A Simple Guide to Brewing Tea for Best Flavor
Good tea brewing is simply a function of water quality, tea leaf quality, water temperature, and practice.
Exploration, sharing and personal taste will help you arrive at your own style of brewing.
1) Learn a little about your tea before brewing
Remember, some teas are fussier than others. The recommendations from quality tea vendors are often excellent, but they are guidelines and may sometimes be rather generic. Every tea merits exploration and adjustment. If a tea is unsatisfactory on first taste, consult some of the many excellent free sources on tea brewing.
1) Use good tasting water
Using filter water or spring water is recommended. Chlorine, chloramine, metals, organic solids and other chemicals and compounds in tap water can ruin good tea flavor, but tap water can easily be improved with an inexpensive filter and through other methods.
If your water is highly chlorinated - simply letting an open pot of water sit out for a day before use (cover with a cloth if you will), allows the chlorine to evaporate and radically improves the quality of your tea.
See our guide on water quality for tea for more tips and suggestions.
2) Only add water to tea when it is the right temperature
Water temperature changes everything with tea. Learn to control it.
Rare is the tea that wants full boiling water poured scalding over its tender leaves. Greens and backs must be brewed at radically different temperatures or you will miss the true flavor profile of the tea. Scald a green tea and you’ll get a bitter drink without the sweetness or savory umami that makes green special. Under brew a dark tea, and you’ll get a flat, tea without the full complexity and charm a tea master put into making that tea.
Find the right temperature and formerly bitter teas blossom in sweet complexity; bland teas come awake with flavor. Water temperature doesn't need to be difficult or fussy--or even require a thermometer.
See our general: Tea temperature guide for general guidelines for most varieties of tea.
3) Separate tea and water at the right time
This generally makes a great difference. Over-brewed leaves lose their ability to provide multiple infusions and often tend toward excessively astringent flavor profiles. Tea filters, tea pitchers, two-pot service - there are many ways to separate tea from water. Find the one that works for you.
4) Quality leaf tea needs room to expand as it brews. Avoid tea balls, small filters, and other methods that prevents leaves from unfurling as they steep.
5) Yes, you can brew fine Asian tea in the Western style
If you like to brew free-swimming tea leaves in a larger pot (and not remove them English style) adjust your brewing accordingly (fewer leaves, slightly lower temperature).
5) Experiment, explore, enjoy!
Tea is one of the great affordable pleasures of life. Finding your own nature style, your own American Gongfu, is key to making tea a life-long friend.