How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea
Whether you're brewing a cup of tea to impress your mother-in-law at a tea party, or you're trying to figure out how to maximize the flavor from the new tea leaves you just bought, this guide to how to boil tea perfectly will help answer your questions, clear up any mistakes you might be making, and offer helpful hints.
How to Brew Tea Perfectly
What temperature should water be for tea?
Most black teas do best in boiling water. Green and white teas prefer hot, but not boiling, water. It all comes down to how oxidized the leaves are: black teas are more oxidized and can handle the hot, hot heat.
How long should the tea stay in the water?
Anywhere from one to five minutes, based on personal preference. For bracing black teas, two to three minutes is the recommended time for this process, called "steeping." Too much steeping can produce a mouth-puckeringly bitter brew. But, hey, maybe that's the way you like it!
Does it matter what I steep the tea in?
Your tea cup will work fine, though the steeping will be affected by the type of cup and the temperature of the room. If you're getting serious about tea, consider investing in an unglazed earthenware teapot. These brew the tea faster and more consistently.
The Types of Tea
Tea is the processed leaves (along with twigs and buds) of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, a bush native to warm, rainy climates. Processing freshly harvested tea leaves begins the same for all types of tea. Fresh leaves are sorted out, cleaned, and allowed to wither. From there, a few nuances come into play.
English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam
The most common kind of tea, black tea leaves are allowed to ferment before being dried. Westerners call it "black tea" because of the dark color of the leaves. The Chinese know it as "red tea" because of the reddish color of the liquid. Black tea tends to have depth of flavor and lack bitterness.
- Most teas from India (Darjeeling, Assam) are black.
- Earl Grey is black tea scented with bergamot.
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Gunpowder, Tencha, Matcha
From the same plant as black tea leaves, green tea leaves are steamed and dried directly after being picked to prevent fermentation, which develops a light, gently bitter flavor much like the fresh leaves themselves. Japan is a leading producer of green tea.
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Partially fermented large-leaf tea, oolong tea is delicate in flavor, occasionally scented with rose petals, jasmine, or gardenia. Formosa, Taiwan, is an important producer of oolong tea.
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What Is Loose-Leaf Tea?
Until the middle of the 20th century, there were no tiny cloth bags of individually parceled tea. For thousands of years, the leaves and buds were either placed in a tea pot or were held in a tea infuser. For tea-making perfectionists, there is no comparison: it is loose-leaf tea or nothing.
Tea Tip: In a pinch, a French press coffeemaker ($20; crateandbarrel.com) approximates the infused-tea experience.
To make loose-leaf tea, use one teaspoon of leaves for each cup of water plus "one for the teapot." Of course, the outcome will be determined by how strong the tea leaves are and by how much hot water the tea is steeping in. You'll probably want to experiment to find the right flavor for you.
What's In Tea?
Tea contains no fat or protein and almost no carbs. It does have a decent amount of caffeine and loads of healthful antioxidant flavonoids, plus fluoride. Green teas have more antioxidants than black. Infused herbal teas might not have any antioxidants at all.
Tea Pairing Tip: Green teas and oolong teas go well with white meats, black teas pair nicely with red meat.