A lidded cup with infuser can be an indispensable part of your tea time arsenal! (Available in several colors) (ETS image)

A lidded cup with infuser can be an indispensable part of your tea time arsenal! (Available in several colors) (ETS image)

Tea is said to soothe and invigorate. But it can do neither if you don’t line up your arsenal of teawares for a proper steeping. The basics are the same, but the details can vary, depending on which tea you are steeping. Start with the tea and the rest will follow.

Black Tea

Flavored or straight or even a blend of several black teas, the process is pretty consistent:

  • Water – Usually heated to boiling, but could heat as low as 190°F for some finer grade black teas.
  • Steeping vessel – Teapots are best. The Brown Betty is ideal (in my humble opinion) since it keeps tea warmer longer and thus steeps better. Silver teapots also hold heat well (beware, a silver handle will get hot). Glass is good for when you want to watch the steeping. Ceramic, porcelain, and bone china are also great steepers, and some even say that only tea steeped in a bone china teapot and served in bone china teacups tastes proper. For you folks who prefer to steep in a mug or cup (using a teabag or some type of infuser), be sure to use a sturdy one that can hold in the heat long enough for your tea to steep properly. Cups with lids are good for this. Steeping times are 3 to 6 minutes.
  • Accessories – A measuring spoon, sugar bowls and creamers, tongs and teaspoons, and strainers come to mind. A honey bottle, slices or wedges of lemon, and other flavor enhancers are other possibilities here. If you’re using a teabag or an infuser, you’ll want something to set it on when you take it out of the teapot or mug you’re steeping in, but you won’t need the strainer.
  • Drinking vessel – Again, here is where some folks swear by fine bone china teacups as being the only proper vessel for enjoying that perfect cuppa. I also like glass teacups (they can be too fragile for some folks’ preference) and ceramic mugs. Of course, if you’re steeping in that mug, you’re all set.

Green and White Teas

Green and white teas are often mis-steeped and get a bad reputation, with people saying “I Hate Green Tea” or declaring that white teas are tasteless and/or bland.

  • Water – Usually heated to 160-180°F (70-82°C) so you steep, not cook, the tea leaves. Using boiling water is the biggest reason people end up hating green tea.
  • Steeping vessel – The second biggest cause for mis-steeping these tea types. These teas are usually consumed in smaller cupfuls at a time, so they are usually steeped in smaller quantities. If you’re used to steeping up a whole potful of your favorite black tea (about 4 or 6 cups), you will want to scale back for the green tea. Keep it at about 1 or 2 cups, using a gaiwan, a small ceramic teapot, or some type of steeping mug. Steeping times are 45 seconds to 3 minutes for green teas and from 1 to 5 minutes for white teas.
  • Accessories – A measuring spoon, a strainer or a small bowl or saucer for the infuser or teabag, and whatever you might want to add to your tea (honey, lemon, etc.).
  • Drinking vessel – If you have sipping cups, they are a very good option here. Otherwise, use a regular teacup or the mug you steeped in.

Oolong and Pu-erh Teas

Ideal for multiple steeping and using what some call the “gongfu” method of steeping. (“Gongfu” means “done with skill” and is also spelled “kungfu”.) That doesn’t mean you have to steep them in this manner, but you might want to give it a try now and then just for the experience. I list the arsenal for the gongfu steeping method as an encouragement.

  • Water – Usually heated to 185-212°F (85-100° C) for oolong and 200-212°F (93-100° C) for pu-erh.
  • Steeping vessel – Gaiwan or Yixing teapot. Steeping times are 1 to 10 minutes.
  • Accessories – A measuring spoon or small kitchen scale to assure the right amount of dry tea is used, a chahai (if you’re using a Yixing teapot), a teaboat or tea table.
  • Drinking vessel – Sipping cups are best here, although a regular teacup would do.

Blooming/Flowering Tea

The main thing here is the show. So, glass is a must.

  • Water – Heated to the appropriate temperature for the type of tea in the tea “bloom.”
  • Steeping vessel – A vessel made of glass, such as this Zen Style one (you can set aside the infuser and steep the tea in the pot to see the full blooming of it).
  • Accessories – Either a vessel to pour the steeped liquid in or a spoon or other implement to take the “bloom” out of the liquid so the tea is not oversteeped and a bowl or saucer to put it in, and whatever you might want to add to your tea (honey, lemon, etc.).
  • Drinking vessel – Sipping cups or regular teacups.

Now that your arsenal is all ready, you can relax, steep your tea, and enjoy!

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

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