Brewing the Perfect Cup of Tea: A Guide - English Tealeaves

Brewing the Perfect Cup of Tea: A Guide

Michele Lillie

You have just come home from purchasing some wonderful teas from English Tealeaves. What should you do now to ensure your tea stays fresh and you get the best brew possible, whether hot or cold?

Proper Storage

The first thing you should take note of is that you need to properly store your tea to ensure its freshness and longevity. That means keeping it away from tea’s enemies – light, heat, humidity and other strong odors. Keeping it sealed in our opaque bags is fine, but you may also want to consider a tea canister. We have a number to choose from and we invite you to come in and take a look. A great tea tin can extend the shelf life of your teas.

Tea is known for very readily soaking up other strong odors and flavors. That works to the tea’s advantage when making a scented tea such as jasmine, but it can destroy your otherwise delicious tea at home. So, do not store near coffee, spices, etc. It is great if you have a separate cabinet just for your teas and tea-making equipment.

If stored properly, tea rarely goes bad in such a way that it will make you ill. However, it can lose flavor, aroma and some of its healthy antioxidants. Green tea, in particular, can quickly lose flavor and nutrients. In fact, legend has it that black tea was first created to be able to survive long transport times from China to places such as Europe. Japanese green teas are even more sensitive than green teas from other origins. Use your senses to determine if the tea is past its prime. Do the leaves have a nice aroma? Is the taste vibrant or dull? Is the color of the leaves bright?

Different experts will give you different recommended storage times. Here is a summary.

  • Green teas – 12-18 months
  • Light oolongs – 2 years
  • Dark oolongs – 2-3 years
  • Black teas – 2-3 years
  • White teas – 6-12 months (Some tea experts keep it longer and claim medicinal benefits.)
  • Aged teas such as Pu-erh – many, many years
  • Herbal/fruit teas – 18 months

Proper Brewing of Hot Tea

How do you brew your tea to get the best cup possible? If you brew tea improperly, the tannins become prominent, giving you a bitter cup. Brewing great tea is not difficult, but there are some guidelines. Let’s start with how to brew a great cup of hot tea.

Amount of tea 

Since we are talking quality loose-leaf tea, you can’t just throw a tea bag in your cup and call it good. You should take the time to measure your tea correctly.

  • A general recommendation is about 1 rounded teaspoon of tea for every 6 ounces of water you will be using. This will work for most teas.
  • If you drink different categories of tea, you will notice that some tea leaves are much larger than others. For example, a teaspoon of a large, fluffy white tea will be much less than a teaspoon of your English Breakfast. Take that into account as you are measuring and use more or less depending on your desired taste. We always recommend using more tea rather than an extended brewing time to get a stronger cup.
  • If you want to be more scientific about it, you can purchase a scale and weigh your tea. The recommended weight is 2½ to 3 grams of tea per 6 ounces of water. Your typical kitchen scale does not usually weigh in those small increments. A tea or jeweler’s scale is what you want.

 Water type

Use whatever water you like to drink.

  • If you like the taste of your tap water, great. If you do not like your tap water, you may not like your tea. So, purchase some bottled water to use instead.
  • There are two types of water that you do not want to use.
    • First is distilled water or water that has been filtered to the point that it contains no minerals. Tea needs a certain amount of minerals to taste vibrant.
    • The second type of water not to use is a heavily mineralized water. Just as you do not want too few minerals, you do not want too many.
  • If using tap water, do not use water from your hot tap.
    • Hot water very often contains contaminants and impurities from the pipes. Cold tap water is much fresher and cleaner.
    • A second reason is that hot water is said to contain less dissolved oxygen than cold water. As the water is heated, the molecules start to move around more and escape. That will affect the taste of your tea negatively.
  • If you have an instant hot water faucet, the water is usually stored in a stainless steel container and therefore, will not pick up the off flavors as it would with hot tap water.

 Water temperature 

Water temperature is crucial to proper brewing.

  • Too hot of water can give you a bitter and unpalatable cup of tea while too cool of water can lead to a weak cup.
  • Generally speaking, the lighter and more delicate type of tea, the cooler the water should be.
  • Here are our recommendations.


Tea Type Water Temperature Brewing Time
Black, Dark Oolong Freshly boiled water 3-4 minutes
Green Oolong 185-195°F 2-3 minutes



Japanese—30 secs to 2 minutes

Chinese—1-2 minutes

White 165-185°F 2-3 minutes
Rooibos Freshly boiled water 5-7 minutes
Herbal Freshly boiled water 5-10 minutes
Fruit Freshly boiled water 8-10 minutes

Time of brew 

Just as with water temperature, improper brewing times can lead to unpleasant bitterness.

  • The lighter the tea, the less time it should be brewed. See the above chart for recommendations.
  • One very nice aspect of buying good quality loose-leaf tea is that you can re-brew the leaves at least once if not twice and still enjoy a delightful cup.

 Brewing mechanism

  • Loose-leaf tea is composed of intact or close to intact tea leaves that have been dried and often rolled into different shapes. To enjoy the full flavor of this tea, the leaves need room to expand and unfurl as they are brewing. For this reason, it is not a good idea to restrict them in too small of a brewing device.
  • Brewing the leaves loose in a pot or cup gives the most room, but the brew should be completely strained at the end of the brewing time to prevent over-brewing.
  • An alternative is to place the leaves in some sort of infuser and then remove the infuser at the end of the recommended brewing time. We have numerous different infusers that we would love to show you so you can find what is best for you.

Proper Brewing of Iced Tea

Now that you know how to brew that perfect cup of hot tea, how can you turn that into a refreshing iced tea? It is not as simple as pouring your cup of hot tea over ice as the ice will dilute the properly brewed tea giving you a weak flavor. How you decide to brew iced tea depends on how much time you have. There are three basic methods.

Brew hot and then refrigerate

This method requires planning for a few hours in the refrigerator. Brew your tea hot as explained above. After brewing, place in the refrigerator until cool. Then, when you pour it over ice, the ice will chill the tea but not melt and dilute it.

Brew hot and pour over ice

If you are in a hurry for your iced tea, this method is for you. Brew it hot but brew it double-strength, which means using twice the recommended amount of tea leaves but brewing it for the normal amount of time. When done brewing, pour over ice and as the ice melts, the dilution that occurs will give you a wonderful glass of iced tea.


Cold brew

This is probably the best way to brew iced tea but does require some advance planning. Rather than brewing the tea in hot water, put your tea leaves in a glass or pitcher and pour over cold water. Allow to brew to desired strength, strain and enjoy.

Recommendations for the amount of tea to use vary between 1 and 4 tablespoons of tea per quart of water. Timing will vary from ½ hour for light teas and up to 24 hours for darker teas. We recommend tasting every half hour until you find your perfect brew.

The reason why this is such a great way to brew iced tea is that the tannins, which can make tea bitter, do not come out with the cold water as they can with hot water. Therefore, you end up with an incredibly smooth and non-bitter iced tea.

Caution when brewing herbal and/or fruit teas

If you are brewing herbal or fruit teas, always use boiling water for a hot brew. If you wish to do a cold brew, rinse your tea with hot water before brewing in the cold water. Herbs/fruits/flowers do not undergo the same high-heat processing as real teas, which kills pathogens. Therefore, to ensure your safety, be sure to either brew or rinse in boiling water.

This all may seem like a lot but will quickly become second nature to you as you learn how to enjoy the perfect cup of tea!

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