Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Guest Blog: How to Make the Best Cup of Tea

Nyssa Mehana returns with more about tea. In her first guest blog, she told us about the types of tea and how they are made. Today she tells us how to get the perfect cup of tea.

Where to Start

Though I have grown to truly love tea and it’s many nuances of flavor, I believe it’s the RITUAL of preparing tea that attracts me the strongest. Throw out your belief that tea comes in little bags with strings--we’re going back to the basics, and preparing tea the way it’s supposed to be done.

We start with a quality loose-leaf tea. You can buy loose-leaf tea from a variety of vendors. Some tea-vendors I frequent in the Raleigh area are Whole Foods Market, Tin Roof Teas, and Teavana. They all offer quality, loose, “full-leaf” teas that have been handled and packaged properly. Lower grades of tea are often the crushed leavings of other teas, and are swept into the oh-so-popular tea bags in the hope that people just won’t know any better. We call lower grades of tea “tea dust,” because that’s basically all it is. It lacks the complex qualities of whole, loose tea leaves.

If you want to brew one simple cup of tea, you might be interested in finding a single cup brewing basket. I don’t like “tea-balls” or any tea-holding contraption that keeps the tea leaves too confined. Tea leaves need room to expand in order to release their full flavor potential. Find a metal mesh basket that fits inside your cup. (Don’t use a plastic cup or plastic tea basket!--it leaches harmful chemicals into your beverage and can ruin the taste of your tea! I recommend using a ceramic cup and a metal basket.) Scoop one or two teaspoons of tea into the basket.

How to Steep

The next step is to pour hot water into your cup and let the tea steep. This is more complicated than it sounds! The water MUST be at the correct temperature for the type of tea you are brewing. More delicate teas require a lower water temperature. Black teas are less sensitive and can be brewed after bringing your water to a boil. Most teas you buy will have instructions on the correct brewing temperature.

Brewing temperature basic guideline:

White tea: Everyone’s opinion differs, but from my own experience, I brew white tea at 170°F-175°F.

Green Tea: Green tea can be even more finicky that white tea! The correct brewing temperature varies widely according to the type of green tea, but it’s definitely better to brew at too low a temperature than too high. I brew anywhere between 140°F and 170°F. Try 160°F if you’re not sure, and adjust future brewing temps accordingly. Green tea should be delicate, grassy, and even a little sweet at times. It should NOT be bitter. Brewing at too high a temp will make it bitter.

Oolong tea: Between 180°F and 190°F.Black tea: Anywhere from 190°F to boiling.

Telling Temperature

How do you know the temperature of your water? You could have a fancy electric kettle like I do that gives me a digital readout of my water temp every second. Or you could use a thermometer. Or you could just keep an eye on your water, and when it starts to get tiny little bubbles on the bottom, it is about 160-170. Small strings of bubbles rising to the top indicates a temperature of 180-190. After that you’ll have a full rolling boil.

So you’ve got the water temperature right. But how LONG do you steep your tea? If you let it steep too long, you risk your tea becoming bitter.

Steeping time guidelines:

White tea: Around 4-5 minutes.

Green tea: Again, it’s finicky. Anywhere from 1 1/2 minutes to 3 minutes--but no longer! I brew most of my green tea in 2 minutes, and there is one in particular (Gyokuro Imperial--my FAVORITE) that is ruined if I wait longer than 90 seconds.

Oolong tea: Between 5 and 8 minutes I’m told... but I need to do more personal experimentation with Oolong.

Black tea: I always steep mine about 5 minutes, but black tea is not too finicky, and you can leave it longer if you like.

Once you’ve brewed your tea and the correct temperature and for the correct length of time, lift the basket of tea out of your cup. This strains the leaves out of your cup and leaves you with a beautiful cup of tea! There are tea pots that come fitted with brewing baskets if you want to brew a whole pot, or if you’re brewing black tea (in other words, you don’t have to worry about the tea steeping too long) you can leave the leaves loose (alliteration!) in the pot, and strain the tea only as your pour it into your cup.

Caring for your equipment

I have a separate tea pot for green tea and black tea. The pot itself, when used frequently, can retain some of the tea flavor, which is why I don’t want to use the same pot for my robust black teas as I do for my delicate green teas.

It’s best not to scrub your tea pots with any kind of soap or detergent. That can also linger and ruin the flavor of your teas. Just make sure you always immediately rinse out your pot thoroughly with hot water when you’re done using it.

Okay, Tea Jedi! You have the Force of tea knowledge within you! Feel it flowing, and go MAKE SOME TEA!

My Favorite Teas! 

White: Peach White

Green: Gyokuro Imperial

Oolong: Milk Oolong

Black: Rose Amandine (with milk and honey)

I've had the chance to enjoy three of these teas with Nyssa, and I can say the Gyokuro Imperial, Milk Oolong, and Rose Amandine are all just as good as she says! Many thanks to our tea expert for dropping by and teaching us the proper way to make tea. Next time you'll see her, she'll be helping me do tea reviews.

What kind of tea do you prefer? White, green, oolong, black, or other? Where do you usually get your teas?

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1Part 2Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)

1 comment:

  1. Hello, my name is Adrian, even though I might have more people call me badger, either one works for me. I was an astrophysics/mathematics major. When I'm not slaying Sicilian Dragons or risking everything on a King's Gambit on a chessboard to get to the princess, I'm completely random with books, games, and hobbies. Between my various activities, I do enjoy a good cup of tea.

    Many of us have started a pot of water boiling and just forgot about the water until it is boiling, which more than likely scorches the teas as they are steeping. I know I have forgotten about the water to the point where the water was evaporated from the pot? What can I say besides chess is exciting! So I applied some of my schooling (Astrophysics and Mathematics) to find how long to wait after removing the pot from the burner for better tea steeping Temperatures, since most everyone has some form of timer/alarm now.

    Assumptions: 1) boiling water in an open pot, 2) Room Temperature is ~70 degrees Fahrenheit.
    NOTES: Temperatures for the teas were taken (read as "borrowed") from the blog on steeping teas. An open pot was assumed due to complications of a tea kettle retaining more heat than a kettle, since the only openings are the spout and the lid (or in some models, they are the same).
    The calculated times are only approximate since they do not take into consideration the specific heat of water (how well water retains heat).

    White Teas: 170-175 degrees Fahrenheit, 6-7 minutes

    Oolong Teas: 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.5-5 minutes

    Black Teas: 190 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, no more than 3.5 minutes

    Green Teas: 140-170 degrees Fahrenheit, 7-14.25 minutes; 160 degrees Fahrenheit, 9.25 minutes.

    If you have any questions about my methods, feel free to email me at, and I will be more than happy to tell you about the methods I used. I will make another post with more accurate results taking into consideration the specific heat of water and then onto the TEA KETTLE!!! :)