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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.
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.
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.