The Origins of Tea Steeping

Tea steeping is a time-honored tradition that can be traced back nearly 5,000 years to ancient China. According to legend, the Emperor Shen Nung was relaxing in his palace garden beside a beautiful Camellia sinensis tree. As he boiled some fresh water for drinking, several leaves fell down from the tree and blew into his pot.

Rather than tossing the infusion out, Shen Nung decided to taste it. The Emperor was surprised and delighted by the warm, aromatic beverage, and dedicated many years to studying its restorative properties.

Over the span of thousands of years, tea drinkers around the globe have perfected the art and science of tea steeping. Indeed, this process plays a significant role in developing the flavor and aroma of each cup. Even the finest tea leaves may suffer from bitterness or lack of flavor if not correctly steeped. 

Discover the five most common tea steeping mistakes that may be negatively impacting the flavor and quality of your daily cuppa:

Mistake #1: Steeping Tea in Water That Is Too Hot

When preparing tea, the first step is to boil a pot of water. This is an essential step, as the boiling process is responsible for oxygenating the water and drawing out the flavors of the tea.

However, boiling water can actually scorch delicate white and green tea leaves, resulting in an unpleasant bitter taste. Rather than boiling water to a full 212 degrees Fahrenheit, bring your water to a gentle boil that will bring in just enough oxygen to enhance the tea—around 165 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit for most white and green teas

If you do not have a thermometer, look for small strings of bubbles that float to the surface of the water. This temperature should be sufficient for steeping more delicate tea varietals.

Black tea, rooibos tea, and herbal tea are robust enough to hold their flavor against boiling water. When preparing these teas, allow the water to reach a full rolling boil, up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Oolong teas fall somewhere in the middle and should be steeped at around 190 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mistake #2: Heating Water in the Microwave

As previously described, the boiling process is responsible for oxygenating water. This step brings out the tea’s full flavors and aromas.

Microwaves heat the water too quickly and unevenly, which can result in flat, dull, or bitter-tasting tea. This method typically does not allow bubbles to form in the same way as an electric kettle or stovetop kettle, meaning the tea is not properly oxygenated.

Additionally, microwaves may impart food odors into the water as it is heating. For best results, always begin with cold, fresh, filtered water and heat using a kettle.

Mistake #3: Not Steeping Long Enough

Allowing your tea to steep for the correct amount of time is an essential step in preparing flavorful, full-bodied tea. As the tea steeps, the dried leaves unfurl and release their flavors into the water. Under-steeping your tea will result in a weak, watery cup that lacks depth.

5 Most Common Tea Steeping Mistakes

Mistake #4: Steeping Too Long

Perhaps an even more common tea steeping mistake than not steeping long enough is allowing your tea to steep for too long. If you exceed the recommended steeping time, your infusion may become bitter. This is caused by an excess of tannins in the water. 

You will know that your tea has been over-steeped if you notice a very dark color along with an unpleasant bitter taste. For best results, always follow the recommended tea steeping times on the package, and experiment to find your desired range.

Mistake #5: Squeezing the Tea Bag

Have you ever squeezed the tea bag into your cup before tossing it out? Many Citizens do this in an attempt to extract the full flavor from the tea. However, this results in a similar outcome to over-steeping your tea.

If your tea has been steeped for the recommended amount of time, then the full flavors and aromas have already been extracted into the water. When you squeeze the teabag, you are simply releasing excess tannins. This will result in a bitter flavor that most Citizens would likely rather avoid.

We hope these tea steeping tips have been useful and will help you steep your perfect cuppa each and every time. Remember to enjoy your tea sip by sip!.

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