You Are Destroying Good Tea and That’s a Crime

I just can’t take it any more. I can’t stand what you are doing. I can’t let it pass without saying something about it. You are destroying good tea and that’s a crime.

Don’t give me that look. You know what you’re doing, even if you don’t understand the full ramifications of it.

You are boiling your tea.

Stop it at once.

Tea is not meant to be boiled, stewed, or cooked. Any tea. Doesn’t matter whether it’s the cheapest stuff on the supermarket shelf or a choice Darjeeling from one of the best estates and harvests. You. Don’t. Boil. Tea. Period.

You brew tea. Every tea has an optimum temperature that is almost always somewhere below the boiling point — which is 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius, in case you’ve forgotten.

This of course raises the question of how you are supposed to know the correct brewing temperature for whatever tea you’re buying. It’s not classified information. A quality loose-leaf tea — as opposed to the tea dust packaged into mass market teabags — usually specifies the temperature on the packaging. So read the packaging.

For your basic Lipton’s black leaf or bag from the supermarket, bring the water to a boil, then take it off the burner and let it sit for at least half a minute before brewing. You’ll get a cuppa with a more floral aroma and less acidic taste. Incidentally, the Lipton’s website (and those of a few other supermarket teas) says boiling water is OK, but in my experience, it destroys the flavor of even the lowliest tea.

The correct brewing temperature stems partly from the type of tea. As a general rule, the right brewing temp for green tea is on the low side, oolong tea is a little higher, and black tea hovers just below the boiling point. Green teas suffer the most from being boiled. Some people think they don’t like green tea because they’ve boiled the flavor out of it. The fault lies not in our tea, but in ourselves.

Green tea — along with white tea, a taste I have yet to acquire — is the least processed and has the least caffeine. Oolong is a little more processed and has a little more caffeine. Processing and caffeine are highest with black tea. As you’ll have noticed, the more processing, and the more caffeine, the higher the acceptable brewing temp.

Experts differ on the exact numbers but most of the green teas I drink specify specify brewing temps of 175 F (79 C) to 185 F (85 C). The oolongs in my collection are about 195 F (91 C). For black teas, I use near-boiling temps.

Surely this person is insane, I hear many of you muttering to yourselves. How am I to know the exact temperature of the water? Am I supposed to stick a thermometer into it?

Well, yes. It’s not rocket science. You can buy a kettle with a thermometer built into the lid. A certain online retailer carries a bunch of identical-looking thermometer-equipped gooseneck kettles for an average price of 40 bucks. That’s what I use.

You’ll generally find that the temperature accelerates as it approaches your target, so keep an eye on it. Be ready to pour as soon as the needle reaches your target. If you need to remove the lid to empty out the unused water, use a potholder. Those metal lids get hot.

But you might instead go for an electric kettle with temperature control. British people seem to love electric kettles. You say tomato…

Also pay attention to brewing time. Two minutes should do it for most teas. Black teas suffer the most from being brewed too long — three minutes or more and you’re giving your mouth an acid bath. I give Lipton’s, et al no more than a minute. But I find that green and oolong teas can go a few minutes more without losing their flavor.

If you don’t over-brew, there is also the potential for a second steeping. So you might get a second or even third cup from the same tea. The flavor will change, though some tea fanciers relish the second steeping more than the first. Caffeine also diminishes with additional steepings.

Let me be the first one to admit that being shamed into doing something differently by a self-appointed expert is a drag. So don’t brew your tea correctly because I implored you to. Do it, instead, because it will give you a better-tasting cuppa tea. Thanks for listening.