Following Directions or Not?

Loose Leaf Is it always a good idea to follow the preparation directions on tea packages? In my experience, not always.

One of the joys of making tea is that you get your cuppa the way you want it. You can use as much leaf as you choose, control the water temperature, and steep it until it is “just right.” Still, package directions can be very helpful for tea newbies, particularly if they are making green or white teas for the first time and need to be warned off long steep times with boiling water. But in many cases, I’ve found that package directions don’t make the best cup of tea.

Why is this? Two reasons:

  1. The instructions reflect the preferences of the company owner or employees. I once made an Earl Grey according to package directions: 1 tablespoon of tea to 8 ounces of water. Total bergamot overkill. I played around with the leaf-water ratio and eventually brewed an extraordinary cup of Earl Grey. I mentioned the measurement snafu in my review, and a company employee responded by noting that he liked his tea very strong, hence the instructions on the package.
  2. The people who write copy for the tea’s packaging don’t drink a lot of tea themselves, so are just using boilerplate copy. Unfortunately, their carelessness ruins many a cup of tea.

Making good loose leaf tea is about experimentation and common sense. If a package of tea states that you should use a teaspoon of tea per cup, yet the tea leaves are too large to fit into a spoon, you are going to have to come up with a different system of measurement, such as weighing out the leaf on a kitchen scale. The same goes for temperature and steep times: While many green and white teas benefit from cooler water temperatures, you can sometimes make a great cup of tea by pouring very hot water over tea leaves and leaving them to steep for fifteen seconds. Try it: It just may work for you. Black teas may do well with a 3 minute steep, but if they are flavored, that can sometimes be too long. When you first decide to try a tea, buy at least two ounces: You’ll need it to discover what works best.

[Editor’s note: Our blog is chock full of great articles on this topic. Use our search feature to find them!]

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