How to Brew Tea

How to Brew: White Tea

As discussed in our What is White Tea blog, White Teas are often perceived as the most enigmatic of the tea types.

Hailed as delicate, yet comprised of sturdy, frost-resisting downy buds, it's no wonder that White Tea as a category can feel somewhat ambiguous. That's why we like to liken White Teas to ballet dancers - they are delicate in appearance and performance in a way that belies their inner strength. 

White Tea is the least processed of the tea types, undergoing only withering and drying with no step to either prevent or encourage enzymatic oxidation. So, you might say that White Teas are delicate because they are handled delicately. Indeed, White Teas are delicate in that they are more subject to the vagaries of storage conditions than other teas due to their processing. But it is the aroma, liquor, and flavor of White Teas that truly contribute to its delicate reputation - and those three factors depend heavily on how you brew your White Tea. 

Silver needle white tea brewed in a glass infuser and served in a white cup

The Best Way to Brew White Tea

The best way to brew White Tea is going to depend on what White Tea you're brewing. We will spend some time discussing how to brew both the popular Silver Needles and White Peony teas, as well as scented White Teas like our Sweet White Peach or The Canfield in Red

Weight vs. Volume Measures in Brewing White Tea

As a general rule, we tend to recommend using weight to measure your tea, regardless of the type of tea you're using. With White Teas, we especially recommend pulling out a kitchen scale to measure your tea because the buds tend to be long and light, making teaspoons, scoops, and your eyeballs imperfect measuring methods. 

Most teas brew best in the Western-style at a ratio of 5 grams tea to 16 ounces of water. 

The exception to this weight recommendation is if you are brewing in a traditional gaiwan. In this instance, it is appropriate to fill your gaiwan to approximately 1/3 with the leaves. 

Brewing Silver Needle White Tea (Yin Zhen)

Silver Needle teas are comprised solely of the downy buds. As we mentioned earlier, these downy buds are surprisingly hardy and designed by nature to withstand normal temperature variations during the early spring growing season. As a result, the downy white hairs on these buds are hydrophobic. While this is good for the tea plant's growth and survival, it does affect how you will brew your tea. 

Recommended Silver Needle Tea Preparation

For a delicate and aromatic cup, we recommend brewing Silver Needle Teas as follows:

  • 5 grams of tea
  • 16 ounces of 185° F filtered water
  • 5-7 minute steep

Fans of tannin may prefer brewing Silver Needle Teas at a slightly higher temperature. Your cup will be less aromatic, but have a more robust body and tannin when brewed with:

  • 5 grams of tea
  • 16 ounces of 195° F filtered water
  • 3-4 minute steep

Brewing White Peony White Tea (Bai Mu Dan)

White Peony teas contain both the downy buds and first two leaves of the spring harvest. Because of this, our brewing recommendations will change slightly. 

Brew White Peony Teas as Follows:

  • 5 grams of tea
  • 16 ounces of 185° F filtered water
  • 3 minute steep

Brewing Scented White Teas

Scented White Teas generally have fruits or florals added to them. Sometimes they may also be mixed with Green Teas for more body. White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) is the most popular White Tea for scented teas because it is both less expensive than Silver Needle and has more body. 

Since Scented White Teas contain fruits or florals in addition to tea, you will want to either brew your tea hotter or longer than a traditional White Peony to extract the yummy fruit and floral flavors. 

Brew Scented White Teas as Follows:

  • 5 grams of tea
  • 16 ounces of 185-195° F filtered water
  • 3-4 minute steep

Traditional Teaware: Brewing White Tea in a Gaiwan

Gaiwans are wonderful for brewing white teas, and very simple to use!

You will need:

  • Gaiwain
  • Sharing pitcher
  • Small cup(s)
  • White Tea
  • 185° F filtered water

To brew in a gaiwan:

  1. Warm your gaiwan with at-temperature water
  2. Pour this warming water into the sharing pitcher and then into the cups
  3. Fill your gaiwan by 1/3 with Silver Needle White Tea
  4. Pour 185° F water over the buds and replace the lid
  5. Steep for 45 seconds to 1 minute
  6. While the tea is steeping, discard your warming water
  7. Pour the steeped tea into your sharing pitcher and serve in your cup(s)
  8. Resteep multiple times at decreasing time intervals

The Effects of Brewing on Caffeine in White Tea

Caffeine in White Tea continues the pattern of ambiguity and equivocation that we've seen so far. Some sources will tell you that White Tea has the lowest caffeine of traditional teas while others will argue that it has the most. We're going to briefly talk about why there's so much confusion about something that should arguably be measurable and then discuss how you can play around with the levels of caffeine in your cup. 

Does White Tea Have the Least Caffeine?

The short answer to this is, simply, no. A stem tea like Wood Dragon or a roasted tea like Hojicha will have less caffeine than a White Tea. 

How much caffeine is in White Tea, however, is a bit more complicated. Arguably because White Tea is made from the young, tender buds and leaves that comprise the early spring new growth on the tea plant - and because White Tea is the closest to the natural state of the leaves - White Tea could have as much if not more caffeine than other types of tea. This line of thought has challenged conventional wisdom that White Tea has the least caffeine and inspired new research into the properties of White Tea. 

The results? Researchers have found White Tea in laboratory settings to contain similar amounts of caffeine as other types of tea. 

The catch? We don't drink laboratory teas and, as we've discussed in other blogs, each type of tea exhibits its best flavor profiles under different brewing conditions. 

For this reason, the amount of caffeine in your cup is going to vary based on the type of White Tea you're drinking and how you choose to brew it. 

How to Gauge the Caffeine in Your Cup of White Tea

In general, the higher the temperature and the longer the steep, the more caffeine you will extract from the leaves. As we mentioned previously, the downy hairs on the tea buds are hydrophobic and caffeine is water-soluble, so a cup of Silver Needle tea is likely to have less caffeine than a cup of White Peony. 

Scented White Teas will have the lowest caffeine among the White Teas we've discussed today (outside of our Nan Mei Wild Buds, which is naturally caffeine-free). This is because the 5 grams of tea you're using to brew your cup is comprised of not only tea, but also fruits and / or florals. This lowers the caffeine proportionally. 

A final word on brewing

At the end of the day, the "right" way to brew is the way that tastes best to you. If you find your cup is too strong or too light, play around with the ratio of tea to water, the temperature of the water, and the length of your brew. 

Happy steeping!

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How to Brew: Oolong

What is Oolong?

gongfucha ceremony using a yixing pot pouring oolong into small cups

Oolong is a semi-oxidized family of teas that can range in oxidation from 10% - 70%. This category of teas spans a wide range of flavors, aromas, and hues, and is often thought of as the bridge between green and black teas.

Oolongs tend to have a less pronounced tannin, making them less astringent than either green or black teas, due to their only partial oxidation. The lighter oxidized oolongs (below ~45% oxidation) are often referred to as green oolongs and have flavor profiles and liquor colors similar to green teas. Lightly oxidized oolongs are delicate in character and usually have flavors and aromas of white flowers, fruits, and greens. Black oolongs, or dark oolongs (greater than 50% oxidation), resemble black teas in color and flavor profiles. You may notice flavors of dried fruit, spice, malt, or minerals in your dark oolongs.

How to Brew Oolong

When it comes time to brew your tea, you have a few main variables to play with: volume (of tea and water), temperature, and time. At our tea bar, we generally use standard ratios to ensure that every cup of tea we serve meets our standards and is reliably delicious from one day to the next. But not everyone's palate is the same, and we recommend playing with the brewing steps below to create your own perfect cup of tea!

Western-Style Brewing - 8 ounces or more of water

Western-style brewing is what most of us in America associate with tea. We think of china tea pots and delicate porcelain cups and a tea to water ratio that uses less tea, more water, and more time. 

To brew oolong in the western-style, you will need:

  • Brewing vessel. A mug and a basket infuser will work perfectly, but we do recommend a larger infuser like our 400ml Glass Infuser or Kinto One Touch Teapot for oolongs. This is because oolongs are a large leaf tea, and even though the rolled oolongs appear small when you put them in your pot, during steeping they will unfurl to large, beautiful, whole leaves that take up a lot of room and water!
  • Kitchen scale or teaspoon
  • 195° F water
  • A discard bowl or sink nearby
  • Large mug or cups for sharing!

Steps for Brewing Loose Leaf Oolong (16 ounces of water)

  1. Choose your brewing vessel and make note how much water it holds. 
  2. Measure 5 grams of loose leaf tea per 16 ounces of water into your brewing vessel. (If you do not have a kitchen scale, 5 grams is generally 1-2 teaspoons of tea, depending on how voluminous your dry, loose leaves are. Tightly rolled teas like Shan Lin Xi will be a scant teaspoon, while more voluminous teas like Da Hong Pao will be 1-2 teaspoons.)
  3. Use 195° water* to rinse your oolong leaves by pouring enough water over the leaves to cover fully, swirling your teapot or mug gently a few times, and then pouring out the rinse water. Rinsing your leaves is very important when brewing oolong teas, as it helps the leaves to open up more quickly and reach their fullest expression when they brew. 
  4. Fill your pot or mug with 195° F water and brew for 3 minutes. 
  5. Remove your leaves or pour off your tea into a mug or sharing pitcher. Make sure to get all of the water off the leaves, as oolongs are particularly excellent teas for re-steeping later!
  6. Share and enjoy!
  7. Re-steep your leaves 5-6 times at increasing time intervals using the 195° water.
*A brief note on water temperature: We do not recommend boiling water for brewing oolongs, especially lightly oxidized oolongs. If you have a variable temperature electric kettle or a kettle with a thermometer you can use these to heat water to 195°. Otherwise, you can boil your water and let it sit for about 1-2 minutes to approximate 195°. You can also use a candy thermometer in your mug and add cold water to the boiled water until you reach the desired temperature. 

    The Gong Fu Cha Ceremony & Traditional Brewing Methods

    1. Prepare for your ceremony with a gaiwan or yixing teapot, sharing pitcher, cups, and a tea boat or bowl for discarding water. 
    2. Preheat your gaiwan with 195° F water, then pour that warming water into the pitcher, and from there into the cups.
    3. Discard the warming water into your teaboat or discard bowl. 
    4. Add leaves to fill your gaiwan by 1/3.
    5. Rinse your leaves following the same methodical process you used to warm the teaware: pour 195° F water over your tea leaves. Close the gaiwan and, swirling gently, pour off the rinse water into your pitcher, from the pitcher to the cups, and from the cups into the tea boat or your discard bowl. 
    6. Start your first steep with 195° F water and steep from 30-45 seconds, depending on your oolong's level of oxidation. Lightly oxidized oolongs will steep for less time, while highly oxidized oolongs will steep for more time. 
    7. Once the tea is steeped, pour the tea from the gaiwan into the sharing pitcher, making sure to pour all the water off your leaves. Then pour the tea from the pitcher into the cups.
    8. Share your tea and enjoy!
    9. Resteep your leaves 8-12 times. For resteeps in the gaiwan, you will resteep your leaves for less time than the initial steep, as you are using a small ratio of water to leaves. We recommend trying a 25 second resteep. 

    Happy Steeping!

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    How to Brew: Black Tea

    Jin Die Black Tea wet leaves in glass steeper and cup of tea

    What is Black Tea?

    Black Tea is a rich and robust brew made from fully oxidized camellia sinensis leaves. Many of us first experience black tea at hotel Continental Breakfasts or as iced sweet tea in the summer. As a result, black tea often gets a reputation for being dark and astringent with prominent tannins and a hint of bitterness. 

    When brewed with affection and purpose, whole leaf black tea actually produces a wide range of flavor profiles with differing levels of tannin, acidity, and even some natural malty sweetness. 

    If you're ready to explore the many flavors black tea has to offer, keep reading for the best way to brew black tea!

    Learn more about how black tea is made >>

    How to Brew Black Tea

    The most important thing to remember when brewing tea is simply this: if it tastes good to you, then you brewed it right! That said, there are brewing best practices and some variables you can play around with to determine your perfect brew.

    The three main variables in brewing tea:

    1. Amount of tea
    2. Water (temperature and volume), and
    3. Time

    In Western-style brewing (how most cafes and home-brewers in the US make their tea), you have a rather large ratio of water to tea and a relatively long steep time. For traditional brewing, you use a smaller ratio of water to tea and steep for shorter periods of time. Neither way of preparing tea is more correct than the other, though you may find that you enjoy certain teas prepared in one style over another. 

    Western-Style Brewing (8 or more ounces of water)

    To brew black tea in the Western-style, you will need:

    Steps for Brewing Loose Leaf Black Tea (16 ounces)

    1. Choose your brewing vessel. We recommend a teapot with infuser / strainer or a basket infuser that sits in your favorite mug!
    2. Using a kitchen scale, measure 5 grams* of tea per 16oz of water into your basket infuser. (See: * for note on using a volume measure like a teaspoon.)
    3. Set your infuser of tea in your mug or teapot.
    4. Pour 205° F water over the tea leaves until your teapot or mug is full and the leaves are covered. We recommend using spring water or filtered water for the best taste!
    5. Set your timer for 3-4 minutes. Most black teas are excellent at 3 minutes. If you prefer your tea with a little milk and honey, you may want to steep for 4 minutes for a slightly more tannic brew. 
    6. Remove your leaves and enjoy your tea! Resist the temptation to press on the leaves (especially if you are using a French Press!), as this will express the tannins and make your tea bitter.
    7. Re-steep your leaves 2-4 times, depending on taste and preference! Each time you steep, use 205° F water and steep for increasing intervals.

    *A note on weight versus volume: If you don't have a kitchen scale, you can use a volume measure like our perfect teaspoon. Most black teas will be about .5 -1 perfect teaspoon per 8 ounces of water. Please keep in mind that volume is an imperfect measure, as more voluminous leaves will take up more space but weigh less. An example of this would be the rolled leaves of the Jin Die black tea versus the twisted leaves of the Yunnan Da Ye black tea. Both of these black teas are golden bud teas, but the rolled leaves of the Jin Die make it much denser than the Yunnan Da Ye, meaning you would need fewer teaspoons to reach the same weight measurement. You can see an example of this in the photo below!

    Traditional Brewing (Gaiwan or Yixing Teapot)

    To brew black tea in traditional teaware, you will need:

    • Gaiwan or Yixing teapot
    • Preferred black tea
    • Spoon
    • Small pitcher
    • Small cup (or cups for sharing)
    • 205° F hot water (preferably spring or filtered water)

    Steps for Brewing Black Tea in Traditional Teaware 

    1. Heat your water to 205° F and use some of the water to warm your Gaiwan or Yixing pot, pitcher, and cup.
    2. Discard the warming water.
    3. Fill your Gaiwan or Yixing approximately 1/3 full with tea.
    4. Pour 205° F hot water over the leaves. Replace the lid and set your timer. You may use the Gaiwan lid to "stir" the leaves a bit and remove any bubbles from the top of the liquid.
    5. Steep for 45 seconds to 1 minute. 
    6. Pour off all the brewed tea into your pitcher, making sure to get all the liquid off the leaves.
    7. Serve your tea from the pitcher into cups and enjoy!
    8. Re-steep your leaves 5 to 6 times for 25 - 30 seconds each re-steep.

    How to Brew Earl Grey (& Other Scented Black Teas)

    Great news! Brewing your Earl Grey, One Night in Rio, or Istanbul Apple is as easy as brewing regular black tea!

    As a general rule of thumb, all scented teas are brewed according to best practices for the base tea. In this case, the base tea is black tea, so you would use 5 grams of tea per 16 ounces of 205° F water and steep for 3 minutes.

    We do not necessarily recommend brewing scented teas in traditional teaware, especially high-quality clayware from China and Japan. Clayware is perfect for brewing traditional teas because it becomes seasoned over time with tannins - much like a cast iron skillet or wok will be all the better for years of continued use. Because of this, however, we recommend brewing your scented teas in glass or ceramic so they do not affect the taste of the other teas you brew!

    Is Boiling Water OK for Black Tea?

    We recommend using hot, filtered water that is just below boiling for brewing black tea. Generally water that is at 205° F is perfect for brewing black teas, though some First Flush Darjeeling teas may benefit from slightly cooler water around 195° F. If you do not have a variable temperature kettle, you can boil your water and allow it to cool for about 30 seconds before brewing your tea! Alternately, you can use a candy thermometer and add cold water until you get to the desired temperature. 

    How Do I Know If I'm Using Enough (or Too Much) Tea?

    3 mason jars of black tea illustrating how different leaf shapes create different volumes versus weight

    A lot of guests in our store are surprised when we tell them our 2 ounce bags of tea should yield 20 to 25 first steep cups of tea. Why? Many of us are using too much tea! 

    This goes back to what we mentioned earlier about volume as an imperfect measure for tea leaves. Sometimes a tea is so dense that it doesn't really look like much, so you add more, and then your cup is way too strong. Others, the tea is so voluminous that you might not end up using enough and find your tea to be a little weak. In the photo above, all 3 jars hold 5 grams of tea, but you can see the volume in each jar is ever so slightly different!

    Play around with your ratios of tea to water and find the mix that works best for you, and remember the rule of tea: what tastes good to you is the perfect brew!

    How Much Caffeine Does Black Tea Have?

    Black tea will generally have between 22 - 58 mg of caffeine per first steep cup, or about half the caffeine found in a cup of coffee. What may surprise you is that while there is not a significant caffeine difference between black tea and green tea, the way your body processes the caffeine is very different. For this reason, you are much more likely to feel the caffeine from the black tea quickly, whereas you will notice a steadier and more prolonged caffeinated feeling from green tea. 

    Learn more about caffeine in tea >>

    If you are looking for black tea taste but with less caffeine, you can try steeping your leaves for 30-40 seconds (in a western-style brew), then discarding that tea and steeping again for 3.5 minutes. Most caffeine is extracted in the first steep, so this will result in a tasty but less caffeinated cup! (Though it will not, of course, be entirely caffeine-free!)

    Happy steeping!

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    How to Brew: Green Tea

    Green Tea and tea snacks

    What is Green Tea?

    Named for its green color when brewed, green tea is made from non-oxidized camellia sinensis leaves and has a fresh, vegetal flavor profile. While green teas may be produced in many areas of the world, China and Japan are the two most famous producers of green teas. Chinese green teas have a characteristic nutty taste due to the panning process used to halt natural oxidation after the leaves are plucked. Japanese green teas, in contrast, are steamed to stop oxidation and therefore often taste more of saline and fresh spring greens. 

    How to Brew Green Tea

    Everyone's palate is slightly different, so we recommend experimenting with your green teas to determine the brewing method that you like best. That said, we are going to share some general brewing best practices for making green tea and discuss how you can tweak them to better suit your individual palate! 

    Variables you can play with when brewing tea:

    • Amount of tea
    • Water (temperature and amount)
    • Time

    As a general rule of thumb, a high ratio of water to tea means a longer steep time, while a lower ratio of water to tea means a shorter steep time. Within these very generalized guidelines you will find your perfect cup of tea. There is no right or wrong way to brew tea, as long as you're enjoying the results!

    Western-Style Brewing (8 or more ounces)

    Most of us in the US brew our tea with a relatively high water to tea ratio, meaning much more water than tea leaves and a longer steep time.

    For most green teas, you will brew your tea at 165° F to 175° F for 2 minutes in the Western-style. 

    To brew green tea in a Western teapot, you will need:

    • Teapot with infuser basket or an infuser basket and your favorite mug
    • Spoon or teaspoon and a kitchen scale
    • 5 grams Green Tea per 16 ounces of water (you may also use a teaspoon to measure your tea)*
    • Hot, filtered or spring water (165° - 175° F)
    • Timer

    Steps for Brewing Loose Leaf Green Tea (16 ounces)

    1. Choose your brewing vessel (either a teapot with an infuser basket or your favorite mug and an infuser basket). 
    2. Measure 5 grams of your green tea of choice into your infuser basket (see: * for alternate units of measure).
    3. Fill your pot or mug with 165° - 175° F hot water and start your timer. (We recommend 165° F water for most Japanese green teas and 175° F water for most Chinese green teas.)
    4. Steep for 2 minutes.
    5. Remove your leaves or pour off all your tea into a cup or pitcher so the leaves do not oversteep.
    6. Share and enjoy!
    7. Re-steep your leaves 2-3 times at increasing time intervals with the same temperature water. 

    *Using teaspoons instead of grams to measure your tea: Volume is an imperfect measure for tea because not all tea leaves are shaped the same. For this reason, we use weight at our Tea Bar to maintain consistency from cup to cup. To illustrate, Sencha Sumire is composed of very small, very fine leaves while our Long Jing Zehjiang has larger, flatter, and wider leaves. This means that much more of the smaller, denser Sencha will fit in one teaspoon than Long Jing. If you are using a teaspoon to measure your tea, always keep the density of the tea leaves in mind and adjust accordingly! As a general rule, though, a regular 8 ounce mug will use about one perfect teaspoon of tea! 

    Traditional Brewing (Kyusu Japanese Teapot)

    The side-handled Kyusu teapot is the traditional brewing vessel for Japanese green teas. As functional as it is beautiful, we love preparing and sharing tea in kyusu pots!

    You may also use a Chinese Gaiwan or Yixing pot to brew your tea. You will follow the same steps!

    To brew green tea with traditional teaware, you will need:

    • Kyusu (Japanese Green Teas), Gaiwan or Yixing Pot (Chinese Green Teas)
    • 165° to 175° filtered or spring water
    • Green tea of your choice
    • Small pitcher
    • Small cups
    • Timer

    Steps for Brewing Green Tea in Traditional Teaware

    1. Heat your filtered or spring water to 165° F.
    2. Warm your kyusu, gaiwan, or yixing teapot with the water. Use this warming water to warm your pitcher and cups.
    3. Discard the warming water.
    4. Add approximately 5 grams of tea to a 200ml kyusu or fill your gaiwan or yixing pot about 1/3 full. 
    5. Cover your leaves with the 165° F water and start your timer (do not replace the lid).
    6. Steep for 30-45 seconds.
    7. Pour all of the tea off into the serving pitcher, making sure to get all the liquid off so the leaves do not continue steeping. 
    8. Serve and enjoy!
    9. Re-steep 5-6 times at decreasing time intervals and the same water temperature. 

      How to Brew Jasmine Green Tea (& Other Scented Green Teas)

      Most scented green teas will be brewed just like their traditional counterparts. Jasmine green tea, for example, will be brewed for 2 minutes at 175° F. Green teas scented with fruits may benefit from slightly hotter water, and we generally steep them at 185° F for 2-3 minutes, depending on the tea and your tastes.

      Shop Floral & Fruit Scented Green Teas >>

      How to Brew Roasted Green Teas (Hojicha)

      Hojicha is a type of roasted green tea from Japan that is popular both for its flavor and lower caffeine content. Because it is roasted, Hojicha is less sensitive to water temperature and time, and should be brewed at 195° F for 2-4 minutes depending on the type of Hojicha and your tastes.

      Shop Hojicha Roasted Green Tea >>

      Is Boiling Water OK for Green Tea?

      In all honesty, no, you should not use boiling water to make green tea. We've said a lot here about how tea is never wrong as long as it tastes good to you, but using lower temperature water for green teas is the hill we just might die on. 

      Have you ever sipped your cup of green tea and wondered why it's so bitter even though you didn't steep it very long? It's probably because the water you used was too hot. Green teas (especially Japanese green teas) are very sensitive to water temperature. In essence, using boiling water on green tea leaves "burns" the leaves, extracting all of the tannin and leaving you with a bitter cup with little aroma or nuance. 

      If you don't have a variable temperature kettle, not to worry! You can use a candy or meat thermometer and add cool water until your water gets to the correct temperature. Alternately, you can keep an eye on the water as it heats and pull it off just before the tiny bubbles start to leave the bottom of the pot. (This water will be about 170° F.) 

      Am I Using The Right Amount of Tea?

      How much tea you need is very dependent on the amount of water you're using and the length of your steep. If you're using a teaspoon or other volume measure, keep an eye on leaf volume versus weight, then make sure to adjust how much tea you are using based on the leaf size and shape. For this one, we will revert back to: if it tastes right, it's right!

      How Much Caffeine Does Green Tea Have?

      Green tea generally has between 27 and 50 mg of caffeine per cup (about half the amount found in a cup of coffee). But because of the way the caffeine molecule in green tea binds with its polyphenols, you will likely experience the caffeine in green tea as more stable and sustained - like a time-release capsule!


      Happy steeping!

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