How to Steep Tea
So you’ve purchased some wonderful, high quality loose leaf tea; now you need to know how to prepare it. One of the main reasons why tea can leave a “bad taste” in someone’s mouth is because it was prepared incorrectly. I actually disliked green tea for a very long time until I learned I was steeping it incorrectly; now our citrus green tea is one of my favorites!
Steeping tea is actually very easy and doesn’t require a great deal of specialized equipment. To get started you only need tea, water, a kettle, and a tea pot/infuser.
Water is one of the most important components of delicious tea. If you do not enjoy the taste of your tap water, you won’t want to use it for making tea. Water’s flavor is affected by three basic things: its mineral content, how hard it is, and its alkalinity, or pH. The most important thing to remember is if you like the taste of your water you will like the taste of your tea. If not, your tea will not yield an enjoyable experience.
If you are boiling water for a second pot or cup of tea, be sure to use fresh water. When water boils, it loses carbon dioxide, a component that influences its color and taste. This loss of carbon dioxide makes the water less acidic, which can give your steeped tea a different color and a less than optimal strength.
To get started steeping tea you only need a simple stovetop kettle. An instant-read thermometer is also helpful to identify the correct water temperature for brewing different types of tea. If you find you enjoy brewing different classes of tea, you may want to invest in an electric adjustable-thermostat kettle that allows you to set your kettle to a specific water temperature.
Teapot or Infuser
There are many different types of teapots and infusers. Teapots can be made of glass, cast iron, ceramic, porcelain, or bone china and many contain special “infuser-type” reservoirs to hold tea leaves. Infusers come in all shapes and sizes as well. Most infusers are glass, stainless steel or silicon, but muslin bags and tea sacks made of unbleached paper are also good options.
One main thing to remember when selecting an infuser is: the larger the infuser, the less tea is needed. A larger infuser allows the tea leaves to expand to their full volume, which is sometimes three to five times their original size. A larger tea leaf means more surface area comes into contact with the water during steeping, which gives the tea more flavor. Because of this, the smaller the infuser the more tea leaves needed to produce the same flavor.
There are two different methods when it comes to steeping tea: Eastern Style and Western Style. Eastern style is generally used in tea ceremonies and is not very common here in the United States. I will detail the process briefly in this post.
When preparing tea in the Eastern style, straight tea, tea without any added flavorings or scents, is generally used. A greater amount of tea is used for each infusion and the tea is steeped for a longer time. Additionally, the same tea leaves are repeatedly used until their flavor has been exhausted.
Eastern style teapots are usually much smaller than their western counterparts. These pots can also be unglazed. If this is the case, I would recommend using a different teapot for each class of tea, ie. black, green, oolong, etc., as the unglazed pots will absorb the flavor of the tea.
Western style tea preparation varies from Eastern style in that the teapots used are larger, less tea is used for each infusion, the tea is placed in an infuser, and a longer steeping time is required. It is uncommon to use tea leaves for more than one infusion as well.
When it comes to the amount of tea leaves needed for your infusion, a good place to start is 2 tsps to 12 oz. of water. If your infuser is smaller, more tea will be needed as the tea leaves will not be able to expand as well in the confined space. Additionally, if your cup is larger than 12 oz., add slightly more tea leaves, ie. 1 tbsp to 16 oz. water. Another thing to remember is the size of the tea leaves. If the leaves are small or broken, they will take up less volume than if the leaves are large and whole. Most white teas tend to have larger leaves. For these I would suggest almost doubling the amount of tea used per cup. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If your tea is too weak or too strong, simply adjust the amount of tea leaves for your next cup.
Water temperature and steeping time also play large roles in the strength and flavor of tea. A higher water temperature will increase the body and strength of tea, while a lower water temperature will bring out more sweetness and aroma. Manipulating water temperature and steeping time are a great way to adjust the flavor of your tea. Feel free to adjust these two variables to find your favorite combination! The following chart is a guide to get you started.
|Black (except Darjeeling)
|Herbal or Tisanes
|Water Temp. (°F)
|1 ½ min.
|4 ½ min.
|3 ½ min.
|5 ½ min.
You will notice from the chart that boiling water is only used to steep two classes of tea: black and herbal. For accurate water temperature you may want to invest in an instant read thermometer. Another less precise method is to remove your kettle from the stove as soon as the water begins to boil. Allow the kettle to sit for 20-30 seconds for every 15 degrees lower than boiling needed for the correct steeping temperature.
Green tea is also divided into two categories in the chart above. This is because the Chinese and Japanese employ different methods during tea production that result in notable differences in tea color and flavor. For this reason, Chinese and Japanese green teas are steeped for different periods of time. Some of the most famous Chinese green teas include: Dragon Well (Longjing), Gunpowder (Zhu Cha), Huangshan Maofeng, PI (Bi) Luo Chun, and Chun Mei. Japanese green teas include: Sencha, Bancha, Kukicha, Hojicha, Genmaicha, Gyokuro, and Matcha. Here at High Plains Spice Company, we carry two gunpowder varieties: Gunpowder Green Tea and Moroccan Mint; two Sencha varieties: Citrus Green Tea and Pineapple Papaya Green tea; and three Chun Mei varieties: Ginger Orange Peach, Green Tea, and Jasmine Green Tea.
After you have allowed your tea to steep for the correct amount of time, simply remove your infuser and enjoy! If you leave any tea leaves in contact with your finished tea, the leaves will continue to steep and the tea may turn bitter. If your tea is two weak or two strong, start by adjusting the amount of tea leaves used for your infusion. If this doesn’t make a brew more to your liking, increase or decrease the steeping time until you find the perfect combination.
In summary, to make tea in the Western style heat a fresh pot of water to the correct temperature for your class of tea. Fill an infuser with the necessary amount of tea leaves, usually 2 tsp per 12 oz. of water. Place the infuser in your cup or teapot and pour the hot water over the tea leaves. Allow the tea to steep for the correct amount of time based on the class of tea. After steeping remove the infuser and enjoy!
How to Make Iced Tea
There is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than a delicious glass of iced tea. Making iced tea from loose leaf tea is a relatively easy process that can be accomplished by either a hot brewing or cold brewing method.
Hot Brewing Method
To make 1 gallon of iced tea, measure 1/3 cup of tea leaves to 1-gallon water. Be sure to adjust this amount based on the size of tea leaves, more for larger leaves, less for smaller leaves, and the desired strength of the finished tea. Follow the steeping guidelines in the above chart for the class of tea you will be brewing. After the tea has steeped for the correct time, remove the infuser or strain the tea into a pitcher. For a single serving, pour the hot tea over a full glass of ice. Add additional ice or cold water until the tea is the optimal temperature. The pitcher can also be refrigerated after steeping until chilled.
Cold Brewing Method
For 1 gallon of tea, add 3-5 tbsp of tea leaves to 1 gal of water, adjust based on leaf size and desired strength. Place tea leaves in a large infuser, muslin bag or directly in the container (recommended). Fill the container with cold water and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove the infuser or strain the tea into a pitcher before serving. Serve over ice.