Brewing Temperature for Tea

Last Updated: Aug. 3, 2017
Some teas taste great when brewed with boiling water; others work best wiith lower water temperatures. Photo © Shardayyy, CC BY 2.0.
The brewing temperature, or less commonly steeping temperature, refers to the temperature of the water used to steep tea. Brewing temperature, together with steeping time, amount of leaf used, quality of water, and brewing vessel, is one of the key factors in brewing tea.

Many websites, tea companies, and other sources will recommend simple, uniform guidelines for brewing temperature. These guidelines usually boil down to using boiling water (212°F or 100°C) for black teas and using cooler water, well below the boiling point, usually around 160-180°F or 71-82°C, for green teas. Some sources advise using intermediate temperatures for oolongs and delicate black teas like Darjeeling first flush, and usually, white teas are lumped in with green tea, with low brewing temperatures recommended. Experienced tea drinkers, however, usually find that ideal brewing temperature is much more complex.

This page goes into a bit more depth about brewing temperature, helping you to break out of the box of canned or uniform recommendations about what temperature of water to steep your tea with, so that you can discover on your own the way you like to brew each individual tea.

Our recommendations, only to serve as a starting point, are to use near-boiling water for most teas, but lower-temperature water with green teas, especially Japanese green teas, and with white and oolong teas from Darjeeling. We have found no evidence that most white teas are best brewed with lower-temperature water.

Japanese green teas like this sencha are often sensitive to brewing temperature and best brewed with cooler water. Photo © Etienne FAT, CC BY 2.0.

Teas can be more or less temperature sensitive

Some teas are highly sensitive to brewing temperature, with small changes in temperature resulting in large differences in the outcome of the brewed cup of tea. Such teas are often referred to as being fickle or finicky about brewing temperature, or just sensitive to brewing temperature.

In extreme cases, teas can become foul tasting or undrinkable if steeped with water that is too hot. Usually, when water is used that is colder than ideal, the result is a blander cup. In the case of other teas, brewing temperature is less important; such teas are usually described as being easy to brew, or forgiving of changes in brewing temperature.

Brewing temperature is a matter of personal taste

Brewing temperature, like most aspects of brewing tea, is largely a matter of personal taste. Although there are some more straightforward cases where a certain tea will taste either bland or unpleasant to a majority of people, the case of many teas is less clear-cut. Certain aromas, flavors, and other qualities of a tea will be loved or appreciated by one person, but disliked by another. This is especially true of bitterness and astringency, qualities which can sometimes be pleasing to some people, but which nearly everyone dislikes if there is too much of them. It is also true of certain aromas. Brewing a tea with a hotter temperature will tend to add more flavor to the tea, which may improve it in the perception of some but harm it in the perception of others, if the flavors added are not desired.

Brewing temperature when making multiple infusions

When making multiple infusions of a tea that takes a lower brewing temperature, such as green tea, there are two general courses of action: to leave the brewing temperature the same, or to raise the temperature slightly with each infusion. Tea drinkers usually raise the temperature or leave it the same (rather than lowering it) with each infusion because this extracts additional flavor. However, if you find that the temperature of one steeping is too high, you may wish to lower it for subsequent infusions.

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