I’m guilty of having made terrible tea, I bet you are too.
If you thought your two-year-old “Lipton 300 Bags Mega Value Pack” makes a great cup of tea – sorry to disappoint you.
Most people make mistakes when it comes to preparing tea. However, once you learn to make tea correctly – you start experiencing a whole new taste. Inevitably, you start wanting to learn more about the plant, the tea culture, and the taste. Drinking tea becomes exciting.
Due to the sheer popularity of the beverage, preparing tea correctly should be a basic skill everyone must learn. Let me propose a handful of easy tips on how to make the perfect cup of tea, every time.
1. Learn the basic preparation
Tea preparation follows a set of general steps, so it’s necessary to learn them first. It’s highly likely you already know them.
Tea is made with hot water, some form of tea leaves, and occasionally – milk, sugar, honey, or a slice of lemon. It’s best to use a teapot or a strainer for loose tea leaves. Only use tea bags if they’re all you have.
How to brew tea
- Heat up your water in a kettle.
- Put tea leaves into the teapot.
- Pour hot water on the leaves.
- Wait a few minutes for the tea to steep.
- Add milk or sugar, if you want.
- Drink the tea hot.
I’m certain you already knew these steps, but now that it’s out of the way, the following tips may be more surprising.
2. Use loose leaves to make tea
Low-quality leaves won’t make the perfect cup of tea.
If all you’ve been drinking is tea prepared using tea bags, I’m sorry to say – you’ve been missing out. Sure, tea bags offer a simple and convenient way to prepare tea. That’s why they’re so popular. However, there are several serious issues tea bags inherently have.
What’s wrong with tea bags?
- Tea bags use ground-up tea leaves or dust and fannings – in other words – leftover tea.
- Many tea bags muddle up the taste by mixing together different teas, which results in a consistent but boring taste.
- There’s plastic in tea bags – even the paper ones. It melts in your cup and gets into your body.
Why loose leaves?
Loose-leaf tea is the best option for those looking to enjoy the taste of their tea. Once you make the switch, you will discover that:
- There is a much larger variety of loose-leaf teas than those in tea bags.
- They all have a fresher aroma and more subtle flavors.
- Most can be brewed several times, so it’s more economical.
Where do you get loose-leaf tea?
Some loose leaf tea can be found in supermarkets, but for more interesting discoveries I encourage you to look online in specialized tea shops.
If you didn’t know already – in addition to writing a tea blog, I also run an online tea shop at vistontea.com.
I know that after years of brewing tea using tea bags, it can be daunting to switch to loose leaves. That’s why at Viston Tea I’ve taken care of selecting tea that will taste familiar, but much better than the same kind of tea from tea bags.
Feel free to check it out, especially if you’re just starting out with loose-leaf tea. If you want to explore on your own, be sure to read my guide to buying tea first.
3. Use fresh water
Tea is only as good as the water used to make it.
Ancient Chinese already knew of the importance of water in brewing tea almost 3 thousand years ago. Yet most of us neglect it today. Low-quality water won’t result in that perfect cup of tea though.
Boil water once
A common mistake is boiling the same water multiple times. Water contains dissolved minerals and gasses, which are slowly lost as the water boils. The loss results in a brew with suboptimal strength and color. For the best taste, use fresh water every time. If you’ve been microwaving your water to heat it – stop and invest in an electric kettle.
Don’t use hard water
Hard water is high in calcium and magnesium. Those minerals are responsible for an oily-looking film that sometimes forms on the surface. On its own, it doesn’t affect the taste, but the tea looks less appealing. More importantly, when using hard water, a smaller amount of antioxidants and caffeine is transferred into tea, which makes the tea taste flatter.
Can you use tap water to make tea?
Tap water is often hard. However, it doesn’t mean you need to go and buy bottled water. Harder water lessens the bitterness of tea, so it may be preferable in some cases. If using your tap water doesn’t result in muddy-looking tea with film on the surface – keep using it.
However, if you’re less lucky with the quality of your tap water (ahem… London), a good option is to get a water filter or simply use bottled water for your tea.
4. Don’t over-steep
Wrong water temperature and steeping too long can ruin your tea by making it bitter. On the other hand, under-steeping will only result in colored water. Yet it’s shocking how many people steep their tea for less than 30 seconds!
You might think steeping longer than that is what makes your tea bitter, however, most teas should steep for a few minutes.
Recommended water temperatures and steeping times
If you hate green tea because it always tastes bitter you may just be using water that is too hot. While boiling water may be good for most black teas, other types of teas require different water temperatures.
Here’s a helpful table to reference recommended water temperatures and steeping times when making tea.
|Type of tea||Water temperature||Steeping time|
|Most black teas (except Darjeeling)||96°-100°C / 205°-212°F||3-5 minutes|
|Darjeeling black tea||93°-96°C / 200°-205°F||2½-4 minutes|
|Chinese green tea||77°-82°C / 170°-180°F||2-3 minutes|
|Japanese green tea||71°-77°C / 160°-170°F||30 seconds – 1½ minutes|
|Oolong tea||82°-93°C / 180°-200°F||3-5 minutes|
|Dark tea (such as Pu’erh)||96°-100°C / 205°-212°F||3-6 minutes|
|White||82°-88°C / 180°-190°F||3-5 minutes|
|Yellow||77°-82°C / 170°-180°F||1-2 minutes|
|Herbal & rooibos infusions (a.k.a tisanes)||100°C / 212°F||5-10 minutes|
How to make green tea taste good?
The most common reason people give for not liking green tea is – it’s bitter. However, it’s a sign you’re making it wrong. There are several tips that can improve its taste, but the most important one is – don’t use boiling water.
To prepare green tea without a thermometer, boil the water as usual, and leave it out for 5 minutes. However, for the most consistent results, I recommend you get an electric kettle with a temperature sensor. Also, mind the steeping time – it’s shorter than black tea’s.
Never squeeze the tea bag
People squeeze the bag because they think it speeds up the steeping process, but what it does to the resulting brew is similar to what over-steeping does – it extracts more bitterness from the tea leaves.
Use a timer
To get the steeping time right – a simple kitchen timer is handy or simply use a clock app on your phone.
In the end, these temperatures and steeping times are just guidelines – experiment and find for yourself what you like best.
5. Remove leaves when drinking
It may seem obvious, but your tea doesn’t automatically stop steeping upon reaching drinking temperature.
It’s not uncommon to leave a half-full teapot with leaves once the first round of tea is served. After the initial recommended steeping time is passed, the only thing you’re adding to your tea is bitterness and briskness.
If you’ve been leaving your tea bag or tea leaves in the cup while drinking, you may have never experienced the best taste your tea can offer!
6. Store tea correctly
Tea loses its freshness and absorbs smells if stored incorrectly.
Surely you wouldn’t want your tea tasting like bacon! Keep your tea in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight – a cupboard is perfect. Store it sealed in a bag or a can – a cardboard box doesn’t offer sufficient protection.
Only pu-erh tea can be stored in an open container, but make sure to keep it away from strong smells, because it’s prone to absorbing them quickly.
If you store it right, tea can stay fresh for many months.
7. Learn about tea
Tea has a rich and vibrant world and exploring it will provide you with the joy of discovery.
When I started learning more about tea, I had many surprising revelations:
- Wait, it all comes from one plant?
- You said how many types of tea there are?
- So Oolong is not an ingredient?
As you learn more about the plant, the culture, and the history of tea – you will naturally discover ways to make your drinking experience exciting. You don’t need to become a tea sommelier, but everyone should learn the basics of tea. After all, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, just behind water.
If you’re reading this article – you’re already on the right path. Make sure to follow my blog to learn more about tea.
Now you know how to make the perfect cup of tea.
If I were to give only a single tip to improve your tea taste, it would be – ditch the tea bags!
It still amazes me how nuanced tea flavors are – you can get notes of chocolate, fruit, or nuts – none of which are ingredients present in the tea. You can’t experience this with tea bags. I recommend getting loose-leaf tea from my tea shop at vistontea.com.
At the end of the day, everyone’s understanding of the perfect cup of tea is different, and that’s ok. After all, the only thing that matters is that you enjoy it. Now that you know how to make tea correctly, get my recommendations for the best tea to boost your immune system.
What are your personal tips for making the perfect cup of tea? Let me know in the comments.