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Tea steeping guidelines

by 'Irene Nielsen' - Registered Tea Consultant
  • All true tea comes from one tea plant.  Anything else are "tisanes" not real tea.  All 8,000+ varieties of teas occur because of soil conditions, humidity, altitude, time of the year for harvest, the drying or fermentation process and what the leaves are stored near or aromas the leaves are infused with.  Rooibus or "red bush tea" is a tisane grown only in South Africa.

    Correctly steeping tea for the best flavor should not be a mystery with simple guidelines.

    Use the best water available and bring to a full boil.  This is not microwaved water!  The stove top boiling water permeated with oxygen in the start of the boiling process; thus, infusing flavor.

    Measure tealeaves into a mesh infuser with room for the leaves to fully expand to double or more as they unfold and steep the liquor.  Pour the water directly over the leaves in a pre-warmed pot.  Time the steeping according to the type of tea leaves; using a timer.  Pay attention and remove the infuser when the appointed time is elapsed.  The leaves may be used a second time or more as long as a satisfactory flavor continues to be enjoyed.  After the first steeping, the liquor will be decaffinated since the caffeine comes out into the water in the first 30 - 40 seconds.

    Generally start with one teaspoon of tea leaves per cup to be steeped.  You may chose either stronger or weaker tea by more or less tea leaves.  Do NOT extend the designated steeping time unless you like a bitter tea.  The practice of putting the loose leaves into the bowl of the teapot and merely adding hot water periodically, steeps a bitter liquor that can only be palatable by adding milk.  Please don't ruin our premier teas in this way.  If you wish to add milk, do so for your preference not because you ruined the tea liquor.

    Detailed steeping quidelines are published in my book Teatime Together, Nielsen, I, 2008. To inquire about please use our Contact Us page.

General guidelines are:

Black Teas are fully fermented in the ovens.  Steep 4 - 5 minutes.  Exceptions are Darjeeling black for 3 - 4 minutes and any Assam based tea  such as Assam estate, Sunflower Black, Twilight Enchantment, Prince Jonathan George  or Irish Breakfast steep for 3 - 4 minutes only.

Oolongs are semi-fermented between green and black processing and must have slightly cooler water for  not more than 3 minutes.

Green teas are not fermented at all and are thus more tender needing water cooled from the boiling point to about 170 degrees for 2 - 3 minutes.  Green tea is a better choice in the usual restaurant because they do not have the capability of providing boiling water for you.  Water is usually taken from the tap alongside of the coffee maker and is at best only 170 degrees. Teabags are discussed more thoroughly elsewhere. Unfortunately in some circumstances it may be your only polite option.  Do NOT wring the bag or dunk it up and down as though you were washing clothes.  Ask for a plate or bowl to deposit the wet bag.  Do not oversteep by leaving it in the cup or place the soggy bag on the saucer.  The water will collect under the cup and drip across linens and your clothes.  If the restaurant provides a separate teapot, put the bag into the pot - not the cup - during steeping.  Often the bag can be pulled up and caught under the cover to keep it out of the water.

White tea is only air dried; so, the leaves and buds are very fluffy.  Use twice the amount for white tea and cooler water - about 170 degrees.

Tea leaf storage Store all tea in air-tight containers aways from heat and light...not in the refrigerator or freezer!  Teas stored in glass are exposed to  light and are quickly ruined.  Teas stored in paper are not air-tight and are stale before you get them home.  Tease stored in plastic, a petroleum based product will take on the ptroleum flavor unless the plastic is specially lined with an aluminum barier made for tea leaves.

Black tea will keep properly stored, a maximum of two years.  Oolong, green and white tea leaves will keep properly stored only one year.  Most people enjoy 5 - 6 cups a day; so, tea leaves probably will not last in your home the 1 - 2 years.  Four ounces of tea normally makes about 50 cups or if used twice, 100 cups.

Health aspects and research will be added on another heading.


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