Tea: Temp + Time
Steep time and water temperature play a crucial role in how your tea will taste. I never considered this and spent years thinking I did not enjoy green tea.
As it turns out, I was over steeping my tea in water that was too hot. I always ended up with a bitter grass soup, and just assumed that this is what green tea tastes like.
In this post I will cover some rules of thumb for steeping times and water temps. Keep in mind that these are just suggestions, and I encourage you to adjust them according to your own taste!
Green tea usually does not go through an oxidation process. Sometimes it is heated up immediately after harvest to stop it from oxidizing, like our pan-fired green tea. This results in a delicate leaf that does not hold up to boiling water.
It is easy to oversteep green tea if you are not familiar with it. I used to steep my green and black tea the same way, and would end up with the bitter brew I mentioned earlier that would leave my mouth extremely dry.
When I am trying a new type of green tea, I always prepare my first cup in the following manner.
I heat water to 180° and steep 1 level tsp of green tea for exactly two minutes. I use this same method with with each new green tea I try so I can compare it to teas I have experience with. This acts as a “control” temp and time. It takes a lot of the guess work out of trying teas I am not familiar with.
After a two minute steep, I try the tea by itself. Lemon and honey pair well with green tea, but I like to get an idea of what the brew tastes like on its own before I add anything to enhance the flavor. Once I know how the tea stands on its own, I will adjust the temp and steep time to make it stronger or weaker.
Black tea goes through and oxidation process, which leads to its darker color and more astringent, sometimes malty flavor profile. If you compare a cup of black tea to a cup of green tea, the difference is night and day.
Black tea is nowhere near as delicate as green tea, so most types can handle boiling water. When trying a new black tea I always start with boiling water.
If I am trying a new variation of black tea, my first cup is always brewed as follows.
I steep 1 tsp of black tea in boiling water for 5 minutes. I drink all of my black teas with a milk or milk substitute, but I like to try my first few sips plain. This way I can get an idea of how bold it tastes without any fat source.
The last tea I will cover is oolong tea. Oolong is a tricky one, as it falls somewhere in between green tea and black tea on the oxidation spectrum. Some oolong teas will produce a light colored brew that looks more like green tea, while others make a darker cup that closely resembles black tea.
Since there are so many variations of oolong tea, it’s hard to make a rule of thumb as far as brewing goes. For now I will just focus on Formosa oolong. It is one of the more popular oolong teas in western culture.
When brewing a cup of Formosa, I use water that is around 190° and steep the leaf for 3 minutes. I have personally found that any longer of a steep seems to bring out some of the astringent qualities that overpower the more subtle flavors that come natural to Formosa oolong.
I enjoy a slice of lemon with my Formosa oolong, the citrus taste of fresh lemon complements the floral, sometimes nutty notes of the tea.
Keep in mind that my taste preferences are going to differ than yours. These are just some general guidelines for anyone who wants to jump into the tea world, but feels daunted by the amount of different variations out there. As long as you are enjoying the tea you brew, you are doing it right. Don’t let any amount of “rules” or tea-snobbery tell you different.
And do not get too discouraged if you prepare cups of tea you do not like. I have been drinking tea daily for a couple years, and I still make cups that I do not enjoy from time to time. The occasional bad cup of tea will make you appreciate your good cups that much more!