mixed loose-leaf teas (for example, jasmine with green), be sure to use the shortest steeping time from each set of instructions. And never reboil the water, as it will reduce oxygen and affect the flavor of the tea. It might be best to brew a new pot of tea instead.

Take the leaves out of the water, pour your tea into your cups, and enjoy. Sweets are a good idea, too (Edith's saucers double as dessert plates). 


Tangerine and Almond Shortbread Tart and Art et Manufacture dessert plates.

Photos by Mark Weinberg

13 Comments

Victoria April 10, 2015
I spent a few summers working at a B&B in England and there is a critical step missing for a proper pot of tea. You always warm the pot and it is nice to warm the cup. Place a little boiling water and swirl it around, dump it, add tea and then water to heated pot. And never pour milk into the pot, that is called "stewed tea" and it is nasty.
 
Author Comment
Katherine O. April 16, 2015
Thank you, Victoria. It's good to know how important that step is and I apologize for missing it. You aren't the first person to mention it and will absolutely add that to the article.
 
Pamela April 10, 2015
Love the article! Just one question, is it ok to reuse teabags? If so, what's the best way, refrigerate or leave out to dry?
 
Author Comment
Katherine O. April 16, 2015
Hey Pamela, <br />I believe you can reuse it once. Check out this video with Amanda and Merrill, they address it here: https://food52.com/blog/3270-the-perfect-pot-of-tea
 
Leaflover April 10, 2015
Lovely overview, thanks for helping spread some tea love! A few things to keep in mind: the longer the leaves swim, the more caffeine extracted. Also, cold brewing high quality Japanese greens is a must-try as the weather warms, and you can get away with slightly longer infusion times with cooler water, resulting in a smoother, slightly sweeter liquor. Enjoy!
 
Author Comment
Katherine O. April 16, 2015
Leaflover! (Great name) Thanks for those tips. I'll be sure to keep that in mind while brewing—so interesting about the caffeine, I had no idea. Any good recommendations for Japanese greens?
 
Leaflover April 17, 2015
No prob, Katherine! Had a modern teahouse for about 9 years that I sold last Sept, and we specialized in Japanese greens (matcha was the best seller). You can get them at essencha.com. Try the Sakura sencha (cherry blossom tea) for a treat! :-)
 
Author Comment
Katherine O. April 20, 2015
Woohoo! Awesome!!! I'll have to try it out:)
 
Courtney April 10, 2015
Tea drinkers, unite! I always feel like I'm in the minority among our coffee heavy culture. For the love, don't pour milk into my cup with the tea bag before the hot water.
 
Denise April 9, 2015
All interesting…what about "warming the teapot" before putting in tea leaves?
 
Author Comment
Katherine O. April 9, 2015
Denise, Good point! I think it would depend upon the type of material your pot is made of and whether or not it will retain the heat. Regardless, it would certainly come in handy during colder months to assure the tea stays warm once it's served. What are your thoughts?
 
mary April 9, 2015
Thank you for such a great article on how to brew tea. I had no idea that the temperature of the water was the key. The simple water cooling process will surely come in handy!
 
Author Comment
Katherine O. April 9, 2015
Mary, I agree. It's always so fascinating to learn about the secret lives of food & drink ;) Thank you for reading!