How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea

Get the answers to all your questions about brewing all types 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 will show you how to boil tea perfectly and help to answer your questions, clear up any mistakes you might be making, and offer helpful tips.

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 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 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 teapots brew the tea faster and more consistently.

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.

Directly Above Shot Of Tea On Table
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Black Tea

Examples: 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 a depth of flavor and lack bitterness.

  • Most teas from India (Darjeeling, Assam) are black.
  • Earl Grey is black tea scented with bergamot.
Close-Up Of Green Tea In Cup On Table
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Green Tea

Examples: 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.

Tea leaves spilling out from wooden bowl, near the Freshly brewed tea
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Oolong Tea

Example: Formosa Oolong

Partially fermented large-leaf tea, oolong tea is delicate in flavor, occasionally scented with rose petals, jasmine, or gardenia.

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. However, for tea-making perfectionists, there is no comparison: it is either loose-leaf tea or nothing at all.

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, and black teas pair nicely with red meat.

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