It might be overstating the case a bit to say that brewing a great cup of tea is like alchemy, but it’s a statement that’s not all that far off the mark. Of course, if you’re looking to screw up a potentially great cup of tea, it’s not really that hard to do. It basically comes down to three main factors — tea, temperature and time.
You’re never going to make a great cup of tea if you start with bad tea. No, duh. It’s a statement that’s almost ridiculous in its simplicity but it’s still worth keeping in mind every time you buy tea. A good rule of thumb, in my opinion, is that you almost always get what you pay for. Cheap tea, in most cases, is going to taste like cheap tea. Expensive tea, on the other hand — except in those relatively rare cases where a merchant overcharges for a so-so product — is likely to be worth the investment.
If you’ve bought the best tea you can find you’re off to a good start but you’re certainly not out of the woods. Incorrect steeping temperatures have surely ruined countless cups of tea. As we can all vouch for if we’ve ever had weak, flavorless black tea that’s been made with tepid water or bitter, acrid green tea that’s been boiled to within an inch of its life.
So you’ve got great tea and you’ve got the temps right and you’ve still made a mess of things. What gives? There may be some other minor variables contributing to the problem but chances are you’re steeping your tea too long.
As far as steeping times go the best bet is to use what works for you and ignore what anyone else — including tea merchants — have to say. For example, I almost never steep black teas for more than two minutes. If you go by most merchant’s instructions and steep black tea from 3-5 minutes you run a good chance of coming up with a cup of tea that’s suitable for stripping paint and not much else.