Before we talk about water temperature - here are some general thoughts about water quality: Tea can only be as good as the water that is used to brew it. The more delicate the tea, the more important the water quality becomes. A simple way to qualify tea water is: "If you like the taste of your plain water, it will most likely be fine for tea". We recommend using a good, bottled spring water. When using regular tap water, it is recommended that you filter out the added chlorine which harms the flavour of tea. The Brita household filters have proved to do a good job and are reasonably priced. Do not use distilled water. It lacks the minerals that are necessary to bring out the flavour of tea and will make the infusion flat and almost soapy.
Finding just the right water temperature is an important secret to preparing many fine teas. Most black and oolong teas should be infused with water that has just reached the boiling point. The boiling is important because it increases the amount of oxygen in the water which will make for a fresher tasting tea. If the water continues to boil, it becomes de-aerated and flat. An easy way to ensure just the right boiling time is to use an electric water kettle that automatically switches off when the full boiling point is reached.
Green and white tea must be brewed at lower temperatures of 90*C, depending on the tea. The general guideline is: the finer the tea, the lower the water temperature. If the water temperature is too high, green tea will quickly start tasting bitter. Please refer to the chart below for a summary of water temperatures, or to the recommendations in our tea list for the suggested temperatures listed individually.
Summary of brewing temperatures:
Temp in °C
Visual Evaluation of Temperature
Full boil with full bubbles developed
Top grade green teas
Slightest sign of bubbles and steam;
Small bubbles developed,
Full bubbles developed, brisk steam rising
The often-quoted 3 -5 minutes of steeping time is a good guideline for most sturdy black teas. Generally speaking, the smaller the particle size, the shorter the steeping time. Variations of the steeping time will produce equally good cups with different levels of flavour and aroma.
The more delicate black teas as well as all green, oolong and white teas require different steeping times to bring out the subtle characteristics. Here are some examples:
- Special Grade Ti Kuan Yin, prepared gungfu style, takes no more than 30 seconds for the first infusion.
- Most green and white teas taste best after 1 to 2 minutes - tightly-rolled leaves take a little longer - and can usually be infused multiple times.
- Darjeelings, with their delicate, fruity aroma which can quickly become unpleasantly bitter, usually should not be infused for more than 3 minutes. 15 seconds more or less can make a huge difference.
- Some Formosa Oolongs may steep for up to 7 minutes.
Please refer to the recommendations in our tea list for the individually suggested steeping times. We strongly recommend to always use a kitchen timer, preferably a digital one with minutes and seconds.
Serving tea "properly"
After following the above procedures, a remarkable tea will be ready to be served, which triggers some last remarks on:
1. The Serving temperature of tea
The human palate is much more sensitive to moderately warm beverages than to very hot ones. Consequently, we recommend that you have the patience to let the tea cool until you can comfortably touch the cup; as long as the cup is too hot, the tea is too hot to drink.
2. Tea cups - a very subjective excursion
Tea, of course, can be served in any kind of heat-resistant cup or mug. A huge selection of sometimes amusingly elaborate tea ware is available in a wide variety of prices.
We feel, however, that fine tea warrants a drinking vessel that underlines and emphasizes the natural beauty of the beverage, instead of distracting from it. A simple tea cup made from white porcelain or heat-resistant glass has the same effect on tea as a plain wine glass has on wine - it will let the beverage speak for itself.
3. About the addition of milk, sugar and other substances
When it comes to adding ingredients to tea, the preferences are as diverse as are tastes and customs. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy tea - anything that sounds good is worth trying. (How about a Russian Caravan Tea with a spoonful of marmalade?) For the sake of discussion, we will briefly summarize the arguments made for and against the use of milk, sugar and lemon in fine tea:
The least disputed advice is that green, oolong and delicate Darjeelings should be served without any additions. A vast majority of tea lovers will also agree that hearty black teas, such as Assams, strong Ceylons or bolder Keemuns, take milk well and are, in some cases, even enhanced by it.
As far as the use of sugar is concerned, the differences of opinions are widely spread. While many tea enthusiasts feel that the addition of sugar disguises the taste of fine tea no matter what, others with palates that are used to sugar, feel that it improves the taste of many strong teas. For those who enjoy their morning cup strong and slightly sweetened we recommend the use of the more neutral-tasting rock sugar. Rock sugar is well known in Europe as the ideal sweetener for tea.
No matter what the individual taste may call for, it is hard to defend the addition of lemon to fine tea. It undoubtedly adds a lemony taste and thereby alters the flavour of any tea. Lemon should therefore be reserved for refreshing iced teas (green or black), or to add nuance to an otherwise "boring" tasting tea.
You will find a good general overview of tea on Wikipedia