Six Steps to Better Tea

January 18, 2012 by Bruce Richardson

January is Hot Tea Month

I spoke to enthusiastic audiences recently in Illinois, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Several basic tea questions seem to pop up at every appearance over the years. Here are a few of my frequently asked tea questions put into six steps for better tea enjoyment.

Clean out your old teas

Yes, tea does have a shelf life. That tin of tea you bought at Harrods in 1995 is past its prime. Toss the tea leaves on your garden and keep the tin as a memory of your London experience, or better yet, fill it with new tea and reach for it more often. Old tea won’t hurt you but it will taste flat and flavorless.

Invest in a kettle

I am amazed at the number of people who ask me how long they should microwave their tea water! Let’s get down to basics – if you want to make good tea you have to have a proper kettle. You can invest as little as $20 for a simple electric model or $35-$75 for a solid stove top kettle. There’s even an Asian kettle that sells for under $50 and doubles as a kettle or teapot. A good kettle will change your life!

Filter your water

I wrote a story about good water for tea in a previous blog. It boils down to this, get the chlorine and iron out of your water. In most instances, a simple counter top filtered pitcher will suffice. I use an under-the-counter two-stage filter for my water at home that cost under $100. Don’t use bottled distilled water because it has no minerals and avoid most spring waters because they have too much mineral content. Bottled drinking water usually has the best balance of minerals for tea.

Buy a teapot or two

Your tea will taste better if you brew it in a pot rather than a cup or mug. I suggest a small porcelain or iron pot for single users and a larger 4-6 cup pot for sharing tea with friends. After all, tea is the universal beverage that brings people together. There is no better way to show hospitality than to share a pot of tea on a cold day in January!

Switch from teabags to loose tea

Americans have fallen in love again with great loose teas. The taste is far superior to bagged teas. Plus the proliferation of so many infuser baskets, brewing sacks, and other infusing devices has made steeping easy. Anyone can steep tea at home or in the office. It’s not rocket science!

Water temperature matters

Every tea family has a optimum steeping temperature and time. It’s easy to remember that the darker the tea leaves, the hotter the water. Here’s a simple guide to the four tea families:

  • Black tea: 4-5 minutes at 212° F
  • Oolong tea: 2-4 minutes at 195°-205° F
  • Green tea: 2-4 minutes at 175° F
  • White tea: 3-5 minutes at 165° F

My benediction for you during these cold days of winter is to go forth and make good tea!

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Author: Bruce Richardson
Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

Accomplishments
MSN calls Bruce Richardson "A leading tea expert involved in tea's American renaissance for over 25 years." The native Kentuckian is a writer, photographer, tea blender, and frequent guest speaker at tea events across the globe. He can often be found appearing on television and radio talk shows, or as a guest speaker at professional seminars such as World Tea Expo and China Global Tea Fair. He is the author of over a dozen books on the subject of tea. Mr. Richardson serves as Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.