The story is out there about not squeezing that last drop out of your teabag so you don’t get an excess of tannins in your tea. Is it true? Should you leave those last few drops behind or risk adding them to that perfect brew in your cup? The sentiments among die-hard teabag users seems to be split fairly evenly and is also directed at black tea, since other types of tea and those herbals (often misnamed as “teas”) contain much lower amounts of tannins or none at all.
The Pro-Squeeze Crowd
The main objection to squeezing, that is, the excess of tannins that gets into your teacup, is countered by the pro-squeezing crowd by saying that the amount is insignificant unless you’re drinking an extremely high quantity of tea daily. They claim that the tea flavor is not affected, especially if you tend to steep up your black tea fairly strong. Adding milk and/or some kind of sweetener will further cover any tiny bit of extra bitterness there might be. They also see this as a way to get every drop from your tea dollars and keep your tea time less messy by avoiding overly soggy bags dripping everywhere.
Pressing the bag against a spoon is one way to squeeze (considered unsightly by some). Holding the bag between your fingers and squeezing is another method (could scorch your fingers, though). Or you can use a specially-designed utensil. Quite an array of teabag squeezing utensils are available to you, such as this one:
The Anti-Squeeze Crowd
First, I no longer steep tea using teabags, infuser balls, or infuser baskets that don’t fully fit inside the steeping vessel (like the one shown below). However, when I was using teabags, I was definitely part of the anti-squeeze crowd, as shown in my previous article Putting the Squeeze on Tea Bags on this blog. Squeezing puts the “dregs” into your cup — the tannins and oils that some claim can make your tea taste bitter but also a lot of those teeny tiny dust particle sized tea leaf pieces.
The Real Issue
The real issue with whether or not you should steep a teabag is knowing how to use one properly. Here’s a quick rundown:
Pay attention to your water quality — Soft or filtered water will work best and let the tea infuse more fully than in hard water. You can use a water softener, a filter, or bottled water. Or buy a special tea blend for hard water. And be sure to bring the water to a full boil — no tepid temps here — for your black tea (cooler water temperatures are for other tea types). You might also want to warm the teapot and cups before using them, too.
- Teabags steep differently than loose leaf teas — Most teabags are filled with dust, in part so that they steep faster, and this gives the misimpression that all you have to do is dunk them in the water for a few seconds to get a proper cuppa. Don’t give in to that illusion. Let the bag sit in your cup or pot of hot water for several minutes (3-5 minutes are recommended for most black teas). The better quality teas will need that extra time for their flavors to infuse fully into the water. So, buy good quality whenever you can afford it. The extra cost will tell in your cup. You might enhance the steeping process by stirring the bag around in the pot or cup.
- Keep a proper order to things — Steep the tea, remove the teabag (squeeze or don’t squeeze, as you prefer), and only then should you add milk, sweetener, lemon, or whatever you prefer. There is also debate about putting milk in first or last. That only becomes an issue if you are steeping in a teapot and not in a mug or cup.
If you must use teabags (they’re convenient and thus very popular), at least know how to use them properly. As for squeezing, it seems to be up to you.
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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