How to Brew Tea

Tea has been served for centuries, but it is experiencing a resurgence in coffee shops around the United States. All around Europe and Asia, tea is an integral part of the daily meals, from Japanese tea ceremonies to English high tea. Learn the art of brewing a great cup of tea, to produce results that are atypical of what most Americans expect from a cup of tea.

In this article, you will learn:
  • How to choose the correct water
  • Tips for measuring tea
  • How to choose the preferred brewing method
  • How to boil water for tea
  • The proper methods for brewing tea

You will need:
Use the Right Water
Before you begin brewing tea, it is important to mention that water quality is crucial, since this is usually the main liquid in the beverage. When pouring the water to boil, always use cold water. Hot water will loosen chemical deposits in the plumbing and they will wind up in your tea. Run the cold water for about a minute so that it is properly aerated.

If tea is a large part of your business, you may want to consider purchasing a carbon filter to remove all of the impurities from your tap water. Another option is to use spring or artesian water. Whichever you choose, always make sure to use soft water in your tea. Hard water can leave a film or residue on the top of your tea.

Small, personal teapot and tea infusers on a shelf.Measure the Tea
The general measurement for an eight ounce cup of tea is a teaspoon of tea. The method of measure is sometimes disputed and some prefer using a regular teaspoon, and not a measuring spoon. However, it is important to take into account that the leaves will expand considerably once the infusion begins, so do not over-pack the teaspoon.

Boil the Water
Boiling the water seems like a no-brainer step, but for optimal results with your tea, use different temperatures for steeping different teas. First, there are a few pointers that should be followed whenever boiling water for tea:
  • Always boil the water. Even if you have to let the water cool a bit after it has boiled, make sure the water has been brought to a boil. Experts agree this will produce the most flavorful tea.
  • Never reheat previously boiled water. Boiling water removes some of the oxygen from the water and if the process is repeated more than once, the result is flat-tasting water, due to the lack of oxygen.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil. This means that large bubbles are rolling to the surface of the water at a relatively fast rate. Do not boil the water for too long, though, as this will boil away most of the oxygen.
As stated earlier, there are different desirable temperatures for the various teas, so use the table below to figure out which temperature your water should be before adding it to the tea already in a cup. You can use a steam thermometer to get a quick, accurate reading.

Tea Type Temperature (F)
Green, Flowery Herbal 180
Oolong, Non-Flowery Herbal, Semi-Fermented 190
Black Tea 200
White Tea 200
Rooibos (Red Bush) 212

Choose the Brewing Method
Although there is no doubt that loose leaf tea in the teapot is the best method for brewing, there are different instruments to use when brewing tea to keep things a little cleaner. They include basket filters, tea ballstea tongs and tea bags. The best choice for you typically depends on the type of tea you prefer.
  • Small canisters display the different types of tea leaves.Loose leaves in a teapot. This will produce the most flavorful cup of tea, since it allows the tea leaves to unfurl completely and the flavor to reach its full potential. However, pouring the tea can be tricky and cleaning the teapot afterwards is quite an ordeal. The tea must also be drunk right away, because if it is left sitting too long, the leaves will over-infuse the tea and make it taste very bitter.
  • Tea ball. Tea balls are a great way to contain your tea leaves while infusing them with the water. They are typically made of aluminum or stainless steel and can be found in diameters ranging from one to three inches. The downside to using a tea ball is that the leaves do not generally have enough space to properly unfurl, and your tea may not have the full flavor.
  • Tea tongs. Similar to a tea ball, the tongs contain a ball at the end that contains tea leaves. This makes cleanup much easier, but again, the tea leaves do not have room to unfurl to their full potential. The large difference between tea tongs and a tea ball is the ability to easily stir the tea with the tongs since the handle is solid. With a tea ball, there is usually just a chain attached and not a handle.
  • Basket filter. This brewing method allows the leaves to circulate freely around the water, but still keeps the tea contained in one location to make cleanup easier. It can be used for single servings in a cup or a small tea pot. However, one size does not fit all, and you may need to purchase several sizes to fit various teapots or cups.
  • Tea Bags. Tea bags are primarily used because of their convenience and portability. Though they are good for making a quick cup of tea, they do not produce a very rich flavor due to the tight space in which the leaves are contained. Though there are some very respectable brands that produce tea in bags, bags are not the best way to experience the full flavor tea can produce.
Brew the Tea
Once you have the proper equipment and water at the proper temperature, it is important to properly brew the tea, or all of your preparation will have been for nothing. As with water temperatures, the steeping time for various flavors and types of tea differs, but there are some general rules of thumb that should always be followed when brewing the tea.
  • Never use the kettle to steep the tea. Always transfer the hot water to a serving tea pot or a cup. If there is any sediment from the water, pouring it into a new pot or cup will prevent the transfer of any bad flavor to the tea.
  • Warm the pot or cup before filling it. Before filling the teapot or cup with tea and water, make sure it has been prewarmed. Fill the pot or cup up with hot water and swirl it around for about 30 seconds. This heats up the vessel to keep the tea hot for a longer period of time. It also prevents the delicate tea leaves from being shocked with extremely different temperatures. Be sure to dump the water used to heat the cup out rather than using it to brew the tea.
  • Always pour the water over the tea. Many people make the mistake of pouring the water into the cup first and then dunking the tea into the water. Whether the tea leaves are loose or contained in a tea ball, always place the tea into the cup or pot before pouring the water.
  • Cover the cup or pot during steeping. Whether you are brewing in a teapot or a cup, you should always cover the steeping tea. Teapots normally have a cover that can be used, but if you are brewing directly in a cup, cover it with the saucer. This will help keep the heat in the cup or pot so that the tea brews to its full potential.
Once these steps have been covered, it is time to let the tea steep for a predetermined amount of time. The amount of time that you steep the tea depends on the type of tea that you are brewing. Below is a table showing you the proper steep times for the various varieties of tea.

Tea Type Steep Time (minutes)
Green, Flowery Herbal 3 1/2
Oolong, Non-Flowery Herbal, Semi-Fermented 8-12 (depending on desired strength)
Black Tea 4
White Tea 2 1/2
Rooibos (Red Bush) 10

Now that you have brewed the perfect cup or pot of tea, it is time to serve it to your guests. Serve the tea with crackers or small finger sandwiches. If you are using a teapot and have tea leftover in the pot, strain it into a second pot and discard the leaves. It is important not to let the tea continue to steep once it has passed its steeping time, since it will wind up too strong or bitter.

Once your tea has been served and enjoyed, use a little baking soda combined with water to scrub the tea stains out of the teapots or cups to ensure they are bright and clean for the next tea service.