Thursday, February 26, 2009

Steeping Your Tea the "Right" Way

I get interesting questions about tea every day: "Where is tea grown?" "How much caffeine does it have?" "Is it healthy?" Occasionally, I’ll get a particularly fun one: “Is it OK if I bob my tea bag up and down while it’s steeping?” (Yes, baby, bob away.)

By far the most common question is about the “right” steeping time for various teas. Of course, there are some general guidelines you can follow: 5-6 minutes for black tea, 3-5 minutes for green tea, and 2-3 minutes for white tea and herbal teas.

Really, though, such guidelines are just a starting point. As I always love to say, tea drinking is an experience. More accurately, though, tea drinking is your experience. If you prefer a 6 minute steep time for your green tea . . . well, then, 6 minutes is the "right" steeping time.

Whenever you try a new tea, spend some time experimenting with different steeping times. Eventually you will find the perfect balance of flavor and astringency for you.


Alex Walsh said...

I beg to differ. I suggest a medium to small sized pile of tea less than the palm of your hand for a single cup. Steep with the correct temperature and the right amount of time and you should always end up with a good cup.

Most tea has a specified time that it should steeped for, providing its not bagged tea, which as you stated, can be steeped for as long as you want.

I agree completely with your time suggestions, but one thing you didn't suggest is temperature.

Temperature combined with time play the largest role in the taste of your tea - other than the quality of tea itself. If you pour boiling water onto your nice green or white tea, it will burn the leaves, leaving the tea bitter and useful only to water plants with - and the same can be said about over steeping.

Blacks are more oxidized so they can handle the high temperatures with longer steeps (3-6 min). Greens and whites are more delicate and should be around 180F with short steeps (1-4min)(7 min for silver needle and other exotics). Herbals - because they contain no actual tea leaves - are often stronger than greens and whites, so they can take boiling water, as well as longer steeps ( 1 - 10 min).

After all is said, you should end up with a nice cup of tea. If you find that your tea is too bitter or not strong enough, experiment with time before you experiment with amount.

Chai Baby said...

Thank you for your additional insights into steeping times and temperatures. Might I say that we're in agreement that a person's individual taste and pleasure are also guiding principles in the steeping process.

-Chai Baby