How to Brew Your Loose Leaf Tea

Depending on whom you talk to, brewing tea can be a very simple or a very complicated matter. The government of Great Britain actually maintains official specifications on the “proper” way to brew tea! We’re not so strict at Arbor Teas - we firmly believe that tea should be brewed to suit your personal taste.

In that spirit, we’re happy to provide this step-by-step guide to get you started, but please remember you can make adjustments based on your own tea preferences. There are three main considerations when brewing tea: quantity of tea, water temperature and steeping time.

Note: If you are brewing Matcha please check here for a step by step guide on How to Make Matcha.

Step One: Measure Your Loose Tea

Start by measuring your loose leaf tea. Generally, you should measure 1 teaspoon loose leaf tea per 8 oz cup of water. However, fluffier blends such as white teas and Chamomile may require as much as one tablespoon or more, while denser teas such as Gunpowder may require less than one teaspoon. Look at the label on the back of your Arbor Teas bag to find our suggested serving size per 8 oz cup. Place the measured tea in a "do-it-yourself teabag" or directly in an infuser. Next place the T-sac or infuser in your mug/teapot.

Step Two: Heat Your Water to Temperature

Next, heat your water to the temperature suggested below. Use fresh water whenever possible - water that has been sitting in your kettle overnight may result in a flat or stale taste to your tea. Be careful not to boil your water for too long. Over boiled water can sometimes impart an unwanted taste.

  • Black & Pu-Erh: 212° F
  • Oolong: 195° F
  • Green & White: 170-180° F
  • Herbal: 212° F

No thermometer? Not to worry! Here’s an easy way to estimate temperatures:

  • 180° F = bubbles form on the bottom of the pot
  • 195° F = the first bubbles begin to rise
  • 212° F = full rolling boil

Step Three: Steep Your Tea

Pour your heated water over the tea-filled paper filter or infuser. Be sure the tea is covered completely with water. Steep your tea for the amount of time shown below. When enough time has elapsed, remove the paper filter or infuser. Keep in mind that brewing your tea for too long can extract undesirable bitterness from the leaves, so steeping time matters! For a stronger brew, don’t steep longer, just use more tea.

  • Green & White: 2-3 minutes
  • Black & Pu-Erh: 3-5 minutes
  • Oolong: 4-7 minutes
  • Herbal/Fruit/Tisanes: 5-7 minutes

How to Brew Tea for a Tea Tasting (aka "Cupping")

Tea professionals rely on their keen palates and extensive knowledge to compare and rate teas of different grades and qualities. This often requires them to discern even the faintest nuances of flavor and aroma that might separate a good sample from a truly exceptional one. To do this reliably, however, the tea industry has developed a standardized method for tasting to ensure that different lots at different times are tasted consistently. This process is referred to as “cupping.”

Human perception and appreciation of flavor and aroma (as well as other sensory cues) can be swayed significantly by the time of day, diet, and environmental factors such as the lighting, cleanliness and organization of the tasting room. One of the key elements of professional cupping is consistency. When possible, cuppings should occur at the same time each day, and the tasting room should be kept clean, clear and free of obtrusive odors. Further, the taster(s) should refrain from the consumption of strongly-flavored foods prior to a tasting.

What You'll Need

  1. The freshest, purest water possible, preferably dechlorinated.
  2. Up to six different tea samples to taste and compare (we find that more than six teas can be a bit overwhelming for meaningful comparison).
  3. A water kettle and thermometer to achieve the precise temperature required to steep your samples.
  4. Enough white ceramic cups or bowls to brew each of your samples simultaneously (colored vessels hinder the evaluation of the color and clarity of the liquor, and can have a significant impact on the impressions of the taster). Or try our professional tea tasting set (as seen in the photo to the right).
  5. Enough tea filters to brew each of your samples simultaneously – we recommend unbleached tea bags or an infuser (if using a tea tasting set you do not need a tea filter).
  6. Enough white plates or bowls to hold the dry leaves and wet leaves of each sample for examination (if you use a tea tasting set you do not need plates or bowls to hold the wet leaves).
  7. Paper and pencil to record your observations.

Tea Tasting Step-by-Step

  1. Arrange your dry loose leaf tea samples on plates or bowls for inspection. Notice leaf grade/particle size, color, tips, and overall uniformity.
  2. Prepare small portions of each sample for brewing using the white ceramic cups or bowls and tea filters. Measure 3 grams of tea per 6 ounces of water.
  3. Steep samples for the appropriate amount of time, depending upon the type. Remove the leaves. Professional tea tasters will use the same time and temperature for all types of tea (usually water at a full boil (212 degrees), steeped for 3 minutes). However, for beginners we recommend choosing a temperature and time that is consistent with your preferences. Then be sure to use that same temperature and time consistently across all teas of the same variety (ie black, oolong, pu-erh, green, white).
  4. Smell the infused leaves for fragrance and inspect the leaf condition. The infused leaf will typically be more fragrant than the brew itself, so this can be a helpful – and often forgotten – step.
  5. View the color and clarity of the infusions, and smell them. It is often helpful to cup your hand over the top of the vessel to funnel the vapor toward your nose.
  6. Finally, taste the infusions. Professional tasters typically slurp the tea from a teaspoon, which aerates the tea and sprays it across the entire palate for even, consistent tasting.
  7. Record your impressions of the dry leaf, the infused leaf and the brew. Try to evaluate things like body of the infusion, clarity and tasting notes.

Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy! Doing tea tastings is a wonderful way to open up your palate and start to notice subtle flavors and textures in tea, and beyond!