Tea is only second to water when it comes to beverage popularity—so popular that it’s consumed as much as coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol combined. There’s always time for better tea, though, so here are ten tips and tricks to take your tea to the next level.
One of the elements of a perfect cup of tea is brewing it at the right temperature. Microwaves, as convenient as they are, simply don’t give us control over the temperature of the water, so it’s best to use a kettle.
Speaking of temperature, this graphic provides recommended temperatures and brew times (as well as caffeine content), while this one (above) shows temperatures and steeping times in a much more immediate way. By the way, Steep.it is a web-based timer that also shows you brewing time—and tells you when to take the leaves out.
Steeping time also matters when it comes to how much caffeine ends up in your cup. For more caffeine alertness, steep for a shorter amount of time. For less caffeine, you can do a brief steep, pour out the brew, and then re-steep to cut as much as 80% of the caffeine.
You don’t need a special tea kettle to make great tea, but they sure come in handy, with options to set the temperature, automatically turn on or off, and sometimes even remove the tea bag. The mugs, brewing baskets, and other accessories you use can also make a big difference in your enjoyment of your tea, so check out our crowd-sourced collection of recommendations. (I’m a big fan of the IngenuiTEA myself.)
Besides temperature and steeping time—and water quality—the other most critical element when it comes to a perfect cup of tea is, of course, the quality of the tea itself. Here are some recommendations.
One of the nicest things about tea is you can enjoy it all year round, warming up in winter with a hot cup of tea or chilling out in the summer with iced tea. When it comes to iced tea, make sure you use double the amount of tea normally used so the ice cubes don’t dilute your drink or use iced tea you’ve frozen in ice cube trays to avoid this problem. You can also cold-brew your iced tea for a stronger, smoother cup (and brewing tea in the fridge avoids the risk of bacteria like sun tea has).
I know this sounds like blasphemy to coffee lovers, but you can love both coffee and tea. Both have benefits. If you’re currently a coffee-only person, though, give tea a chance with these recommendations for coffee-like teas. (They’re not as strong as coffee, but they are uniquely flavorful.)
Tea bags are undoubtedly more convenient than loose tea, but what you trade in convenience you probably are giving up in taste and quality. Tea Muse explains it like this:
There is, of course, a huge taste difference. Teabags generally contain bits of tea leaves (typically fannings and dust), not whole leaves, and these leaf fragments brew up a nice cup of blah tea. As any tea expert will tell you, one of the essential requirements of brewing tea is giving the leaves enough room to expand so that their flavor is properly extracted. Because space is limited in a traditional teabag, the size of the tea leaf is smaller to compensate. Thus, the quality of the flavor is decreased. Thus, loose tea reigns supreme.
On the other hand, for those times you are in a tea rush, tea bags from quality tea merchants that are pyramid-shaped instead of flat are a good compromise, since they allow the leaves to expand. You can also go with a coffee filter in a pinch in lieu of a tea bag.
If you’re new to tea or just need a refresher, this is the hacker’s guide to tea.
This tip won’t make your tea better, but it helps to understand how tea makes you better (so you drink more of it!). There are so many ways tea is incredibly healthy for you—even healthier than water—and you can boost tea’s health benefits with lemon.
Use used tea bags or fresh tea to hack your body and your home. For example, feed plants with used tea bags, clean windows with tea, sooth sunburns and stop bleeding with tea bags, clean hardware floors and hide scratches with tea, freshen up small spaces with a tea bag, and maybe even get rid of warts with tea.