Tea Education

What is Black Tea?

Pouring black tea into a flowered tea cup with a pile of black tea leaves

The Origins of Black Tea

Black tea is a delicious, robust tea with warm flavors and an often distinct astringency. It is delicious plain, with a dollop of milk, or sweetened with honey. We drink bracing black teas to warm up on cold winter days, sweet iced black teas to cool down in the summer, and weakly brewed teas with lots of honey for sore throats. For these and many other reasons, black tea is the tea we are most familiar with in the West. But interestingly, black tea is a relative late comer to the tea world and did not exist as we know it today before the 17th century. 

Prior to the invention / discovery of black tea, most Chinese people consumed primarily green teas and oolongs. In the 17th century, however, Europe began importing tea and a whole new market opened up - but this new market was not without its challenges. It is thought that the Chinese started experimenting with oxidation and fermentation to prolong the shelf-life of teas that now had to make very long ocean or overland voyages to an increasingly voracious foreign market in Europe. And, thus, black tea was born!

Today, black tea is produced in many different countries, including China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Rwanda, and more!

How is Black Tea Made?

If you started reading this article thinking that there is a black tea plant and a green tea plant, you are not alone! This is a common misconception in parts of the world where the tea plant (camellia sinensis) doesn't grow natively - like here in the United States! It is natural to assume that two beverages with such wildly different colors and flavor profiles must come from different plants. In practice, however, how the leaves are processed changes their appearance, flavor, and even chemical composition, creating the beautiful white, green, oolong, black, and pu erh teas we enjoy so much.

The Process for Making Black Tea

1. Plucking

Most black teas are made from mature camellia sinensis leaves and may be plucked either by hand or by machine. Special black teas like golden bud teas and teas known as “beautiful teas” are carefully plucked by hand to ensure composition and quality. 

2. Withering

Chinese Black Teas

During the withering phase, leaves are withered either naturally or mechanically. In natural withering the leaves are spread on the ground or bamboo racks for 5 to 6 hours with frequent stirring. Mechanized withering takes about 4 hours and uses sieves over brick containers that are heated using hot air circulated from wood fires (this gives Chinese black tea its characteristic smoky flavor). Withering removes about 60% of the moisture from the leaves and allows the leaves to soften, preparing them for rolling.

Indian Black Teas

In India, producers reduce the water content of leaves by spreading the freshly picked leaves out in withering vats. The leaves are spread on grids of metal, jute, or plastic that allow air to circulate. The humidity and temperature are constantly monitored during withering, and after 14-17 hours the moisture content of the leaves will be reduced by 60-70%. 

3. Rolling

Once the leaves are withered and softened, they are rolled by hand or by machine to break down the structure of the cells, triggering enzymatic oxidation. 

4. Oxidation

Black tea is fully oxidized, giving the leaves their characteristic dark hue that brews to a beautiful, deep-reddish-brown liquor. How your black tea is oxidized depends on the traditions of the production region and tea estate. 

Oxidation is the defining step of black tea production, and it all comes down to some pretty interesting chemistry. During oxidation, the originally colorless polyphenols in camellia sinensis leaves are transformed into theaflavins and thearubigins. It is this breakdown that gives black tea its color and astringency - and also leads to the interesting way your body processes the caffeine in different teas (hint: black tea might not be as caffeinated compared to green tea as you think!)

If your oxidation period lasts too long, the tea will develop a thick liquor and a strong, almost fermented taste. Too little oxidation results in a thin liquor and a green or raw infusion. 

Chinese Black Teas

Dependent on the conditions of the day and location, the oxidation process for black teas may last 8-12 hours. During oxidation, the leaves are spread out and covered with wet cloths to further stimulate the enzymatic oxidation reaction. The ambient temperature should be around 72°F. 

Indian Black Teas

Indian black teas are spread out on ceramic or steel trays in a humid environment between 68 and 86°F. For quicker oxidation, the leaves are spread in a thin layer. Alternatively, if the producer is looking for a slower oxidation, the layer will be relatively thick. In modern times, humidity may be controlled by a humidifier to maintain at least 90% humidity. Some first flush Darjeelings may only oxidize for 15-30 minutes! Many teas from Assam, in contrast, will oxidize for up to 4 hours. Either way, this is far less time than it takes to oxidize leaves using the traditional Chinese method. 

5. Drying

Oxidation is halted and residual moisture is removed using various techniques until the moisture content is down to 2-6%. Most methods in China involve blowing warm air through conveyer belts. Indian black teas are placed on conveyors or revolving trays in heated machines. 

6. Sorting & Sifting

At this point in the process, the tea leaves are sorted into different grades and undesirable elements like dust, branches and other residue are removed. In China, higher quality teas are usually hand sifted using a bamboo sieve. In India, the leaves are sorted using vibrating grids of varying sizes placed on top of each other. This keeps the larger leaves on top, intermediate leaves in the middle, and crushed leaves and dust at the bottom. (Fun Fact: In Darjeeling all teas are sorted this way and leaf size is used as an indicator of grade.)

7. Firing (Optional - Chinese Black Teas Only)

This last, optional stage of the process further reduces moisture content and aids batch standardization. 

Is There a Difference Between Chinese Black Teas and Indian Black Teas?

In an effort to reduce trade reliance on China, the British developed the tea industry in India in the late 19th century. Their focus in this development was as much if not more about efficiency than quality, and almost all Indian teas are processed mechanically. 

The key differences between Chinese black teas and Indian black teas is characteristic flavor. Most Chinese black teas will have a more mellow tannin and may have a slightly smokier flavor depending on how they are withered and fired. 

Most Indian black teas, on the other hand, have a more prominent and astringent tannin. If you are a fan of Breakfast Teas, you prefer the strong, robust flavors of an Indian black tea like Assam. Darjeeling is a bit more nuanced with particularly high quality tea estates producing extremely aromatic teas with notes of spice, fruit, and malt.

These differences in flavor are attributable to both terroir and production. Below we go over some of the key differences between how Chinese and Indian tea producers process black tea.

The Orthodox Method - India

Developed around 1860, the Orthodox Method uses a largely mechanized process and is used to produce the higher grade Indian teas. This process includes all the steps mentioned above: Plucking, Withering, Rolling, Oxidation, Drying, and Sorting.

The CTC Method - India

Developed in the 1930s, the Crush-Tear-Curl (CTC) method speeds up the oxidation process and increases the quantity and speed of harvest yields. Rather than the more complex Orthodox or Chinese methods for processing black teas, CTC consists only of a quick withering followed by cutting and crushing rather than rolling. The leaves are then further torn apart in a machine called a Rotorvane. Then the leaves are rolled into small beads in a large barrel. Usually the leaves used for CTC teas are of a coarser, inferior quality.

This method of course revolutionized the tea industry in much the same way that mechanization changed the world during the Industrial Revolution. Similarly, this revolution in efficiency was at the expense of quality in favor of efficiency, volume, and uniformity. 

Camellia Sinensis Sinensis vs. Camellia Sinensis Assamica

Most black teas are made from the tea plant camellia sinensis var. assamica. Assamica is native to both India and the Yunnan Province in China, and it was the discovery of assamica in India that allowed the British to establish the tea trade in that country. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, with sinensis referring to China, literally means Chinese tea plant. Today, there are many different cultivars from both var. sinensis and var. assamica grown to produce teas and you will find both varietals in multiple regions. That said, it is safe to assume that if you are drinking a black tea it is likely var. assamica, even if it's not from the Assam region in India!

How is Black Tea Different from Green Tea?

Black tea and green tea differ in one major area: oxidation. In green teas, the natural enzymatic oxidation is halted after withering using either steaming (Japan) or panning (China). This additional step of heating the leaves until the enzymes that cause oxidation lose their potency is essential in keeping green teas, well, green!

What is the Best Black Tea? (Black Tea Grades)

As with many things, what you think is the best black tea will be subjective and based on your own tastes. With that said, black tea grades are not necessarily an indication of quality, though it is true that most whole leaf teas will be of better quality than crushed. This is because whole leaf teas brew a more nuanced and aromatic infusion while broken and crushed leaves result in a darker liquor with a flatter flavor profile. 

The three major tea grades are: whole, broken, and crushed, referring to the state of the leaves. 

If you’re looking for a way to differentiate your whole leaf teas, in China the quality of tea is usually indicated by growing region and producer. You will find that terroir (the character soil conditions impart to a tea) is an excellent way to determine whether or not you will like a particular tea. Both Yunnan and Fujian Provinces are renowned for their black teas and are an excellent place to start your explorations!

In India, the British and Dutch traders established a complex grading system based on the size and quality of the leaves. 

Some key grading vocabulary:

  • Tippy - the presence of flowering buds
  • Golden - the tips (buds) that turn golden after oxidation
  • Flowery - the floral aroma released by buds
  • Orange - a historical reference to the first European importers of tea: the Holland-Nassau Dutch royal family 
  • Pekoe - meaning “white down,” pekoe comes from pak-ho and refers to the final bud on the branch typically covered in a fine, white down.
  • Quality Indicators: Special, Finest, 1

The producers will use the first initials of these grading terms to indicate the quality of the tea. Sometimes they will add Special, Finest, or the numeral 1 to indicate exceptional batches. 

Our Ceylon Orange Pekoe, therefore, is not an orange flavored black tea, but a whole leaf black tea with buds from Sri Lanka (colonial name: Ceylon)!

How Do You Prepare Black Tea?

While there is definitely room for nuance in the preparation of black teas (for example, some First Flush Darjeelings may benefit from a shorter steep and cooler water), most black teas may be brewed for 3 minutes with water that’s just under boiling at 205°F.  

We recommend 5 grams of tea to 16oz of hot water (this is our standard to-go size at our tea bar). Most mugs at home will hold about 6-8oz of liquid and use 2-3g of tea. Don’t forget whole leaf teas may be re-steeped several times in the Western method at increasing time intervals. 

For traditional brewing, you will fill your Gaiwan or Yixing about 1/3 full and brew at 205°F for about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Full leaf black teas brewed in this manner will steep 5-6 times at decreasing time intervals as the leaves open more fully. 

Shop Loose Leaf Black Teas Online Green Button with Saratoga Tea & Honey Bee

Sources: 

Gascoyne, K., Marchand François, Desharnais, J., & Américi Hugo. (2016). Tea: History, terroirs, varieties. Firefly Books. Ltd.

15 Most Refreshing Iced Teas for Summer 2021

three cups of iced tea with green and white striped straws

The sun is shining, little bits of green are already starting to peek through in our upstate gardens, and the days are getting longer and warmer...  This of course has us thinking about what iced teas we're going to be enjoying at home, on the lake, and at our Tea Bar this summer!

There's nothing more refreshing than an ice cold glass of cold brewed tea on a hot summer's day, and we're going to share a few of the best teas for making iced tea based on customer reviews and our experience of how well they brew. 

Whether you are looking for an invigorating boost of morning caffeine or a refreshing afternoon thirst-quencher, our favorite teas and caffeine-free herbal tisanes for making iced tea are sure to be a hit with you and yours. 

The Best Iced Teas for Summer

Since taste is a rather subjective measure, we are organizing our best iced teas by category and caffeine content rather than a ranking system. But stick around to the end of the article to find out what our most-requested, number one best iced tea is according to our CommuniTEA!

Best Iced Green Teas

Matcha

A wonderfully vibrant and brisk green tea made from powdered green tea leaves, Matcha is a highly caffeinated and invigorating drink - especially iced! Shake your matcha in a cocktail shaker with ice, water, and a little Mango Honey simple syrup for a delightfully tropical start to your morning!

Long Jing

One of the most famous Chinese green teas, the lightly vegetal and sweetly nutty character of Long Jing green tea makes for a refreshingly light iced green tea. We recommend pairing this delightful iced Chinese green tea with Peach Honey to make a luscious and thirst-quenching peach tea.

Kukicha

Bright and sweet, Kukicha cold brews to a brilliant lime green and has just as much lively character as its color would suggest. One of our absolute favorites iced, Kukicha pairs well with our fruit infused honeys (but we think it's best enjoyed plain)!

Best Iced Black Teas

Darjeeling

Darjeeling has long been one of the world's most popular black teas for a reason: it's absolutely delicious and extremely versatile! Well-balanced tannins with notes of malt and dried fruit make Darjeeling the perfect answer to both cold winter mornings and hot summer afternoons. We love how our Darjeeling cold brews to perfection for an excellently balanced iced black tea. Pair with local Wildflower Honey for sweet tea sippin' and front porch sittin'. 

Keemun Mao Feng

Keemun Mao Feng is probably the most-brewed iced black tea on our Tea Bar menu here at our Saratoga Springs flagship store. The lovely and mellow notes of sweet potato and chocolate give way to even tannins, making Mao Feng the perfect choice for iced black tea - whether you plan to brew it cold or hot. We recommend our Mao Feng without honey, but sweet tea lovers will enjoy Tupelo Honey in this delightfully balanced black iced tea.

Best Iced Oolong Tea

Da Hong Pao

One of our more oxidized rock oolongs, Da Hong Pao has excellent character iced. Brisk and rustic enough for the tannins to come through even cold-brewed, we love the rugged quality of this oolong for beating back the heat of summer. If you're enjoying your Da Hong Pao hot in the morning, brew your second or third steep extra long and then cool down for a refreshing iced treat in the afternoon!

Get Started on Iced Tea Season with our Good Libations Iced Tea Sampler....

Best Flavored Iced Teas

Blueberry Bumble

Lightly fruity and perfectly refreshing, this blueberry scented white tea is a makes an excellent afternoon pick-me-up or way to cool down at Fourth-of-July BBQs. Cold brew this tea for best results and enjoy a berry iced tea that's uniquely satisfying. We recommend this blueberry tea with our Lemon Tree Honey for a light and refreshing afternoon drink. 

Moroccan Mint

Nothing quenches thirst quite like a mint green tea on a hot, steamy day. The refreshing combination of invigorating mint and energizing green tea is sure to cut through any heat-induced stupor and get you going for a fun afternoon in the sun. Pair our Moroccan Mint green tea with Wildflower Honey for a sweet but refreshing pairing.

One Night in Rio

Sipping this gorgeous combination of black tea, pineapple, and coconut will transport you immediately to white sand beaches and crystal blue waters. We recommend adding a splash of Mango Honey for extra tropical vibes and think this iced tea pairs particularly well with rum for adult drinks!

Strawberry Fields

Fruity drinks have a particularly thirst-quenching quality, and iced Strawberry Fields is no exception. Delightfully light, Strawberry Fields is a refreshing blend of berries, green, and white teas. We recommend cold brewing this tea and serving lightly sweetened with Lemon Tree Honey.

Best Caffeine-Free Iced Teas

Blood Orange Hibiscus

Citrusy blood orange and tart hibiscus combine with stevia in this caffeine-free tea to make a naturally sweet and refreshing iced tea. Blood Orange Hibiscus is one of our favorite recommendations for iced tea because its sweet-tart flavor profile makes for a particularly satisfying glass. Brew this tea hot and then cool overnight in the refrigerator before straining for best results. Pair with Lemon Tree Honey for extra sweetness.

Crimson Berry

Even in winter, this sweet-tart combination of ripe berries and hibiscus is popular iced at our tea bar. A particularly refreshing combination of black currants, cranberries, elderberries, and hibiscus, our Crimson Berry is reminiscent of some Teavana faves. Brew this herbal tisane hot and cool in the refrigerator for several hours before straining for best results. Our CommuniTEA loves Crimson Berry plain with Mango or Wildflower Honey or shaken with Matcha for a berry-kick.

Fountain of Youth

On the other end of the caffeine-free spectrum we have this turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon tisane that will appeal to black tea and coffee drinkers looking for a way to quench their summer thirst without caffeine. Wonderfully spicy and revitalizing, you'll definitely want this anti-inflammatory tisane in your summer rotation. Brew this herbal tisane hot and cool overnight in the refirgerator. Pair with Ghost Pepper Honey for a surprising, extra kick!

La Provençale

Named for southern France's famous lavender fields, La Provençale is a gorgeous blend of lavender, mint, rosemary and other herbs that will immediately transport you to summer in the French countryside. Brew this herbal tisane cold and steep overnight in the refrigerator. Shake your iced La Provençale with Matcha and Lavender Honey for a CommuniTEA favorite: the French Matcha.

Spirit of Life

A refreshing combination of grapefruit, apple, and spices, Spirit of Life is one of those fruity teas that will appeal to almost all palates. Invigorating spice from the cinnamon and cardamom will win over lovers of black tea and coffee while the grapefruit and apple appeal to lovers of bright fruit flavors. Brew this herbal tisane hot and steep overnight for best results. Pair with Orange Blossom Honey for a little extra sweetness. 

The Number 1 Iced Tea in Saratoga

iced matcha green tea in a mason jar being presented on a tray

Have you guessed which one of these iced teas is consistently considered the best in Saratoga by popular demand? If you guessed either Matcha or Crimson Berry, you'd be right! Iced Matchas are hands-down our most popular iced caffeinated drink and weeks without Crimson Berry on the menu have been known to inspire an increase in submissions to our suggestions email. 

Crimson Berry + Matcha

That said, lots of teas make excellent iced teas - even those that didn't make our short list. Learn how to cold brew iced tea below and let us know your favorite iced tea on Instagram or Facebook - or in person the next time you're in our Saratoga Springs store!

How to Cold Brew Iced Tea

We find that cold brewing makes the best iced tea when you are brewing traditional teas in the green, black, white, or oolong families (yes, this includes scented or flavored teas with traditional tea bases). Many herbal tisanes, on the other hand, benefit from being started hot (though we do recommend letting them steep overnight as well). 

Ingredients:

12 grams of tea per 1 quart of water. 

Directions for Teas:

Steep 12 grams of tea per 1 quart of water in tap water overnight in the refrigerator (~12 hours). Strain in the morning (or after 12 hours) and enjoy within a week or two. 

Directions for Herbal Tisanes:

Steep 12 grams of tea per 1 quart of water in 205F hot water. Cool to room temperature and steep overnight in the refrigerator (~12 hours) before straining. 

Recommended Iced Tea Pitchers

two glass iced tea pitchers with infusers

We've made a lot of iced tea over the years and have finally decided on our two favorite pitchers for brewing iced tea at home. We love the Takeya 2 quart pitcher with infuser basket and the 64oz Mist Iced Tea Jug. Both are excellent for brewing iced tea at home, though they are perhaps for different audiences. 

While both pitchers are excellent quality and wonderful for brewing iced tea, we do recommend them for different purposes. The Takeya pitcher is a workhorse - we use these pitchers behind our tea bar and they are great for families where small hands pour glasses of tea and fridge space is limited. The Mist Jug is more elegant and refined, making a gorgeous addition to summer tablescapes and afternoons on the porch. 

 Image of three iced teas with the words "Buy Your Iced Tea Starter Kit"

Brewing to a Tea 🌱

Now that many of us are spending more time at home, we are also brewing tea at home more than before. Due to this, we have decided to take a closer look at the brewing process, and review the components that lead to a wonderful cup of tea. Things to keep in mind when brewing a perfect cup of tea include your water composition, temperature, steep time, water to leaf ratio, brew vessel, and the type of tea you are brewing. Together, these components perform a delicate dance that will bring you many great steeps. 

Tea is made up of many different chemical components. Acknowledging these will help us understand later how they are affected by things like water composition and temperature. 

These components include polyphenols, amino acids like L-theanine, enzymes, pigments, carbohydrates, alkaloids like caffeine, minerals and volatiles. Below is a closer look at some tea chemistry vocabulary.

Polyphenols: This is a category of compounds found in plants that are produced to defend the plant against things like ultraviolet radiation, parasites, and plant predators.

Flavonoids: These are the main type of polyphenols found in tea.

Tannins: A compound in the flavonoid group that contributes to the astringent taste of some teas, or the sensation of having a dry mouth when drinking some teas and wines. 

Flavonols: A class of flavonoids that includes catechins.

Catechins: A group of flavonols found in tea, including (-)-epicatechin (EC), (-)-epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), (-)-epigallocatechin (EGC), and (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). These are the components of tea that are said to have health benefits.

Theaflavins: These form from catechins during the oxidation of tea leaves, and found more in oolong and black teas. 

A variety of aspects determine how much of each of these chemical components are found in tea leaves. These include where the tea was grown, environmental factors, the season it was harvested, effects of pests and disease, and the process the leaves went through once picked.  For example, black tea is more oxidized than green tea. Oxidization, or the browning of the tea leaves when cell walls are broken and polyphenols hit oxygen, is a process done to some tea leaves once they are picked in order to achieve a certain flavor profile. Oxidation will lead to more theaflavins in black tea because polyphenols are converted into new compounds. Japanese shade grown teas are another example of tea producers manipulating the plant in order to produce more of a certain chemical component that will help the tea achieve a desired flavor profile. Shade grown teas are covered because the sun turns amino acids into polyphenols. Amino acids such as L-theanine are responsible for some of the broth like, umami flavor profiles in tea. Therefore, tea producers and growers seeking a tea with umami characteristics such as a Japanese Sencha green tea will cover the tea plants to shade them from the sun, preserving the amino acids.

Gyokuro Shizuoka

The combination of naturally occurring chemical components in tea plants, and the chemical changes that occur to tea when processed all contribute to all of the complex flavors we get out of a cup of tea. These chemical compounds are responsible for the aromas and tastes found in each unique tea and tea category. Generally speaking, teas within the same categories will have similar taste profiles due to being processed in similar ways. The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea describes these flavor profiles as follows. White and Chinese green teas are light in body, Japanese greens are thicker and brothy, oolongs coat your mouth with a milky or creamy sensation, and black teas are thicker and astringent. 

These chemical components, found in different amounts in dry tea leaf categories based on place of origin, harvest season, and processing, will further react and change once introduced to water. The cup of tea that you drink is 98% water, and only 2% compounds diffused into water. Therefore, the quality of water you use when brewing tea will have an impact on the overall taste of your tea. Water that is too high in certain minerals, such as limestone, calcium oxide, magnesium, led, and chlorine should be avoided. Water too high in minerals can taste tinny and metallic. The amount of theaflavins, catechins, and caffeine extracted in tea can be impacted if your water is too high in certain minerals, such as calcium oxide. This can weaken positive flavor profiles produced by these chemical components of tea, such as sweetness or umami. High levels of magnesium and calcium oxide can also result in limescale buildup, surface film, or tea scum to form in your kettle or your cup of tea. Too little minerals in your water may also negatively impact the taste of your cup of tea, leaving it too dull. A water free from any harsh tastes or odors, a balanced mineral content, and a neutral PH level around 7 is ideal. 

Lu Yu, a tea scholar who wrote The Classic of Tea during the Tang dynasty, suggested the best water to brew tea in is water from a mountain stream or spring in the same region the tea was produced. He said the leaves will reveal their true nature when in contact with the water they drank during their lifetime. Obviously, this is unachievable to the everyday tea drinker brewing from home. We are lucky, however, to have a variety of natural mineral springs right in our backyard. The State Seal Spring, located on the Avenue of the Pines in Saratoga Spa State Park, is often regarded as one of the springs with the best balance of minerals and PH levels. At Saratoga Tea & Honey, we use natural spring water gathered from the State Park for tea tasting occasions, such as the Aged Tea classes. 

Water temperature is also an important component of tea brewing. Each tea category, due to levels of chemical components and processing, has a recommended brew temperature guideline. These are as follows, in Fahrenheit. 


White, Spring Teas, Shade Grown Green: 160-170

Green: 160-180

Oolong: 180-200

Black:  190-212

Aged Tea:  212 


The chemical  composition of a cup of tea steeped at different temperatures will vary, sometimes greatly, and so will its taste. An increase in water temperature increases the kinetic energy of the water molecules, making them dissolve molecules in tea more easily. Different chemical components of tea leaves are more or less soluble at different temperatures. Water that is too hot for some delicate teas can dissolve chemical components like tannins and catechins too quickly, resulting in a negative bitter taste. Green tea tends to have more tannins than other types of tea, which is why it can turn more bitter than other teas when steeped in water too hot. Water that is too hot can also destroy or burn the desirable chemical compounds in tea that contribute to flavor. On the other hand, when tea is brewed in water that is too cold, with not enough kinetic energy, chemical compounds cannot dissolve properly, and tea will have less flavor complexity. Bringing water to a full boil and waiting for it to cool may not always be the best way to ensure your water is at the right temperature for your tea, since when water is boiled and cooled, oxygen is removed. This can have a negative effect on the flavor of your water. Keeping track of water temperature can be done with a variable temperature electric kettle, or a thermometer. 

Time is also an important factor in brewing tea. Through osmotic diffusion, compounds on the surface and within the interior walls of tea leaves will diffuse into water, until the concentration of compounds in the leaves reach an equilibrium with the compounds in the water. Different chemical components of tea enter the water at different rates. Ones that are responsible for the aroma of tea tend to be the first, with caffeine, pigments, and tannins needing more time to diffuse. The trick to brewing a great cup of tea is to balance the right temperature of water with the right amount of brewing time to get all of the desired chemical compounds and components to diffuse into your water, without over-diffusing and creating negative flavors. If you increase the temperature of your water, try decreasing the time you steep your tea leaves. If you increase the time you steep your leaves, try decreasing the water temperature. Play around until you find the best combination to reach the desired flavors you want out of your tea leaves.

There are a few more factors that go into steeping your tea, including how much tea to use. Ideally, you would want to weigh the amount of tea in order to keep things consistent. We recommend about 2 grams of tea per 8 ounces of water, or one rounded teaspoon. How dense or airy your tea leaves are can change this ratio, so always experiment until you find the amount that fits your personal preference. The benefit of brewing whole leaf loose teas, in comparison to tea bags, is an increase in resteepability. The high ratio of leaf to water means there is a lot of flavor to be extracted from the leaves over multiple infusions. When given space to spread out in hot water, the tea leaf can rehydrate fully and chemical compounds can diffuse into your water over time. Broken, small pieces of tea leaves, often referred to as tea dust, diffuse their chemical compounds that make up flavor very quickly, and can’t be resteeped as many times. More nuanced, layered, and delicate flavors are also more prevalent in loose leaf teas. The brew vessel is also an important component of brewing the perfect cup of tea. Your vessel should allow your tea leaves enough space to spread out in the hot water. Preheating your brew vessel is another trick to ensuring you are steeping your tea leaves at an appropriate temperature. When water hits an unheated brew vessel, the temperature can drop significantly. There are many different vessels to choose from, ranging from traditional to more modern. Choose what works for you!

The final chemical composition of the cup of tea you consume is a result of these many factors. The long journey the tea leaves make from the plant to your cup makes these steps to a perfect steep well worth it when the result is a beautiful complexity of flavors. Feel free to experiment with the water used, steep time, temperature, amount of tea, and brew vessel until you find the perfect combination that works for you and your unique taste buds. We wish you many joyful steeps!

 

Endnotes:

1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/polyphenols
Tea and taste - Exploring Everyday Chemistry
2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/tannins-in-tea#basics
3. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2018/9105261/
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276998/
5. The science of tea
6. Chemical Compounds in Tea
7. Gascoyne, Marchand, Desharnais. Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties.
8.  The Influence of Water Composition on Flavor and Nutrient Extraction in Green and Black Tea
9.  Heiss, Mary Lou and Robert. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide.
10. Kinetics of Steeping Tea – World of Tea
11. Does Water Temperature Change Tea?
12. Tea Brewing Water Temperature Guide
13. Kinetics of Steeping Tea – World of Tea
14. TEA DYNAMICS: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE STEEP TEA?

How to Cold Brew Tea

Cold brewing your tea leaves is the easiest method for consistent, delicious results. All it takes is a bit of foresight to plan an eight hour brew!  We love to start our pitcher in the evening so by morning we have a ready to drink tea that will last up to 5 days, if kept refrigerated.

 

Cold Brew Iced Tea at Home

 

From glass to BPA free plastic, shop our pitchers with brew baskets, here!