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How to Brew



Making tea isn't difficult; not at all.  However, beyond the basics of brewing, there are some fairly simple things that you can do to make a better cup of tea.  Here's how.

Equipment  ::  Water  ::  Steeping  ::  Drinking



Equipment:

For brewing bagged tea, you only need a few things.

Heat Source:

First, a way to heat your water.  There are several options:  an electric kettle, a stove-top kettle, a pot on the stove-top, and the microwave.

Electric Kettle - This is what I use.  It's faster, easier, and gets better results than the microwave.  All you have to do is put the water in and turn it on.  It'll boil in a few minutes, then turn itself off when it does.  It's the easiest of all the options, and I really recommend it.  You can get a perfectly nice one for only $20 or so.  It's totally worth it.

Two things to look for when choosing one are a detachable base, and a window.  The detachable base makes the kettle itself cordless, which is easier to maneuver when pouring.  The window is so you can watch the water; if you're making a type of tea than requires less-than-boiling water, you can see when it gets to the point that you want, and turn it off then.  A meat thermometer stuck down the spout of the kettle and into the water also works well.

Stove-Top Kettle - A step up from a basic pot, but not by much.  It's much easier to pour from, and many of them will whistle when the water boils, so you can leave the room if you like.  I believe these also run for somewhere around $20; no more, I'm sure, but maybe less.  I don't own one, so I'm not sure.

Pot on the Stove-Top - If you don't want to have to buy anything, you can always boil your water in any old pot that you have.  I don't recommend it, however.  It's hard to pour from one of these pots; you could hit a bowl easily enough, but not a mug.  And you don't want to spill boiling water all over the place.  So, try this at your own risk.

Microwave - I'd imagine that this is how most people make their tea.  I used this until I bought my first electric kettle, and I'll say that while it's inferior to the kettle, it's better than the stove.  It's faster, and you can microwave either the mug itself, or a measuring cup with a pour-spout on it.  There are some downsides, though.

One, microwave ovens vary.  So, it may take two minutes to heat your water in your microwave, but six minutes in the microwave at work.  And just try looking up online 'how long to boil water in microwave' if you happen to forget; all you'll find is a wide range of contradictory answers, and warnings about the second downside.

Microwaves run the risk of superheating water.  This means that it heats up to a high temperature, but doesn't boil.  When you agitate the water (jiggling the cup, adding the tea bag, etc), the water will suddenly boil, sometimes explosively.  People have been badly burned by this reaction.  You can reduce the likeliness of this happening by placing a non-metallic object in the mug with the water (a wooden chopstick, for example).  For more information about superheating, see this article.

 

Mug:

Next, you need something to drink your tea from.  I prefer ceramic mugs, but you can use whatever you like.  Ideally, I prefer something that has the capacity marked on it.  (My mugs from Starbucks all have the size in ounces on the bottom)  But don't worry if you don't have one like that.  Just eyeball it, and you'll be fine.

You'll also probably need a spoon; in case you want to add sugar or milk, and to help in fishing out the teabag.

 

Water:

Okay, so you've got your kettle (or whatever), and you're ready to add the water.  There are a couple of things to consider.

Type:

When making tea, the quality of the water matters.  If your water tastes bad, so will your tea.  Most people probably just use tap water; I know I do.  If your tap water tastes okay, then go ahead and use it.  But if your tap water is gross, then I'd recommend using bottled water.  (For the record, I've used both, and couldn't tell the difference.  But, again, my tap water tastes fine.)

Temperature:

Next, you have to decide how hot you want your water to be.  Different types of teas will usually turn out best at different temperatures, so keep in mind what kind of tea you're having. 

-- For black tea, go to a full boil.
-- For herbal tea, go to a full boil.
-- For rooibos tea, go to a full boil.
-- For green tea, go to 160-180 degrees. (Steam hissing, some bubbles rising to the top)
-- For oolong tea, go to about 190 degrees. (Strings of bubbles rising from the bottom)
-- For white tea, go to about 180 degrees. (Strings of bubbles rising from the bottom)

Also, just a reminder, but it's good idea to at least look at the instructions on the box.  Sometimes they're wrong, sometimes not.  And sometimes, they work out when it seems they shouldn't.  I know I've used boiling water on at least two bagged green teas with no ill effects, when you normally wouldn't do that.  So, it's something to keep in mind.  If you're willing to risk it, or if you've tried the normal means with less than stellar results, give the instructions a shot.

 

Steeping:

So you've got your hot water, and you're ready to brew.  Here's what you need to think about now.

Tea-to-Water Ratio:

For bagged tea, you want to use 1 teabag for every 6-8 ounces of water.  This is why having a mug with the size printed on it is handy.  As for the variance of 6-8, well, that depends on how strong you like your tea.  If you want it stronger, use 1 bag per 6 ounces.  For weaker, use one bag per 8 ounces.  (And, of course, if you want it still stronger/weaker than that, feel free to tweak these numbers.)

Time:

Like with temperature, different kinds of tea do best with different steeping times.  There will be an element of trial-and-error here, unfortunately, as these are usually listed in ranges.  And a word of advice:  true teas (black, green, and oolong) will turn bitter if steeped for too long.  So it's usually not a good idea to go over the listed times.  However, herbal teas do not turn bitter with increased steeping times; they get stronger.  So, it's safer to tinker with the times on those.

-- For black tea, steep 3-6 minutes. (I usually settle on 5)
-- For herbal tea, steep approx. 5 minutes (I usually do 5, but this is adjustable!)
-- For rooibos tea, steep 5-10 minutes (I usually go with 5, but this is flexible, too.)
-- For green tea, steep 2-4 minutes
-- For oolong tea, steep 5-8 minutes
-- For white tea, steep 4-6 minutes

Tricks:

There are a few tricks that you can try while steeping to help your tea brew better.  One, you can cover the cup.  I just use a paper plate, and it works fine.  Two, you can try heating your mug by pouring in some hot water, letting it sit for a bit, then dumping it out. (Before you put your water and teabags in, of course.)  And three, when it's time to remove the teabags, don't squeeze them.  The tea that is forced out will be bitter, and that's not good.

 

Drinking:

Now, all that's left is to drink your tea!  Add milk or sugar as desired, and enjoy.

...Well, okay.  So there's one more thing you can try.  I know that, for me, tea tastes better when it's a little bit cooler.  If I drink my tea straight away, all I taste is hot, rather than the flavor of the tea.  So I like to let my tea sit for a bit before drinking.  Of course, some people do like their tea piping hot.  This is just my personal preference.