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Tasting tea: brewing

This House of Books sells tea with brewing recommendations. Follow those recommendations the first time you brew a variety of tea; adjust, if necessary, the next time you prepare this tea. Brewing good tea is simple and rewarding.

Start with the right amount of dry tea.  It is possible to measure with a teaspoon or a measuring spoon, but weighing out the amount of tea you need is more accurate. Most people are happy with about 12 grams of dry tea per liter or quart of water.  It is useful to know that 1 teaspoon of broken leaf tea will be about 3 grams. Over time, your experience will tell you the right amount for your preference.

Water itself is very Important. A tip: do not let the water boil for too long. Remove it from the heat soon as it comes to a boil. Allowing it to boil much longer will remove the gases dissolved in the water and your tea will taste a bit flat.

Water temperature is very important. Most black teas are brewed with very hot water, while green teas brewed with water that hot will likely come out impossibly bitter.

To brew a black tea, bring water to a boil and pour it directly onto the dry tea. Note that although our recommendation for black tea is to brew with water at 212°F  (100°C), water in Montana will never reach that temperature before it boils. In Billings, water boils at about 206°F (97°C).

For green tea, bring the water to a boil and then let it cool somewhat, to about 176°F (80°C). In Japan, where they drink a lot of green tea, they will pour boiling water into a separate bowl first, to let it cool, before pouring the water over the tea. Of course, if you have a thermometer you can just heat the water to the desired temperature.

Whether brewing black tea or green tea, it is good practice to rinse your teapot with some hot water just before brewing the tea. This preheats your teapot and helps to keep the temperature steady. This is particularly important when using a ceramic teapot. When brewing at home, you can cover your teapot with a dry kitchen towel to keep the temperature stable as it the tea steeps. This prevents the water from cooling too quickly before it has had a chance to extract the full flavor from the tea.

If you are making a quart at a time, you might like to strain the brewed tea into a vacuum carafe. This allows you to get the hot liquid off of the leaves before they are over-extracted. Using a vacuum carafe also permits the enjoyment of several cups of hot tea for the same effort as brewing a single cup.

Many of the obvious defects in tea are caused by improper brewing. A cup tea might taste too flat, too sour, too bitter, and so on. This House of Books acquires high quality, premium teas that are not likely to have glaring taste defects. If you find that a cup does not suit your preferences for taste, experiment a little with brewing methods before moving on. Plainly, if a tea has unexpected smells (should this one smell smoky?), then it potentially is a problem with the tea itself.

Does the cup seem too bitter for you? First, try steeping it for less time rather than reducing the amount of tea you use in brewing. Using less tea will reduce all the flavors in the finished cup, not just reduce the bitterness.

A second approach to reduce bitterness is to let the water cool a little before pouring it over the tea. Hotter water extracts more taste components. So, a cooler temperature might help.

Does the tea seem lacking in flavor? Using slightly more tea to make the brew will improve it.

Many common problems that are found in a cup of tea can be easily solved. If the brew is not what you want, then experiment with time, temperature, and the amount of tea until you find the combination that produces a pleasing beverage.

For more on tea brewing equipment.

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