9 Brewing Tips Every Tea Lover Should Know

Whether your daily ritual is an afternoon cup (pinkies up!) or a calming mug before bed, here's how to make sure your brew is the very best it can be.

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Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Tea Time

Though making the perfect pot or cup isn't an exact science, there's chemistry involved in extracting balanced flavors and beneficial nutrients out of tea leaves. It all boils down to this: Take your time to do it right by following these basic rules.

Bags or Leaves?

For the best quality, buy loose tea, which tends to be fresher, more flavorful and contain whole leaves. Many tea bags hold over-processed, crushed leaves of a lesser quality. If you're drawn to the ease of bags, seek out whole leaves packaged in roomier satchels, pyramids or pouches, which allow room for the leaves to expand while steeping. Tip: Whole tea leaves have so much flavor they can be steeped twice, so while they're more expensive, you'll get more tea in the long run.

Storage Matters

Store tea in a sealed container in a dark, cool spot. Though tea leaves are dried, they contain aromatics that will evaporate if exposed to air. Ceramic, tin or plastic canisters all work. If you use mason jars, make sure to keep them out of the light. Since tea leaves are prone to absorbing aromas and flavors, stow them in a cabinet separate from your coffee, herbs and spices.

Start With Fresh, Cold (and Ideally Filtered) Water

Water that's hard or sulfuric will taint the flavor, and warm water often has a metallic taste since it contains trace minerals from the water heater and pipes it travels through.

Warm Your Mug Before You Brew

Fill your mug with a little boiling water (and then dump it out) to make it nice and toasty before you start steeping. And never add milk and sugar before tea; the ingredients will disrupt the brewing process.

Measuring Makes a Difference

For each 8-ounce cup of water, add 1 teabag or 1 teaspoon of loose leaf tea.

Time Your Brew

Each tea variety requires a different water temperature and steeping time. Commercial tea bags need slightly less time than loose leaves for extraction since the leaves within the bags are crushed (so there's more surface area).

Black teas (English Breakfast, Earl Gray) and herbal infusions: Bring the water to 206 to 212 degrees F (a full-on boil with big bubbles and lots of steam) and steep for 5 minutes. Black teas are fully oxidized (or fermented), which lends them a toasty flavor, and like herbal teas, they need more time and temperature to develop.

Green teas: Bring the water to 175 to 185 degrees F (a mild simmer with small bubbles and just a touch of steam) and steep for 1 to 3 minutes. Green teas are not oxidized in order to preserve their fresh, grassy flavor and are more delicate.

Oolongs: Bring the water to around 175 degrees F and steep for around 3 minutes. Oolongs are semi-oxidized and have a floral fragrance.

For a Stronger Cup, Add More Tea or Use Less Water

Steeping the tea longer will only make it bitter and more tannic. Looking to control the caffeine? The amount of caffeine in your cup depends on how long the tea steeps, with the most caffeine being extracted within the first 10 seconds. If you're looking for less buzz, steep a cup of tea for 10 to 20 seconds, pour out the water, then steep again. At 60 to 90 mgs of caffeine per 8-ounce cup, black tea has half the caffeine of coffee; green teas have even less at 35 to 70 mgs.

For a Milder Flavor, Make Cold Brew

Steep leaves or bags in fresh, cold filtered water for 6 to 12 hours in the refrigerator to slowly extract the essence of the tea.

You Don't Need a Fancy Tea Infuser

You can use a small wire mesh strainer that fits into the top of your mug (make sure the leaves are fully submerged). Or brew loose leaf tea in a pot and strain it into your cup. You can even use a French Press coffee pot: Place your tea leaves in the bottom, steep, press the plunger down and pour a round.