The Do’s and Don’ts of Boiling Water for Tea

Those of us who like black teas — and we are legion — know the importance that truly boiling water has in relation to the steeping of those teas. There is an old joke that someone is such a poor cook, they can mess up even boiling water. We all laugh under the impression that there really is nothing simpler when it comes to cooking than boiling water. But we are mistaken. There are numerous “do’s” and “don’ts” to boiling water, especially when it is being boiled to steep tea.

Give your water a chance to really dance! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
Give your water a chance to really dance! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Do use a proper heating vessel. My preference is for a stovetop tea kettle. It comes equipped with a whistle to announce when the water has reached a boil, but the sound is irritating to me, so I don’t use it. Other options are electric kettles, saucepans, cast iron teapots, the kind of glass teapots that can sit directly on the heat source, and open top pots.

Don’t forget to put water in the kettle. You may be chuckling right now, but it’s happened. In fact, some electric kettles now have automatic shut-offs that prevent them overheating if you turn them on while they are empty or very low on water.

Do turn the heat on (or the electric kettle). Again, you may be chuckling, but again I say it happens where folks walk away from the kettle or pot without doing this. As one who has been tech support for users of PCs (personal computers), I have often had to ask “Is it plugged in? Did you turn it on?” and gotten “No” responses to both. Sigh!

Don’t yell at the tea kettle, saying something like “Boil now, you sorry excuse for a tea kettle!” You’ll hurt the kettle’s feelings and probably never get water to boil in it again. That “elevator button mentality” where you keep pressing the button hoping the elevator will arrive sooner doesn’t work here.

Do avoid watching the tea kettle as it absorbs heat and transfers that heat to the water within. The old saying “A watched pot never boils” has nothing to do with science. It has to do with the bashful nature of tea kettles of all types. If you stare at it, it becomes very self-conscious and, just like we humans can do under such circumstances, tends to fumble at whatever it is doing.

Don’t be fooled by steam. Water will emit steam before reaching a full boil. Another reason I don’t use the kettle’s whistle, since steam is what makes it whistle.

Do watch for that full dance of bubbles that are the sign of a true boil. Glass tea kettles (electric or other) are great for this, as are open saucepans or pots. You may start out with a lid on these pots but remove it as you hear the water approaching a boil.

Don’t let the water overboil. Some think this removes too much oxygen from the water, but it’s just a waste of time and energy.

Do pour the water into the teapot as soon as possible after the water boils. There is a saying “Bring the teapot to the kettle” that means you have the teapot prepped with the tea of your choice sitting by the stove or next to the electric kettle so you don’t have to walk far and risk the water cooling a degree or two.

The hard part is over. The water has been properly boiled. Time to let the tea and water co-mingle, creating that wonderful liquid: tea!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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4 thoughts on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Boiling Water for Tea

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  4. Kitty

    interesting that it matters to bring the cup or pot to the stove. I’ll have to try to be more careful about doing that. thanks for the tip and the reason behind it.

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