Brewing a Tasty Cup of Tea

cup of tea
Alice Henneman, MS, RDN
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County

Sipping on a cup of tea can be a comforting (and healthy!) practice. Tea, both black and green, contains antioxidants that may, among other things, help protect against cancer and heart disease. While tea is not recommended as a replacement for fruit and vegetables, tea's antioxidant activity has been compared to that of fruit and vegetables in a number of studies.

If you've been making tea that tastes like lukewarm dishwater, some of these suggestions may help you:

1. Start with fresh cold water

Use fresh cold water rather than hot tap water or water that has already been heated for making your tea. Hot tap water and reheated water have less oxygen and give a "flatter" flavor. Let the water run from the tap for a few seconds to incorporate more oxygen. Unless the directions for your tea state otherwise, heat about 8-ounces of water for each cup of tea you plan to make.

TIP: Use bottled or filtered water if your regular tap water has an unpleasant flavor.

2. Preheat teapot or cup

While waiting for your water to heat, preheat the teapot or cup in which your tea bag(s) or loose tea will be steeped by filling it with hot water. It's OK to use hot tap water for preheating. If the heated water for your tea is poured into a cold teapot or cup, the water temperature may drop several degrees and decrease the flavor extraction from the tea.

TIP: If steeping tea directly in a cup, you may wish to cover the cup both while warming it with hot water and while the tea is brewing to retain the heat. Your saucer is a possibility for a cover. You also can purchase tea mugs with lids.

3. Use correct amount of water and tea

As a general guideline, use about 1 tea bag or 1 teaspoon of loose tea per 8-ounce cup of tea. Check package directions. If your tea is too strong, add more hot water after your tea has brewed. If your tea is too weak, either use more tea or less water the next time you make tea.

4. Brew at correct time/temperature

Follow the directions that come with your tea for the recommended brewing time and temperature.

Generally, for black teas — bring the water to a rolling boil. Immediately pour the boiling water over the tea. Allow black tea to steep for 3 to 5 minutes.

For green tea, which is more delicate than black tea, use water that is about 160 to 180 degrees F or just below boiling. At this temperature, you will see some steam rise from the water. This lower temperature helps protect against a bitter or astringent taste in green tea. Brew green tea for about 3 minutes, or as directed on the package. TIP: If heating your water for green tea in a whistling tea kettle, flip back or remove the whistle section so you can see when steam starts rising from the spout.

TIP: Avoid letting tea over steep — this also can make it bitter. It may be helpful to use a timer in brewing your tea — the color of the tea isn't necessarily an indicator of the tea's taste.

5. Don't overcrowd loose tea

If you use loose tea leaves rather than tea bags, your tea will taste best if the leaves have some room to expand. Place the tea leaves directly into a teapot and strain the brewed tea with a fine mesh strainer into your cups. Or use a basket infuser or a large tea ball in your teapot or cup. A tea ball or basket infuser should be filled no more than half full with tea so the leaves have room to expand for the best flavor.