Once you know the basics, brewing the perfect cup of tea is easy! If you can boil water, you can make tea. Fine tuning the flavor is essentially a game of manuvering and adjusting 3 elements: water temperature, steep time and amount of tea used.
With just a little practice, preparing a great tasting cup of tea is easy and will quickly become second nature. The right brewing equipment can also further simplify the process.
We've outlined basic instructions as well as some additional tips to help you get started....
Over steeping can make tea taste bitter. If you prefer strong tea, do not over steep; simply use more leaves.
Most teas taste best when brewed for 2-5 minutes. We recommend starting with a standard steep time of 3.5 minutes. This works well for most teas and is a great place to start. Simply adjust steep time to meet your personal taste. Green teas are notoriously fussy about steep times, as they easily go bitter. Other teas (such as red tea, white tea, chamomile and oolong) are usually much more flexible.
If your tea becomes too bitter, you may wish to either decrease the steep time or lower the water temperature. If your tea is too weak, you may wish to increase the steep time slightly, increase the water temperature or simply use an extra teaspoon of tea.
Even the best tea will taste only as good as the water used to prepare it. Always start with the freshest, purest source of water available. Avoid distilled, mineral and soft tap water, which will weaken tea's flavor or impart a “chemical” or “off” taste. Filtered tap water or bottled spring water work best and will provide a lively, aromatic infusion.
Since tea’s discovery in China several thousand years ago, tea aficionados have designated water from specific springs or rivers as the best water for brewing certain types of tea. According to legends, ancient tea masters would have fresh water from renowned springs carried many miles in stone containers to ensure they had the best water for their tea.
This is because subtle variations of pH and mineral content of the water can affect the taste and strength of the brew. Calcium is necessary to achieve full flavor, whereas magnesium and iron are detrimental. Distilled water should never be used because it lacks trace minerals and gives a flat lifeless taste. Water that is heavily treated with a water softener may also dull tea’s flavor.
As a general rule of thumb, if your water tastes fresh, clean and pure by itself, it will be great for making tea.
The ideal water temperature for brewing most teas should be around 195˚F (water boils at 212˚ F; this is just slightly under boiling). If the water is too hot, some teas may go bitter. If the water is not hot enough, the tea will taste dull and flat.
So how do you achieve the perfect water temperature for your tea? We recommend bringing water to a full boil and then allowing it to cool for just a minute or two. Water looses heat rapidly, so it won’t take long to reach the ideal temperature. However, please be patient and allow the water to reach a full boil first. It is difficult to judge the temperature of water before it reaches its boiling point; if you remove it too early, the water may not be hot enough to extract the full flavor from the leaf.
The act of boiling water reduces its natural oxygen content. Well-oxygenated water is necessary to achieve the best flavor possible, so you may wish to remove water immediately after it reaches boiling.
If you drink tea on a regular basis, an electric water heater will make your life easy! These wonderful little machines keep up to 5 liters of water at a constant 195˚F throughout the day. Alternatively, stovetop kettles or electric water kettles are a good option. Although microwaves will do the job, it is a little tougher to judge temperature this way.
To keep the brewing temperature constant, we recommend using a teapot or cup with a lid. You can also pre-heat your teapot by rinsing it with hot water before use.
Technically, the serving size for tea is 2.5 grams of tealeaves per cup (8 ounces) of water. In the past, when black tea was the standard in Europe and the US, tea-drinkers developed the rule of “1-teaspoon-per-cup,” because 1 teaspoon of black tea typically weighs 2.5 grams. However, as gourmet teas (which vary in density, leaf size and weight) become more popular, this rule has become outdated.
Don't worry! Serving size is more of an art than a science. Unless you taste tea professionally, there is no need to weigh each spoonful of tea. Experiment until you find the amount perfect for your taste. Heavy, dense teas tea (such as Jasmine Pearl, tightly rolled oolongs and broken-leaf black tea) usually taste great following the traditional “1-teaspoon-per-cup” rule. However, light, voluminous teas with large leaves (such as white tea, chamomile, and loosely-rolled greens and oolongs) tastes best with 2 or even 3 times this amount.
In general, the larger and lighter the leaf, the more tea you will use.It is a good idea to measure the size of your cup. Unless you are using a dainty, porcelain teacup, there is a good chance your cup-of-choice holds more than 8 ounces. Adjust serving size accordingly.
Strong, black teas (our Harvest Orange Spice is a perfect example) taste wonderful with a touch of milk and sugar or honey. Gentle green and white teas may be overwhelmed by these additional ingredients. Let your personal taste guide you.
Our Ginger Cinnamon Spice can be brewed with water (as a traditional tea) but this tea also makes an incredible mulling spice. Simply infuse or simmer in hot apple juice or cider for a few minutes and serve.
Always add the tealeaves to your cup or teapot first, and pour the water over. The act of pouring water over the tealeaves creates a little whirlpool effect that mixes the tea and water perfectly, beginning the brewing process. If you add a strainer to an already filled cup or teapot, it may overflow. Also, the tealeaves will simply float on top, rather than being fully submerged.
Tea expands 2-5 times its size in water. Therefore, we recommend using strainers or bags that allow ample room for the tealeaves to expand. Large strainers provide plenty of room for the water to flow around the leaves, yielding a better, more aromatic flavor.
Different types of tea will yield their own unique hue. For example, white tea naturally brews a pale, golden color while black tea will yield an intense, deep ruby-red or chocolate brown. Instead of using color to tell you when a tea's done steeping, simply use a timer.
High-quality tea can be steeped multiple times. Increase steeping time 1 minute with each subsequent infusion.
To make fresh iced tea, follow the directions above but use twice as much tea to account for dilution by ice. Once cool, pour over an ice-filled cup and garnish with lemon, fruit or mint. According to the USDA’s report on the antioxidant content of food, fresh iced tea contains 20 times more antioxidants than bottled or canned iced tea.
Be creative when serving tea over ice. Garnish with lemon slices, fresh mint sprigs or “Sangria Style” with diced fruit and fresh berries. Frozen berries or banana slices can replace traditional ice cubes, adding flavor. You can also add pomegranate or other fruit juices (either fresh or frozen juice ice cubes) to make more of a cocktail; experiment so these additional flavors enhance rather than mask the flavor of the tea.
Store tea tightly sealed in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and strong odors. Do not refrigerate. Because tea easily absorbs other scents, we do not recommend storing tea in your spice cabinet.
Sturdy foil bags or metal containers with a good, tight seam are the best ways to keep tea fresh and full of flavor. Although tea looks very beautiful stored in glass containers, glass does very little to keep tea fresh. You may notice a stale, weakened taste within just a few months, weeks or even days after improper storage.
Studies suggest that tea (and, in fact, any fresh fruit or vegetable) may lose vitamins and antioxidants over time. We typically recommend drinking tea within 1 year of purchase, although the tea industry generally considers 2 years acceptable. Tea more than 2 years old usually won’t go bad, it will simply loose freshness, flavor and contain less health benefits.
Although teas, herbs and spices rarely go bad, please remember that, as with any natural food product, it is possible. On very rare occasions, it is possible for tea (especially teas containing dried fruits or flowers) to attract mold or pests—especially if the tea is exposed to moisture or heat. For this reason, please do not refrigerate your tea as this will create condensation once returned to room temperature. Make sure there are no cracks in the seal or lid of tin containers. Also, avoid exposing tea to heat or sunlight.
At Octavia Tea, we pride ourselves on offering only the freshest, purest teas available. We blend our teas in small batches and our warehouse is equipped with the ideal temperature and moisture control systems to ensure you get the freshest tea possible.
Selecting the right brewing equipment can simplify the process and make brewing tea easy.
Essentially, you need 3 things:
Infusers that fit right in your mug or teapots are easy to use and provide ample room for tealeaves to expand. Note: Always choose infusers made with fine mesh; strainers with large holes tend to clog.
Teapots are a great way to brew tea for more than one person. For ultimate convenience, we recommend teapots with built-in infuser baskets.
Fill Your Own Tea Bags
Fill-your-own tea bags give you the best of both worlds—the convenience of a traditional tea bag with the quality of loose leaf tea. With Fill-Your-Own Tea Bags you can turn any high quality, loose tea into a teabag in seconds—simply fill the bag with your favorite loose tea or herb and brew just as you would a normal tea bag. Ideal for brewing tea away from home.
Electric Water Heaters
If you drink tea on a regular basis, an electric water heater (a Zojirushi machine) will make your life easy! These wonderful little machines keep up to 5 liters of water at a constant 195˚F throughout the day. Alternatively, stovetop kettles or electric water kettles are a good option. Although microwaves will do the job, it is a little tougher to judge temperature this way.
A Measuring Spoon
Again, the serving size varies between 1 teaspoon and 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) of tealeaves per 8 oz cup. As you experiment with different tea types, you will figure out which teas you prefer to brew stronger, and which teas you prefer to brew weaker. We recommend always using the same spoon so you develop a frame of reference. This will make it easy for you to determine how much of your favorite teas to use.