There are three ingredients to the perfect cup of tea: the leaves, the water, and the steep. The leaves should be of the finest quality and must be in proportion to the amount of water used. The water should be the freshest available and in proper proportion to the tea. Finally, the steep is all about the vessel and time: ceramic is best, glass is good, but metal should be avoided as it can give an unwanted taste to the tea. The steep time is the key to the ideal balance of flavor and tannins.
It’s important to remember that different teas require different steeping methods. From a white tea at 175℉ and a 2-3 minute steep to a herbal tea with a 212℉ boil and a 6-7 minute steep, different teas require varied steep times and temperatures. However, you can, and must, always account for taste, if you like your tea a little stronger, give it a longer steep or more leaves. If your tea is too bitter or strong, try cooler water and/or shorter steep times. And remember, always use the freshest water available. Water quality is of the utmost importance and is nearly as critical as the leaves used.
You may wonder why green and white teas taste better with lower temperature water. With a less oxidized tea, the lower steeping temperatures allow for a more complex and fuller flavored brew. Green and white teas are delicate. Think of produce: if it gets too hot it wilts; same thing with tea. If you put boiling water on green or white tea, you are in for some overcooked vegetables rather than a delicious vivacious beverage.
And why do black teas taste better with higher temperature water? The more oxidized black teas are more stable. They are better able to withstand the hot temperatures required to bring out the desired tannins from within the leaves. If the water is not hot enough, the tea may taste weak and lacking in character and strength. You want a sweet, elegant beverage, not some weak brown swill.
You must remember however, that there are no hard and fast rules you must abide by when enjoying tea. Steep it for however long you may desire. At the end of the day, it’s of course about personal preference. Longer steeps yield stronger cups of tea and hotter water will bring out all the vibrant flavors of darker teas. Likewise, lower temperatures and shorter steep times allow for a refreshing and lighter beverage. Now that you know the dos and don’ts of tea steeping, there’s nothing left to do but brew yourself a cup and enjoy!
Have any other tips for steeping tea? Let us know in the comments below.