When someone tells me that they don’t like green tea, the first question I ask is “Do you use boiling water to make it?” In most cases, the person gives me a blank look as I explain that many teas, particularly green and white varieties, taste much better when steeped at cooler temperatures. The fact that water temperature matters comes as a surprise to many people.
Of course, there is a lot more to making a good cup of tea than water temperature, and while many tea companies take extra care to recommend optimal temperatures for tea brewing, the fact is that there is no substitute for experimentation. In the world of tea, standard rules are often helpful, but we shouldn’t consider them the last word.
After a few years of tea making, here’s what I’ve learned about water temperature and tea:
- While the notion of using cooler water for green, white, and green oolong teas is generally a good one, it is possible to use very hot water to brew an excellent cup of one of these teas. While cooler water prevents scorching, very hot water extracts more flavor. The trick is to use the very hot water to brew the tea, but to keep the infusion time very, very short (10 or 15 seconds at first). For this technique, I recommend using a removable infuser basketso that you can better control the amount of time the tea leaves are in contact with the water.
- If you are making a flavored green or white tea, particularly chai teas that include spices, you may need to compromise a bit on water temperature. This is because the herbs and spices in flavored teas may need hotter water anda longer steep to extract their flavor, while the green or white tea isn’t necessarily strong enough for either. Good tea blenders will have already tested their teas, so follow the package instructions at first, then make modifications as you need to.
- Some teas just don’t respond well to very hot water. To make a more flavorful tea, either use more leaf or try preparing the tea as a cold-brewed iced tea, by adding 6 grams of tea leaf to every 80z of water and storing in the refrigerator overnight.
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