Have you ever took a sip of freshly brewed white tea and found it was bitter, and maybe a bit harsh, or overwhelming to the palate? As opposed to the light, smooth flavor with barely distinguishable floral or fruity notes you expected?
Or what about that heavy tannic bitterness found in long-steeped black teas?
Or perhaps you’ve experienced bitterness lingering on your tongue with a full cup of green tea?
Bitter is Subjective
Bitter is a subject taste, often conditioned by how sensitive and attuned our palate is and how much other bitter flavors we consume. Therefore, a steeped tea that one person may consider bitter, another would find absolutely delightful.
“Why Does My Tea Get Bitter”
There are many reasons, besides subjective taste preference, why your tea may get bitter. There are a number of factors that could be causing bitter tea.
1. It’s poor quality. Old, stale, cheap, and otherwise poor quality tea is more likely to get bitter. This is especially true of green and black teas, which tend to be more widely available for the mass market and therefore susceptible to inferior quality and the resulting bitterness.
2. You’re burning it. Tea, particularly white tea, is very delicate and therefore should be steeped at its appropriate temperature. White tea, particularly that served in coffee shops, is frequently steeped at close to boiling. This results in terribly bitter, burnt white tea, (and it significantly ups the caffeine content of the brew). Green and oolong can also suffer from the same fate. See the chart below for correct steeping temperatures.
3. You’re steeping it too long. Some teas are only meant to be infused for a few seconds to a few minutes before pouring all the water off. If you leave the tea leaves sitting in the water too long, they continue to release tannins, the brew may become very dark, and the drink becomes bitter. To avoid this, take the tea bag out, or with loose leaf, use an infuser or multiple cups where the water can be poured off for drinking. If you think you may be having this problem with your tea, see the chart below for steeping time guidelines.
4. You’re using too much. When using loose leaf tea, generally the recommended ratio of tea to water is 1 teaspoon to 1 cup of water (hence the name “tea-spoon”). If you’re filling your tea mug 1/3 – 1/2 of the way with tea leaves, you’re probably using too much. Likewise, when using bags, aim for 1 bag per 6-10 oz of water, or according to the supplier’s instructions.
Getting much of my early exposure to green tea in China, I frequently had all of these problems at once. When visiting, networking, or even eating a restaurant, a tall clear glass tumbler would arrive in front of me. It’d be filled about half-way with mediocre quality, though broad leaf green tea, and then covered in near boiling water, thus burning it. The water would sit on top of the leaves for the duration of the visit, networking, or meal continuing to steep bitterness-inducing tannins into the water from the overfilled tea (the Chinese can be very generous).
With many proffered cups of Chinese green tea, I had mediocre quality green tea, that was getting burnt, was being steeped for upwards of an hour, and had far greater quantity than I needed in 1 sitting in 1 glass.
Some Teas are just Bitter
Despite many bad cups of tea, I developed a love for tea, and even a slight affinity for the bitterness that is often inherent in Chinese teas (even when properly prepared!).
But Not All of Them
Nonetheless, I know many people are not accustomed to, and don’t appreciate, bitter tea, so I’ve developed Belight Tea with 0 bitterness. You can leave the tea bag in all day, you can use multiple tea bags, you can use boiling water, and still, your Belight Tea will NOT be bitter. That’s the beauty of high quality tea, expertly blended.
For your other teas, consult the chart below to make sure you’re steeping them at the right temperature for the right amount of time.
How to Minimize Bitterness in Tea