How to Pick and Brew Teas

How to Pick and Brew Teas | Positively Smitten

Tea has a long and varied history. Drinking tea likely began during the Shang Dynasty in China, where it was consumed for medicinal purposes. England wasn’t introduced to the product until around the 1600s, not being widely consumed until the 18th century. England introduced the product to India to compete with China’s monopoly on the product.

Between 1998 to 2003, however, the tea industry quadrupled in the United States.

After water, tea is the second most consumed drink in the world; that might be due in part to the health benefits associated with tea. Besides caffeine, tea has flavonoids, amino acids, and several vitamins. A variety of health benefits have been claimed and investigated. Black and green teas have been rumored to protect against cancers. Many studies agree tea has protective properties against oral, prostate, pancreatic, bladder, and several other cancers. There is also a lower risk for recurrence with regular tea consumption. A study at Pace University found that iced, green and regular tea causes herpes simplex 1 and 2 to be destroyed or become inactive.

You can find many teas that cater to a certain health benefits you’re looking for. For example, teas with valerian root are calming and can help those with anxiety disorders.

If you’re just beginning to experiment with tea here are some ideas of where to start!

Types of Tea

White Tea White tea is subtle. White tea leaves are cultivated for their pristine condition and are processed very lightly. Drink white tea for the subtlety, lack of bitterness, and delicacy.
Green Tea Green tea has, arguably, the most health benefits. The flavor of green tea is multi-dimensional and can range from light citrus to deep green, also spinach-like.
Black Tea Black teas are more processed than white or green. Black teas are deeper in flavor and full bodied. Iced tea is general black. Black teas can hold up to stronger flavorings, and the addition of cream or lemon.
Oolong Tea Also called Wulong teas, these teas are processed differently than the three previous types. They are roasted uniquely in a continuous process that can last 12 to 36 hours. These teas range from floral to smoky.
Rooibos Tea Also known as red teas, this is a caffeine free alternative to tea, cultivated from the South African Red Bush, it gained popularity in WWII. The flavor is lighter and goes well with sweet flavors like caramel and vanilla.
Herbal Tea Herbal teas do not include tea leaves, so generally they have little to no caffeine content. They usually involve flower petals, dried fruits, or dried herbs. A popular herbal tea is Chamomile.
Pu’erh Pu’erh tea is known for its earthy and woodsy tones. Pu’erh tea is black tea that’s been aged, the leaves are naturally fermented before it’s dried. This tea is not astringent or bitter but is still deeply flavorful.
Blooming Teas The teas come in “balls” that you place in a clear or transparent tea pot and allow to bloom. The flavors vary, but are generally lighter than black teas. If you are interested in hosting low or high tea, you should check these out!

How to Brew Your Tea

After you choose your tea, pick your water. If you use water out of your faucet, your tea may end up tasting a little off. Pick your water for its light, clean taste. You can use a carbon filter to remove general “off” tasting minerals in your town’s water. Hard water will give your tea a bitter tinge. Soft water won’t extract enough of the polyphenols in the tea. Go for balanced water that tastes “plain.” Fresh water is best; already boiled water is flat water and doesn’t have enough oxygen in it. Once you have these things in order you’re ready to brew!

Tea Type Temperature Amount for hot brew, 8 ounces Amount for brewing iced, 8 ounces* Steep time
White Tea 180° F 1 ½ tsp 3 tsp 4-5 minutes
Green Tea 175° F 1 tsp 2 tsp 45 seconds-1 minute
Black Tea 195-205°F 1 tsp 2 tsp 2-3 minutes
Oolong Tea 195°F 1 tsp 2 tsp 3 minutes
Rooibos Tea 208°F 1 ½ tsp 3 tsp 5-6 minutes for hot8-15 minutes for iced
Herbal Tea 208°F 1 ½ tsp 3 tsp 5-6 minutes for hot8-15 minutes for iced
Pu’Erh Tea 212°F 1 tsp 3 tsp 3-5 minutes, since it won’t get bitter you can brew as long as you’d like.
Blooming Teas 180°F 1 ball 2 balls 3-4 minutes, until bloomed

*When making iced tea, you will generally double the amount of tea leaves in eight ounces of water, then you will dilute the steeped infusion over ice.

My Tips and Picks

Tea is extremely versatile, many mixtures of teas can be steeped multiple times (though I don’t recommend doing so for regular tea bags). Using loose teas will allow you to make your own mixtures, when you mix your own teas follow instructions for steeping based on the tea with the shortest steep time.

If you are making iced tea, it’s my suggestion to make simple syrup (a mixture of equal parts water and sugar, warmed just until the sugar dissolves) — that way, even after it is iced, the simple syrup will incorporate. For serving hot tea at a tea party, serve with lemon wedges, sugar, and cream on the side to be added by guests.

I enjoy regular tea bags and k-cups (though it’s harder to control temperature with your Keurig) in Twinings English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast. Adagio offers a blend of black tea called Earl Grey Lavender that is subtle but flavorful.  In green teas, I like the Mighty Leaf’s Green Tea Tropical, I prefer this iced.

For white tea, I like picks with subtle flavors in them (as white is a bit light for me) like honeydew melon and honeysuckle (Republic of Tea company offers both of these flavored white teas in bags). For blooming teas, I recommend the Jasmine Bloom from Adagio.

And, of course, you can always use tea to host your own tea party — try these recipes to get started!


6 responses to “How to Pick and Brew Teas

  1. This makes me want to put down my coffees and become a tea drinker! Thanks for sharing your knowledge on teas…didn’t realize they could be so different and interesting! I have a new appreciation for them.


    • I love my coffee too, but tea is fun to play around with since there’s literally so many types. I generally don’t believe people that say they don’t like tea because there’s such a huge variation of tastes in just black leaf alone that there’s something for everyone!


  2. Great article Lyndsey… very imformative. Do you think when I make ice tea and let it steep overnite..will that make it bitter or will it make it stronger ? Im basically asking it letting it steep overnite a good or bad thing for tea ?


    • With some tea the longer it steeps the stronger it gets. However, if you’re starting with water too hot it will lean on the bitter side. So I would let it cool to slightly lower than the temperature listed above then throw the tea in and steep all night if you like. The level of bitterness also comes with the grade of tea you get, so if you think it tastes bitter instead of strong then find a higher grade loose leaf black tea (from Adagio or something similar).


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