5 Important Things for a Good Cup of Tea
1. The right water
Tea is, after all, 99% water — which is why it’s extremely important when you want that perfect cup. I’ve consumed thousands of cups of tea in my lifetime, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the type of water makes a huge difference.
This is all just the personal opinion of some guy on the Internet, but I think bottled spring water makes the best brew. This is coming from years of experimenting with different types of water — even rainwater, which had a light but ultimately bland flavor. The flavor notes really come out with the bottled spring water in my area. I’ve read of people having success with tap or filtered water, but it never worked for me. The tap water where I’m from — Central Florida — really didn’t impress me when it came to tea. It tasted dull and boring.
2. Water amount
So you have the right water, but what about the amount of water? To get that perfect cup, you want a good ratio of tea to water. This is subjective and dependent on the type of tea, but there is one crucial thing I watch out for: Am I making the tea western style or eastern style?
Western-style requires more water but less leaf. Usually, people use around a half gram of leaf per three ounces of water. This is then brewed for three to four minutes. Some people use a lot more leaf and keep the water amount the same. It’s totally dependent on you and your preferences.
The Eastern method, also known as Gongfu, is the Chinese method of tea brewing. Here, you keep the amount of water the same but you increase the amount of leaf. Then you brew multiple times but in short bursts. For example, the first brew would be ten seconds, then the second brew could be fifteen seconds, and so on. This allows the flavor notes to gradually unfold and with each brew you get to know the tea a little bit better.
I am not sure which method is better. It really depends on the tea and how much time you have. If you’re in a rush, I’d stick with the western style. If you have some free time on your hands, try out Eastern style and see what happens!
3. Leaf quality
Another very important factor is the leaves themselves. For most of my life, I thought tea was just powder that came in bags. Then I visited a tea shop and found out how wrong I was. High-quality tea is whole leaf tea, not dust. The better stuff is more expensive than what you get in a grocery store, but if you’re a tea lover like me then it’s totally worth it. The flavor difference and mouthfeel are night and day.
A lot of people tell me that they can’t taste the tea or it tastes too bitter. The usual suspect is because they aren’t using quality leaves. There’s a saying in the tea world that applies here: You can make a bad cup of tea from good leaves, but you can’t make a good cup of tea from bad leaves.
Trust me. I’ve tried.
4. The right temperature
The correct temperature depends on the type of tea. If you’re brewing black tea, then you generally want to be using hotter water. I use between 190° F and 205° F water. I haven’t had much success brewing with temperatures outside of these ranges when it comes to black tea. Now you may be wondering why I didn’t go all the way up to 212° F. I’ve found that tea brewed with boiling water tastes flatter. Boiling water removes oxygen, and I think this is what causes that blander taste.
With oolongs, you want to drop the temperature between 185° F and 205° F. If it’s a ball-rolled oolong then I’ll use hotter water since those leaves need to unfurl in order to get the best flavor.
White teas perform best between 175° F and 185° F, I’ve found. However, it’s really dependent on the tea. I’ve tried brewing whites at higher temperatures and they still came out okay.
Green teas are the most sensitive of the bunch. For finer, thinner leaves, I brew around 150° F. For thicker leaves, my go-to temperature is 170° F. I am careful when it comes to greens. Sometimes people tell me they use boiling water for this tea type and then they complain about it tasting bitter. This is because the leaves are extremely sensitive and can’t take such high temperatures.
5. Have fun and experiment!
Tea has such a variety that it’s a lifelong experiment. Try different types of tea and do things out of your comfort zone. You’ll be surprised what you find. I’ve tried radically changing the brew time for what I thought was a mediocre tea and it made a huge difference. Even the type of cup matters. I’ve tested the same tea from different types of cups (glass and porcelain) and the difference was definitely there.
So play around and see what works for you!