Want to know how to make the perfect cup of tea? From tea cosies and porcelain cups, to water temperature and brewing times, our good friend Becky Sheeran shows you how.
I think I have over 300 teas now, so you can imagine how much time I spend making sure I’m not without my favourite cuppa! People often ask me how to make the perfect cup of tea, and I always tell them the same thing: while there are some fail-safe rules to be followed, at the end of the day, a cup of tea is so personal. Really, there isn’t just one perfect way to make it – you should enjoy it just the way you like it.
To make your own perfect cup of tea, you’ll need:
- loose leaf tea
- an empty tea bag (you can buy bags from most loose leaf tea shops)
- a porcelain cup
- a thermometer
- a teapot
- a tea cosy
- MAKE YOUR OWN TEABAGS
Start by putting your loose leaf tea in the tea bag – I go by the rule of one teaspoon for me and one teaspoon for the pot). Loose leaf tea needs a lot of room to move about, so the bigger the bag, the better. This makes cleaning the teapot a lot easier, as you just lift the bag out with the tea when done and put it in the bin.
- GET THE RIGHT WATER TEMPERATUREThe temperature of the water is really important, depending on which tea you’ll be drinking. Most black teas need around 96°C, and green teas around 70°C. You can buy some kettles that let you set the boiling temperature but if you don’t have one, it’s easy enough to measure with a thermometer. Tea needs oxygen, so don’t re-boil water as this takes a lot of the oxygen out and will leave your tea tasting a bit metallic. Once your kettle has boiled, pour the water into your teapot, then add your thermometer to check when the water has cooled to the appropriate temperature.
- CHECK THE BREWING TIMEThe time you leave the tea in the pot depends on the type of tea, so make sure you look for steeping instructions – most good-quality teas will tell you how long they need on the packet. Pop the bag in, and put your tea cosy over the pot to keep the water as close to the optimum temperature as possible. I take this time to pick out a healthy snack to have with my cuppa!The next step is really important. Before you serve the tea, remove the teabag from the pot. If you leave it in too long, it will over-steep and will taste really bitter. Don’t stir it and definitely don’t squeeze it. That will release the tannins (a bitter compound of tea), which will again make it taste too bitter.
- ALL ABOUT PORCELAINGetting the right cup is really important. Don’t use plastic, as the tannins will stick to the side of the cup. Don’t use metal either, unless you want your tea to taste metallic. Lots of people think you should use ceramic but even that’s not perfect as it’s porous, so it will make your tea cool down too quickly. The best cup is porcelain. A porcelain cup will keep your tea super-tasty and was actually how tea used to be served when it first came over from China. Serving tea in porcelain cups is so wonderfully British. It’s become a part of our heritage and something that people travel hundreds of miles to come and enjoy. Taking the time to have tea like this is part of why I love drinking it so much. It doesn’t need to cost a lot. In fact, most of my cups are antiques from charity shops or flea markets ng and they have so much history to them. The vintage designs are beautiful and you can get whole sets for just a few pounds.
- CAREFULLY ADD YOUR MILKNow it’s time to add the milk. I like my tea milky, but it’s all personal preference. It’s only usually black teas that you add milk to, but be careful – too much calcium can cause a scum to form on the top of your drink. This can also come from hard water. If you live in a hard water area and really want to make the absolute perfect cup of tea, boil mineral water instead of tap water. Stirring usually gets rid of calcium too, but it’s a nicer experience just not to have it.
- SIT BACK AND RELAX
Finally, it’s time to relax. It’s such a beautiful experience to me to have a cup of tea and I make so many memories when I share it with family and friends. It brings people together, welcomes people into our homes and has long been a tradition in Britain for that very reason. So cheers guys, hope you enjoy your cuppa today. And remember, only you know how you like your tea – just have fun making it!
And if reading about how to make the perfect cup of tea isn’t enough, here’s Becky in action:
- Warm the pot
Whether using tea bags or leaf, a quick swirl of hot water means the cold doesn't shock the tea.
- Use a china teapot
Why, because it is traditional and part of the ritual.
- One per person and one for the pot
Still, the golden rule when using a loose-leaf tea.
- Freshly boiled water
Boil the water fresh, (not reboiled) for good oxygen levels.
Stirring the tea leaves or bags helps the tea to infuse.
- The Time
3 to 4 minutes is the time needed for optimum infusion.
Milk first or last is an age-old question. Originally milk first was to avoid cracking delicate china cups with hot tea but adding milk after is a good way to judge the strength of the tea. However, it is each to their own.
For iced tea that you can drink right away, choose this method. It starts out just like making hot tea, but the difference is that the hot brew will be twice as strong. Steep the tea bags in boiling or almost boiling water for three to five minutes, depending on box recommendations. Strain or remove the tea bag. Add an equal amount of cold water to this hot tea concentrate to cool it down, then serve immediately over ice or chill in the refrigerator until ready to drink.
Pro Tip: To prevent cloudy iced tea, make sure that the hot tea mixture is cooled to room temperature before refrigerating.
‘I’m a Food Scientist, and This Is How To Make a Perfect Cup of Tea’
The tea you’ll find in stores is made up of dried and crushed leaves of the tea plant. When you put it in hot water, the compounds of those leaves are extracted, leaving you with a wide range of amazing flavors depending on which variety you choose.
“There are many varieties and they are grouped into five categories: black, white, green, oolong, and pu-erh. These all come from the same plant, but differ in how they’re processed or when they were picked,” Jackson says. “Each will have a different flavor and caffeine level. Tisanes are the technical term for teas that are not derived from the tea plant, such as herbal teas. Rooibos, or red bush tea, from South Africa is my favorite herbal tea.”
How to make the perfect cup of tea
1. Water quality
Tea is primarily made up of water. So if you’re using low-quality water, that means you’ll wind up with low-quality tea. “Hard water has minerals like calcium and magnesium that will react with tea&rsquos flavor compounds and create a scum layer on the top of your tea,” Jackson says. Because of that, soft water or filtered water is best. “Fresh cold water has more dissolved oxygen, which will improve tea flavor extraction as well.”
2. Water temperature
Contrary to popular belief, the water temperature for tea isn’t one-size-fits-all. Jackson says different tea types have different ideal steeping temperatures. For instance, green and white teas will taste bitter if you use water that’s too hot. Here’s what she says about each.
- Black tea: As soon as it reaches its boiling point, it&rsquos good to go
- Oolong: Steep at 190°F
- Green and white teas: Steep at 180°F
3. Steep time
The time you steep your tea for&mdashaka how long you let the water extract from the tea leaves&mdashcan make or break how it tastes. “The color comes off your tea bag quickly, but that doesn&rsquot indicate that the flavor has been extracted,” Jackson says. “A minimum of three minutes is recommended for tea, but I have heard some tea scientists recommend a five-minute steep.”
How to make the perfect cup of tea
One secret to the perfect cup of tea is knowing how long to steep each type of tea. Our chart comes in handy so you will know exactly when to take out the tea bag or tea strainer filled with tea leaves for black, green, herbal &mdash and every tea in between.
&ldquoBasically, the less processed the tea leaves are the less time you would like it to sit in the hot water,&rdquo explains Brian Pfeiffer, Creator and CEO of DesignATea.com. &ldquoIt’s those darn tannins that can turn a well-intentioned cup of tea very bitter with those delicate teas. The darker the tea, the longer it takes for those tannins to wake up and start their bitter quest. I can’t stress enough that people need to experiment with a particular type of tea and steep times [as] one oolong will be different from another oolong.&rdquo
What happens if you steep your tea for three minutes instead of the recommended two minutes? Pfeiffer jokes that it won&rsquot &ldquoburst into flames&rdquo but some teas will get bitter the longer they sit. &ldquoExperiment to see what works for you. Herbals can stand to brew longer, as most folks want the health properties,” he said.
&ldquoGreen and white teas like [the water to be] steaming or little bubbles. Oolongs like medium size bubbles and black [teas] like it when the water starts to boil,&rdquo Pfeiffer says.
For those left-brained folks that want to know the exact temperatures, Daniel Lewis, founder and owner of T By Daniel, shares the right temperature for the perfect cup of tea:
- Black tea: Boiling water
- Oolong tea: Approximately 190 degrees F
- Green tea: Approximately 150 to 160 degrees F
- White tea: 170 to 180 degrees F
- Herbal tea: Boil baby, boil!
Tasty tea add-ins
We asked tea expert Shane Talbott, founder and creative director of Talbott Teas, to share his favorite add-ins.
How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea
Here's our complete guide to brewing from start to finish.
First, splurge on high-quality loose-leaf teas or tea bags for premium taste. If you're a true connoisseur, our Lab recommends Harney & Sons. Measure out 1 teaspoon of leaves per 6-ounce cup. From there, it's about technique:
1. Scrap the mug.
. At least for steeping. A teapot holds in heat better to bring out flavor. Swirl hot water in pot to preheat for steeping at the correct temp.
2. Don't dunk.
Pour water over leaves (instead of adding water first) to boost taste and get more antioxidants.
3. Give it a minute.
Tea needs time to steep. For perfect flavor, follow the directions for your tea of choice in this chart:
Ready to get brewing? Try out one of these Kitchen Appliances Lab favorites!
Ultimate tea maker: Breville One-Touch Tea Maker ($250, BrevilleUSA.com)
This gadget takes the guesswork out of making perfect tea. Fill with water and leaves and press, say, "Oolong" &mdash the water will heat to 195°F, and then the basket will lower and steep tea for the ideal time. Program it and wake up to a fresh pot.
Best electric kettle: Oxo On Clarity Cordless Glass Electric Kettle ($90, Oxo.com)
No more loud whistle or worrying whether you turned off the stove. Once it boils, this plug-in kettle, which holds 60 ounces, shuts itself off. Another cool safety feature: The lid opens with the touch of a button, so you don't have to fiddle with a hot cap to refill it.
This story originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Good Housekeeping.
Step 7: Remove tea leaves and enjoy!
Just like that you have a delicious cup of tea! Enjoy it however you wish to — plain or with milk or sweetener.
Most high quality loose leaf teas can actually be steeped again. So, when you take the tea infuser out of your cup, don’t toss the tea leaves out right away. Instead, set it to the side to use later and enjoy your cup of tea.
How do I re-steep tea leaves?
If you would like a second cup, put the tea infuser back in your cup. Using the same tea leaves add hot water and steep again. Essentially, repeat the steps above. For additional steeps you should increase the steep time by 1-2 minutes.
How many times can I re-steep tea leaves?
The amount of re-steeps will depend on the tea. Not all teas will be good for 2 or more steeps. Generally, I like to keep steeping the same leaves again until the water no longer changes colour.
Making a Perfect Cup or Pot of Tea
From &quotVictorian Tea Party&quot. Afternoon and High tea were daily events in Victorian society in England and ladies tea parties were very popular. The table was beautifully set with the household's best bone china, beautifully prepared sandwiches and treats were served and tea was carefully brewed to ensure the very best flavor. In 1880, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management was published - here is what she had to say about making tea the proper way: &quotThere is very little art in making good tea if the water is boiling, and there is no sparing of the fragrant leaf, the beverage will almost invariably be good. The old-fashioned plan of allowing a teaspoonful to each person, and one over, is still practised. Warm the teapot with boiling water let it remain for two or three minutes for the vessel to become thoroughly hot, then pour it away. Put in the tea, pour in from 1/2 to 3/4 pint of boiling water, close the lid, and let it stand for the tea to draw from 5 to 10 minutes then fill up the pot with water. The tea will be quite spoiled unless made with water that is actually ‘boiling’, as the leaves will not open, and the flavour not be extracted from them the beverage will consequently be colourless and tasteless,—in fact, nothing but tepid water. Where there is a very large party to make tea for, it is a good plan to have two teapots instead of putting a large quantity of tea into one pot the tea, besides, will go farther. When the infusion has been once completed, the addition of fresh tea adds very little to the strength so, when more is required, have the pot emptied of the old leaves, scalded, and fresh tea made in the usual manner. Economists say that a few grains of carbonate of soda, added before the boiling water is poured on the tea, assist to draw out the goodness: if the water is very hard, perhaps it is a good plan, as the soda softens it but care must be taken to use this ingredient sparingly, as it is liable to give the tea a soapy taste if added in too large a quantity. For mixed tea, the usual proportion is four spoonfuls of black to one of green more of the latter when the flavour is very much liked but strong green tea is highly pernicious, and should never be partaken of too freely.&quot
How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea
Tea is a drink of amazing versatile-ness. From a strong mug of robust “builder’s tea” served “NATO standard” (milk, two sugars) to refined china cups of delicate Earl Grey, there isn’t a situation where a cup of tea is out of place. The place where tea really hits the spot for Ed is in the middle of the night when he is sailing there’s nothing like a large mug of piping hot, sweet, milky tea when surrounded by the sea and the stars. But it’s a common gripe that too few people know how to make a really good cup.
The English Tea Shop sell a full range of teas, from herbal to green, white and a choice of two black teas – Earl Grey, and English Breakfast. The English Breakfast is grown in Sri Lanka, with a full bodied flavour that’s not overly tannic. Perfect as the name says for breakfast, but good at any time of day with a dash of milk and something like a slice of lemon cake.
The Earl Grey is delicately flavoured, and not overpowered by bergamot I can imagine enjoying a china cup, maybe with a slice of lemon. Their teas are both organic and free trade, so tick all those boxes, which is something I really appreciate. These come in individually wrapped sachets, so keep their freshness and are also perfect for taking on your travels.
Other teas in the range are loose and supplied in pretty tins.
For the perfect cup of either tea, follow these tips. Talking of which, I think it’s time to pop the kettle on.
Accompaniments for your afternoon tea could include
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Mistakes to avoid
Pay attention to the steep time on the label of the tea you are using. You do not want to overstep your tea otherwise the tea will get bitter. The general rule is black tea should be steeped for 4 minutes, green, white and oolong for 3 minutes. This can vary greatly so be sure to ask your tea supplier about each tea you own.
Do not use poor quality water. Tap water contains a lot of chlorine and other chemicals. Since brewed tea is mostly water, you will taste all these chemicals in your tea. At a minimum, use filtered water.
Avoid using the water at the wrong temperature when brewing your tea. If you use boiling water for your green teas, they will burn and get bitter. Likewise, if you use water that is too cool on your black teas, they will taste weak and watery. The ideal temperature for black and dark oolong teas is 220 degrees Fahrenheit. For green and white teas it is 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Be sure to use the proper amount of tea when brewing. If you use too little, your tea will be too weak. If you use too much you will be wasting your tea and your money. The ideal amount of tea to use is 2 grams, which roughly equals a rounded teaspoon.