A basic cup of tea is relatively easy to make: find a cup, grab a tea bag, add hot water. While that’s a simple and surefire method that works every time, you probably won’t have your best cup of tea that way. But with a little planning and a little more effort, you can make a superb cup of tea, one that just makes you say ahhh and brightens your day.
Here are six steps to the perfect cup of tea.
1. Choose a high quality tea
If you already have a favorite tea, or a few favorites, then you’re ahead of the game. If not, there are ever more tea shops and online tea stores with high quality tea and blends available to suit every taste. Generally speaking, tea that you’ll find in your average grocery store won’t be the highest quality tea, likewise paper tea bags frequently contain lower quality tea leaves. For the best quality tea, look for loose leaf or if you prefer your tea bagged, most producers using pyramid tea bags have a higher quality product than paper tea bags.
Ask the store about the origins of their tea, which ones they’d recommend, and then give a few a try. Whether you like oolong or pu-erh, fruity or floral blends, or just a perfectly balanced Earl Grey, eventually you’re sure to find something that you like.
2. Get the right teaware
Some teas have a style of teaware that seems to allow their full flavor to develop, for example, matcha is best whisked in a small bowl, pu-erhs do well in yixing teapots, and a gaiwan is appropriate for oolong teas. While getting the matching teaware for your tea is not essential, having a way to steep the leaves and then separate the tea liquid from the leaves, so as to prevent over-steeping will make for a better cup of tea. A large cup with a strainer, a tea ball, or other infuser will all work. For example, with the gaiwan, you’ll want a separate cup to be able to pour out the tea liquor and sip, while the leaves rest in the gaiwan.
3. Check your water
Filtered water or natural spring water is best. Tap water often has too many particulates, heavy metals, or too much chlorine that it picked up on the way through the municipal water system. This can introduce metallic or chlorine tastes to your tea.
4. Heat the water
Now it’s time to heat the water. You can use a pot on the stove or an electrical tea kettle. I recommend against using the microwave to heat your water–the resulting tea will taste ‘flat’ and sometimes also pickups old flavors from the microwave.
As far as the temperature you should heat your water to, there is some debate in the tea world about letting the water boil. But that is a relatively minor issue compared to ensuring the correct temperate of the water when it contacts the tea leaves.
5. Steep the tea
Most teas, unless they’re herbal infusions, should not receive boiling water. If you’ve let your water come to a boil, shut off the heating element, then wait a couple of minutes for it to cool before pouring over tea. Another way to achieve the correct temperature faster is to combine the hot water with chilled water. You can check the water temperature using a kitchen thermometer.
Some tea suppliers will offer precise instructions for how hot the water should be and how long tea should steep. If your tea comes with such guidelines, then follow those. If not, reference this chart for the proper steeping times and temperatures. A kitchen timer, tea steeping app on your phone, or phone timer can help remind you not to oversteep the tea.
Getting the right time and temperature is one of the most important steps to ensuring a pleasant cup of tea. Too long or too hot may result in bitter tea, while too cool or too short may result in no flavor at all.
6. Create a comfortable space
Tea is best experienced in a relaxed, distraction-free environment–avoid rushing, watching TV, or snacking. Friends, a beautiful setting, some enchanting music, and nearby flowers can add enjoyment to the experience. To truly have the best cup of tea, open your mind, ready your palette, and let the warm, fragrant, delicate liquor slip onto your tongue.
When you’ve achieved the perfect cup of tea, it’s like heaven in a cup! Sip. Savor. Enjoy!