Best methods of preparation vary somewhat depending on the type of tea you choose and where your personal preferences lie. We feel that drinking tea is as much art as it is science, and encourage you to experiment to find your perfect cup of tea.
There are no hard and fast rules that must be followed, but here are some general guidelines to give you a basic foundation in tea preparation.
In general, it is best to begin with fresh, cold water (filtered is even better as it removes chemical tastes such as chlorine). Bring the water just to a boil to properly oxygenate the water for a better tasting cup of tea; over-boiling drives off oxygen. Pour some hot water in the pot to warm it, and discard. Then add the tea leaves to an infuser, filter, or tea ball. Adding tea leaves directly to the pot is a method some prefer, however, allowing the leaves to steep in the water longer than the recommended times will result in bitter tea. The French Press is a convenient and contemporary way to prepare loose leaf tea, as well as very elegant. Whichever vessel you choose, pour the hot water over the leaves. This moment is called “The agony of the leaf.”
How much tea to use in preparing your perfect cup is a matter of taste as well. However, a good rule of thumb is approximately 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of tea, and an old adage adds one for the pot. By the way, an easy way to somewhat reduce the caffeine content (no specific amounts are documented) of your tea is to steep for 30 seconds to a minute and discard. Then re-infuse the same leaves for 3-5 minutes. Decaf teas are available, but we find that the flavor is always adversely affected by the process.
Black teas should be infused 3-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. But remember: the longer you steep, the more bitter the tea. Never steep over 5 minutes in an attempt to obtain a good, strong cup. Instead, simply add more tea leaves. Black teas can take the hottest water, and should be prepared at or near boiling (212°F) temperatures. Darjeelings may infuse better at 190-195°F.
Green tea need only be steeped 2-3 minutes in general, however, there can be great variety in the proper infusion time for different types of green teas. Make sure you let the boiling water cool down for a minute or two before pouring over a green tea. Each tea is different, and you may want to experiment with the best timing for the best flavor. Make sure you let the boiling water cool down for a minute or two before pouring over a green tea as ideal temperatures are around 175-180°F.
White teas, a class unto themselves, may be prepared in similar fashion to greens, but may be infused up to 5-7 times due to the extremely high quality of the leaf. The Buddhists say that ’one should totally exhaust white tea of its flavor; to do so is to reach a state of Nirvana’. We think they are referring to the Nirvana of perfect health.
Oolongs only need 1-2 minutes to prepare a fine first cup, however more heavily oxidized oolongs may require 3-4 minutes. Since good quality oolongs stand up to numerous infusions, and usually produce subtle differences in nuance with each cup, add 30 seconds for each subsequent infusion, up to 4 times. Ideal water temperatures for oologns range from 185°F for a green-er oolong to 195-200°F for the more heavily oxidized.
Honey, milk, sugar, or lemon may be added depending on your tastes, but never use cream. It is too heavy and will overpower the delicate flavors of the tea.
You should not add anything to Green Teas or Oolongs as they are meant to be taken straight, unless a sweet tooth demands a bit of sweetener.
Herbal tisanes that are blended for improved health should be steeped or decocted (actually boiled in a stainless steel pot) for 10-20 minutes to extract all the health benefits from the herbs. Tisanes blended more for flavor, i.e., ones with more fruit content such as apple bits or cranberries can become bitter if overbrewed. A time of 3-5 minutes is sufficient for fruited tisanes. Never add milk to these as it will curdle. Rooibos, a tisane from the South African Red Bush, may infuse 5-10 minutes for a full flavored cup, but it is caffeine free, high in anti-oxidants, and well worth the wait.