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What is the Best Way to Make Tea?

By K. Waterman
Updated May 16, 2024
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The best way to make tea usually depends on both the sort of tea being used and whether a person is making an individual cup or a full pot. Different leaves have different ideal temperatures and steep times, and the best techniques for tea bags don’t always work as well for loose leaf or powdered varieties. In general, though, good results are more likely with fresh water free of chemical impurities that is just barely boiling. Experts usually say that the water should be poured over bags or loose leaves in a clean, pre-warmed cup or pot, then steeped only as long as necessary to release the leaves’ flavor. Depending on the variety, this is typically anywhere from three to five minutes. Green and white leaves are an exception, though; these tend to be very delicate and are often done in as little as 30 seconds.

General Tips

Good tea brewing is often more a matter of attention to detail than true skill. People can improve their tea making skills relatively easily just by paying attention to the process and adding a bit of intentionality to each step. Choosing a high quality tea is important, but isn’t usually essential to good results. Water quality is considered by many to be more determinative of outcome since bad water can make even a very expensive tea taste dull, flat, or just otherwise “off.”

People should usually start with fresh, ideally purified water that has just begun to bubble into a boil. Too vigorous of a boil can damage the leaves and can also alter the taste: the longer water boils, the more oxygen goes out of it, and tea generally gets the best flavor when made with water with a lot of oxygen. Conversely, if it’s not hot enough it may not be able to release all of the leaves’ chemicals and nutrients. Tea experts usually recommend putting the tea in the bottom of the cup, pot, or other receptacle while the water is boiling, then pouring the water on top of it. This allows the water to activate the tea and reach it evenly. Some people also like to warm up their cups before adding either the tea or the water, usually as a way to prepare the leaves for the temperature change.

Using Tea Bags

Tea bags are usually the easiest way to make tea since they don’t involve any measuring. There are usually a few varieties from which to choose, though the most common are made of filter paper with crushed leaves tied securely inside. Fancier versions use mesh or other materials for the bag, and may incorporate whole leaves or other additives along with the tea. In most cases, each tea bag should only be used once, and is usually only strong enough to brew about 8 ounces (0.24 L) of water. Once the tea has brewed to the desired strength, the bags should be removed from the water and discarded.

Loose-Leaf Tea

True tea connoisseurs usually prefer loose leaf tea to bags. Loose leaves can be more intimidating than bags, but they aren’t usually much more difficult to brew. They do require a bit of measuring, though; people normally have to scoop only as many leaves as needed into their pot or cup, usually a spoonful per serving, then pour the water over the top. Most of the time a strainer is required before serving, though, both to remove the leaves and stop them seeping and to prevent them from being consumed inadvertently.

It’s sometimes possible to find infusion tea strainers, which are typically metal mesh containers that house the leaves while they are brewing in the cup. These can be advantageous because they can be pulled out with the ease of a tea bag, but they also prevent free movement. Most experts recommend against these devices in order to get the best and most pure flavor possible.

Tea For a Crowd

There are usually a couple of special considerations for people looking to make more than one cup of tea at a time. A common rule when measuring tea for a pot or carafe is to portion out enough tea for each person partaking, plus one for the pot. This means that if a person is making tea for four, he or she would add five tea bags or allocations of leaves to the pot before pouring in the water.

Questions of Timing

Brew time is also really important when it comes to making a good cup of tea. In general, black tea varieties should be brewed for between three and five minutes, though this largely depends on the sort of leaf and its freshness. The packaging should usually give some indication of ideal timing. Green and white teas often require the most attention. These varieties tend to be very delicate, and often need no more than thirty seconds to release their flavor. Much longer and they can become bitter. Anyone with questions is usually advised to consult a tea expert or call the manufacturer or producer of whatever product they’re using.

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Discussion Comments
By clippers — On Nov 07, 2012

My mom used to make sun tea all the time and I loved it.

But someone recently told me that it was unsafe, that the tea could develop bacteria under the right conditions.

Has anyone ever had trouble with sun tea? I never got sick from it.

By whiteplane — On Nov 06, 2012

Probably the easiest way to make tea is just to cold brew it. Put a few tea bags in some water in your refrigerated and leave it overnight and in the morning you have all the delicious iced tea you want.

By kylee07drg — On Oct 22, 2012

@DylanB – Yes, and it's great if you are in a hurry. I make a cup of spicy chai tea every night using the microwave.

I pour a cup of hot water into a tempered glass measuring cup. It's microwave safe, so it can handle the high temperature. I leave it in there until the water boils, which takes about a minute and a half in my microwave.

I then remove it and pour it onto a tea bag inside my cup. I place a lid over the cup and let it steep for ten minutes. The lid traps the steam and results in a richer flavor.

Some people make chai tea with milk, but it's not good to boil milk, so I just use water and then add a splash of milk after it has steeped. I then squirt a little honey into it for sweetness. The milk and honey bring down the intensity of the spice a little, making it perfect for a light night calming drink.

By DylanB — On Oct 21, 2012

How do you make tea in the microwave? Is this even possible?

By Perdido — On Oct 20, 2012

@lighth0se33 – Strainer balls can let pieces of material through, too. I suppose if your leaves are large enough, you will be safe, but I tried making cinnamon tea with one of these balls and wound up with a cup full of dregs!

I cut a cinnamon stick into smaller pieces and crammed them into the ball. Some bits that had chipped off were so small that they fit through the holes in the mesh.

I didn't discover them until I drank a mouthful. It was a very bitter experience, and now, I only make cinnamon tea if I have it in a paper tea bag.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 19, 2012

I've never knew how to make loose tea. I was always afraid that I wouldn't be able to strain all the bits of leaves out of the water, and I hate accidentally getting bitter leaves in my mouth.

So, I've always used a strainer ball. It is mesh, so it has holes on all sides. It shuts with a clasp and has a metal chain you can pull it up by, so it's fairly secure and easy to remove.

By anon139486 — On Jan 04, 2011

5-7 oz water

1 bag / 1tb loose

5 mins rolling boil

simmer milk to taste, sugar in cup.

By anon123549 — On Nov 02, 2010

Squeezing or not squeezing a tea bag is irrelevant. Bag tea is such a low grade of tea that it doesn't matter.

By anon120773 — On Oct 22, 2010

anon81217 said all teas come from the same plant - They are wrong. There are many types of plants that are used for tea. True, camelia sinesis produces the most amount of tea strains. But, don't forget some of the more unusual ones like peppermint, aniseed, ginger and rooibus.

By anon97297 — On Jul 19, 2010

I have gone to many different websites about tea and I do not remember anyone telling you to not squeeze the teas bags. This is the most important step. This absolutely ruins the tea when you squeeze the teabag.

By anon87843 — On Jun 01, 2010

i like tea with honest syrup, with poms.

By anon81217 — On Apr 30, 2010

all teas are from the same plant. it's how they are processed.

By anon50163 — On Oct 26, 2009

Get your mum/dad to make it, best and easiest way m'dears ;) love to all the tea drinkers out there.

By anon12193 — On May 01, 2008

One tea bag between every two people plus one for the pot. I earned my tea making badge in the boy scouts and this is how we were told to do it. And I'm English so I should know everything about tea!! Squeeze and stir, squeeze and stir.

By anon9081 — On Feb 27, 2008

Er.. I don't like using tea bags. :)

By anon7062 — On Jan 17, 2008

What is the best way to make tea?! -with love- =D

By anon4620 — On Oct 25, 2007

what are the tea leaves?

By anon4220 — On Oct 08, 2007

You forgot to mention to PLEASE DO NOT SQUEEZE THE TEA BAGS. This makes the tea bitter.

By Dayton — On Jul 06, 2007

Actually, the water/tea leaves ratio can change quite a bit from one kind to another. Best to read the label on your tea and see what they recommend. Just like all cooking, though, follow the recipe once, then feel free to adjust to taste!

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