This is what it all boils down to…brewing and enjoying a cup of tea. Even if you choose not to learn any facts about tea or tea plants beyond this, you'll want to learn how to make tea well.
Different legends have been handed down that explain how brewing tea came about. One ancient story tells of how Buddhist monks decided to add tea leaves to the water near their temple in order to disguise its disagreeable taste. When they realized their happy accident, news spread and a new custom was born.
Another tale goes back as far as 2737 BC to Chin-nung, a highly regarded Chinese scholar. In this story, he was preparing dinner outside using a fire fueled by tea plant branches when some tea leaves floated into his cooking pot. He found the liquid from the steeped leaves so wonderful that he started brewing tea regularly and eventually spread the word about his discovery.
While both delightful stories, tea leaves straight off the plant are unlikely to inspire a second taste because of their bitter and astringent characteristics. Evidence shows that while a form of tea drinking became a social custom in the fifth century, it evolved slowly. The methods we use for brewing it were only developed during the Ming Dynasty (between AD 1368–1644).
Although the process of making tea isn't difficult, how to make tea well can be more elusive. There are many variables to consider before infusing the leaves. If you learn them upfront, you'll consistently brew and drink great tea for a lifetime.
First, of course, you'll need tea. Regardless of the kind of tea you select, you'll be choosing from an ever-increasing selection of loose leaf tea or teabags. Read up on different types of tea, go to tea tastings at a local tea shop, try a few that sound good from your local grocery shelves. If you're new to tea, you will want to experiment with many types to help determine what you like best.
Then you'll need water. Water comprises over 90% of any cup of tea, so it's important to start with high quality water heated to the correct temperature. While the absolute ideal is to brew tea in the same water where the tea plant was grown, few of us have that option. Learn how to test and improve the quality of your water to get the next best thing.
Next, heat the water to the right temperature. Proper temperature is easy to achieve but varies depending upon the type of tea you're brewing. Follow our guidelines in Water Temperature to get the best taste from your tea leaves.
Then you need to let the tea leaves steep in heated water for awhile. Sometimes only a few seconds, sometimes for a few minutes. This all depends on the type of tea you're using, whether you're brewing a cup or a pot, and your personal preferences.
So go and brew some tea. Put some good tasting, fresh water in a pot, heat it to the right temperature for the kind of tea you've got, and let it steep. Give yourself some time to enjoy the brewing process and to get yourself in the right frame of mind. And after steeping—enjoy your perfect cup.
If you've ever wandered through a tea shop, you've undoubtedly been confronted by a myriad of accessories for brewing tea. For a newcomer, the choices can be intimidating and confusing. Read our primer on how to use a variety of tea accessories, infusers, and teapots, and tell you which ones are our favorites.
Iced tea is thought to have originated in the 1880's, and it remains the most popular way of drinking it in the U.S. We'll tell you how to make tea specifically for icing.
Finally, if you like tea you'll probably accumulate several different kinds in no time, some of which may hang around your kitchen awhile. We'll give you pointers for storing it so that it will still taste great whenever you want your next cup.
Our purpose isn't to make you an expert, but rather to explain a few basics in the world of tea and to give you a vocabulary for expressing your tea preferences that will ultimately lead to greater confidence. And along the way, you'll learn how to make tea great for each and every cup you drink.