The steeping process is perhaps the most important part of making an excellent cup of tea, and yet it’s vastly misunderstood.
Have you ever heard anyone say “Nah, I don’t really like green tea... I tried it once but it was grassy and bitter.” All too often this is simply because they were given low quality tea steeped with boiling water, which scalds green tea and makes it tannic and astringent.
Each type of tea calls for its own steeping process, and simply being conscious of this can help you prepare the perfect cup every time.
How To Steep Tea: from Mediocre to Marvelous
Proper steeping, including proper water temperature and timing, extracts the full spectrum of flavors and aromas from the leaves while avoiding bitterness and astringency. Bitterness can ruin any tea, but especially the more delicate types like green tea.
Because steeping skills can make the difference between a mediocre and a marvelous cup, many tea drinkers view the steeping process as an art form in itself.
Ultimately, the perfect cup can be broken down into three easy steps: WATER, LEAVES, and TIMING.
Water preparation is crucial. Some types of tea require water at full boil, while some call for nearly boiled water, and still others for water that is a full fifty degrees cooler than boiling!
Water quality matters: filtered or spring water is best, and make sure to use fresh water with each heating, rather than reusing water that is still left in your kettle.
Measure your leaves place them into your pot, strainer, gaiwan, or brewing basket. As a general rule, about 1 tsp to 1 Tbsp of tea per 8 ounces of water (or one tea bag per 8 ounces), but adhere to the instructions on the label. Larger leaf teas simply won’t scoop well into a teaspoon -- for these teas, up your measurement to roughly 1 Tbsp per 8 ounces.
Pour your properly heated water over your leaves, start your timer, and keep it covered! This will maintain a consistent temperature while the leaves are steeping. When the steeping is done, remove the leaves but don’t discard them yet! Most teas will give you a second steeping from the same leaves, and some will give you a third (this will depend on the type of tea and the length of your steeps). Just increase your steep time with each steeping, and enjoy the evolving character of the tea.
Making tea is an art, not a science!
Adjust your proportions of water to leaves as you see fit. For loose leaf tea, general rules on steep times are as follows:
White Tea 160 - 170 degrees (small bubbles form in kettle) for 2-3 min.
Green Tea 175 degrees (small bubbles form and water starts to churn) for 2-3 min.
Black Tea Boiling water for 2-3 min.
Herb Tea Boiling water for 5-7 min.
Oolong Tea Water just before boiling. Western Style: steep for 3-4 min; Eastern Style: 1 min. first steeping, 1:30 min. second steeping, etc, up to 5 steeps.
Understanding the best ways to extract the full flavor and essence of a tea can make or break your tea experience. Even though each tea asks for a slightly different process, don’t let that intimidate you!
Remember, it’s truly just three easy steps: WATER, LEAVES, and TIMING!