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The Complete Guide to Brewing the Perfect Cup of Tea

Mike is a freelance writer and certified coffee snob who loves sharing his passion for great beverages.

Brewing the perfect cup of tea is an art

Brewing the perfect cup of tea is an art

Tea is one of the most popular beverages on the planet. Some two billion cups of the stuff are consumed each day, and it's especially popular in the UK, Ireland, and Turkey, where drinking tea is almost a national pastime.

And for a good reason, too. Not only does tea taste great, but it's also considered to be quite good for you. Furthermore, it's a great way of getting that caffeine boost without risking the caffeine crash associated with coffee.

Not every cuppa is created equal, though. And whether you prefer your tea iced or hot, green or black, there's an art to making a quality brew. As such, there are several things you need to consider if you want to try something extra special.

Here, we'll go over everything you need to know about making a fantastic cup of tea, from the brew times to the optimum temperature to picking the suitable leaves.

In This Article

  • Which Is Better: Loose Leaf or Teabags?
  • How to Pick the Right Tea Leaves
  • How Much Tea Should You Use?
  • What Is the Optimum Water Temperature and Quality?
  • How Long Should You Brew?
  • Should You Add Milk?

Which Is Better: Loose Leaf or Teabags?

Ask any tea purist or expert, and they'll likely tell you that loose leaf is superior to teabags. And in truth, using teabags is like using instant coffee instead of beans; it'll do when there's nothing else, but you won't be getting the best of the best.

So why is this? Well, it's all to do with the tea leaves themselves. The ones you'll find inside a bag are often smaller (and we'll get into why that's important in a bit) and broken. Buy especially cheap ones, and what you'll have is basically a powder. Why does this matter? Well, when tea leaves are broken or destroyed, they lose their essential oils, which are what provide the flavor. Loose tea is also better because the tea can circulate through the water and swell, resulting in more flavor being extracted.

Of course, bags have the advantage of convenience, and they're less messy (and cheaper), but that's about it. If you opt for bags, though, ensure they are nice and spacious and that the leaves inside aren't too small or powdery.


How to Pick the Right Tea Leaves

When it comes to picking the right tea leaf for you, it's first best to familiarise yourself with the different types of tea available. In the traditional sense of the word, all tea comes from the same plant: Camellia sinensis. What makes the difference is how it's grown, harvested, and processed. So, for example, green tea is less processed than black, and the rarer white tea is even more minimally processed. Meanwhile, teas such as oolong or the fermented pu'er are created using traditional and unique processes.

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The general rule is whatever tea you go for: the longer the leaf, the better the quality. A good tea leaf should also be fragrant and somewhat colorful. If the leaf's smell is muted or the leaves look faded, they've probably gone stale.

It's also always worth reading the descriptions and ingredients of any tea you plan to purchase. In particular, look out for artificial flavors and sweeteners, as this is a sure sign that the tea is of poor quality.

How Much Tea Should You Use?

So now let's talk about the act of making tea itself. And the first question you might ask is, how much tea should you use? Well, it all depends on what type of tea you're using. But generally speaking, one teaspoon per cup is adequate.

What Is the Optimum Water Temperature and Quality for Tea?

When it comes to water, it's often best not to overthink it, as the water you are used to will often be the best tasting. Just ensure you use quality tap or filtered water and not hot tap water or reheated water. As for how you heat the water, it doesn't matter all that much, although many an Englishmen will be left quite shocked if you use a microwave and not a kettle.

When it comes to temperature, it again all depends on what type of tea you are using. Specific teas will vary slightly, so don't take the following as gospel, but here's a quick rundown of optimum temperatures:

  • White and green tea: between 170 (76°C) and 185 (85°C) degrees Fahrenheit
  • Oolong tea: between 180 (80°C) and 190 (87°C) degrees Fahrenheit
  • Black and herbal teas should be just off the boil between 208 (97°C) and 212 (100°C) degrees Fahrenheit.

How Long Should You Brew Tea?

Yep, you guessed it; it depends on the tea. That said, you'll typically be looking at three to five minutes.

  • Black tea: closer to 5 minutes
  • Green tea and oolong: closer to 3 minutes
  • White tea: between 3-5 minutes

Should You Add Milk to Tea?

Many purists will shy away from using milk and opt for black. Indeed, adding milk to an expensive tea seems counterintuitive. It's like adding cola to a perfectly aged Scotch; all you're doing is masking the flavor. When it comes to green or white teas, adding milk will taste horrific anyway. That said, it's hard to beat a good breakfast tea with milk. Just remember to use skimmed milk (or oat/soya).

So that leaves us with one final question: tea or milk first? It's an argument that has been going on for decades. But, in reality, it doesn't actually matter so long as the milk doesn't disrupt the brewing process itself (i.e., adding milk into the cup while it is still brewing with a teabag or into a teapot).

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Mike Grindle

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