How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea

Since you have spent time and money finding the best product you can lay your hands on, it stands to reason that you should prepare that fine cup of tea in just the right way. Since few of us have the time for the full five hour ritual of a Japanese tea ceremony, here are some tips on how to brew the perfect cup of tea but in a little less time.

The first and most important thing to examine is the water that you use. Even the finest tea leaf can yield a less than stellar cup if the water is wrong.

It can be too heavily chlorinated, or full of minerals, or 'stale'. Yes, water can get stale, in the sense that - since it absorbs odors from the air - it can contain chemicals that lessen the quality of your cup.

How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea

Water can contain heavy concentrations of calcium carbonate. That's the white powder that builds up around the spout or on the tile in the kitchen or bathroom. It's not harmful. In fact, a certain amount of it is healthy. But it darkens the brew. Pure H2O will leave a cup much lighter looking. Water can also have a large relative amount of iron. Again, that isn't necessarily unhealthy, but it can alter the taste somewhat, giving it a metallic overtone.

Water temperature is important, too. Boiling hot water can be a little too 'aggressive' on a tea leaf. Water around 80°C/176°F, on average, is preferred. (Pure H2O at 1 atmosphere of pressure, around sea level, boils at 100°C/220°F.) However, the exact temperature varies slightly with the type of tea.

Black teas do well with water that is nearer boiling. Oolongs are better at a slightly lower temperature. Green tea can become bitter if the water is too hot and white tea needs the lowest temperature of all. Some experimentation will be needed.

Adding the right amount of tea will take a little trial and error too. Start with one teaspoon per cup. Adjust to personal taste - some prefer a little stronger brew, others a lighter one. If you want a natural way of reducing caffeine, but don't want to buy decaf, use the same tea for a second cup and discard the first. Most of the caffeine will get into the first one.

Steeping time varies a little, but 2-3 minutes is about right for most teas and tea drinkers. If you're in a hurry and you use tea bags, you can speed up the process by dunking although true aficionados will be horrified if they see you! Here again, personal preference will influence the time, since steeping longer brings out more flavor, color, tannins and caffeine.

If you add milk to your tea, and you should at least try it once, you'll want to steep a little longer. Longer steeping times brings out more tannins and other compounds that will get 'softened' by the milk. But you'll still want to drink something that tastes like tea, not like milk. It's tea with milk, after all, not milk with tea flavoring.

If you use loose leaf, invest in a good pot and/or tea strainer to keep the leaf parts from falling into the bottom of the cup. On a final note, if you add sugar to your tea, don't put too much in. Half to one level teaspoon should be more than enough. Anything above that will ruin the taste of the tea and that is after all why you brewed the cup in the first place.