Brewing Tea

Wikipedia: Tea#Preparation
Last Updated: Jul. 25, 2017
Tea is often prepared by steeping in a teapot. This glass teapot allows you to see the leaves and the tea as they steep. Photo © A Girl With Tea, CC BY-SA 2.0
Brewing tea is the act of steeping tea in hot water. It is one of the most important steps in making a cup of tea. The quality and character of a cup of tea is as much dependent on the method of brewing as it is on the type and quality of tea used.

Different teas are typically brewed in different ways. Improper brewing can lead to unpleasant characteristics, ranging from teas being weak or thin to being too bitter, sour, or astringent, sometimes even to the point of being undrinkable. However, proper brewing of teas can bring out various pleasing aspects of the aroma and/or flavor.

Brewing is largely a matter of personal taste, and different people may enjoy brewing the same tea in different ways.

The main variables in brewing tea are:
A tea infuser or strainer is usually needed for brewing loose-leaf tea. Pictured here is a tea ball, one of the most common types of infusers. Photo ©Matt Gibson, CC BY-SA 3.0

How to brew loose-leaf tea?

One of the best ways to brew loose tea is to place loose leaves directly in a teapot and then strain the leaves out when pouring the tea to serve. This technique works best for whole leaf teas. Many teapots have built-in strainers, or you can place a strainer over each cup while pouring.

Another option can be to use a tea infuser (such as a tea ball or cylinder) that sits inside a teapot or mug and contains the tea. When using an infuser, make sure to use one that gives the leaves enough room to expand, and that has a mesh with enough space for water to flow through, so as to bring out the flavor and aroma in the brewed cup.

Most loose-leaf tea companies sell a variety of tea infusers and teapots suited to brewing the types of tea they sell.

What about tea bags?

Brewing tea bags is straightforward, but it is worth noting that different tea bags can contain different amounts of leaf. Inexpensive brands may have as little as 1.2 grams of leaf per bag, whereas others are over 3 grams. Some bags are meant for multiple servings.

Use different temperatures for green, black, white, or oolong tea

Teacup with  Green Tea, Green Tea Leaves in Corner, and a Japanese Character
Green tea like this Sencha
from GreenTea Japan is best
brewed with cooler water.
Different varieties of tea require different brewing technique for the best drinking experience. The optimal brewing temperature for tea is a question of personal taste, and the guidelines given here are only a starting point to help you discover what works best for you. Typically, black teas are brewed with boiling water, and green teas with water well below boiling, ranging from 160-180°F (72-82°C), and sometimes lower.

Most companies recommend brewing white teas with lower-temperature water because they are "more delicate", but many white teas actually taste fine with hotter water. Similarly, many companies recommend brewing oolong teas with water between the recommended temperatures for green and black teas, around 190-200°F (88-93°C), but oolong often tastes fine when steeped with hotter water. Herbal teas are very diverse and hard to generalize about, but most are brewed with boiling water, and some even need to be decocted (continually boiled), a process almost never used for tea.

Beverage Thermometer
A thermometer is not needed in order to assess brewing temperature for your own personal brewing, but beverage thermometers can be helpful for getting precise measurements to share your experiences with others or match a company's recommended brewing temperature. Since brewing is a matter of personal taste, experimentation is important, and consistency is more important than exact temperature. One can bring water to a boil and then let it sit for a fixed period of time in order to let it cool. Another useful technique is to watch the size and pattern of bubbles forming in a pot; this provides a valuable clue about temperature when the water is in the range of about 180°F (82°C) to boiling.

We also have an article that goes into more depth about the best brewing temperature for different teas.

Tea Leaves Steeping in a Gaiwan, Photo by Etienne FAT, © Etienne FAT, CC BY 2.0

Steep whole-leaf tea longer than broken-leaf tea

Whole-leaf tea typically requires a longer steeping time because water diffuses slowly through the intact leaves. Broken-leaf tea, especially fine particles such as the fannings or dust used in most teabags, infuses very quickly.

Some finely-broken leaves can rapidly acquire unpleasant bitterness or astringency if left to steep too long. In general, fannings often steep in two minutes or less, and whole-leaf tea frequently requires 3 minutes or more, although this varies greatly from tea to tea and is also a matter of taste.

Experiment!

Brewing tea is a matter of taste. People often enjoy brewing tea at different temperatures or for different lengths of time from those recommended by the tea company, tea experts, or their friends. Experiment with brewing each tea in different ways, and figure out which way you like best. Also consider experimenting with multiple infusions, especially if you are brewing whole-leaf oolong, pu-erh, or green tea. Use this page and the recommendations of others as a suggestion, not an authoritative guideline.

External guides on brewing tea:


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