Making a cup of tea is pretty straight forward, right? You boil the water, dunk a tea bag, and take a sip. Well, food scientists do things a little differently. Makenzie Bryson Jackson, MS, product development manager at Panaceutics, knows all the tricks to make a perfect cup of tea every time.
The tea you’ll find in stores is made up of dried and crushed leaves of the tea plant. When you put it in hot water, the compounds of those leaves are extracted, leaving you with a wide range of amazing flavors depending on which variety you choose.
“There are many varieties and they are grouped into five categories: black, white, green, oolong, and pu-erh. These all come from the same plant, but differ in how they’re processed or when they were picked,” Jackson says. “Each will have a different flavor and caffeine level. Tisanes are the technical term for teas that are not derived from the tea plant, such as herbal teas. Rooibos, or red bush tea, from South Africa is my favorite herbal tea.”
How to make the perfect cup of tea
When you’re making coffee, there are some crucial factors to keep in mind to ensure it tastes as good as possible. The same goes with tea.
1. Water quality
Tea is primarily made up of water. So if you’re using low-quality water, that means you’ll wind up with low-quality tea. “Hard water has minerals like calcium and magnesium that will react with tea’s flavor compounds and create a scum layer on the top of your tea,” Jackson says. Because of that, soft water or filtered water is best. “Fresh cold water has more dissolved oxygen, which will improve tea flavor extraction as well.”
2. Water temperature
Contrary to popular belief, the water temperature for tea isn’t one-size-fits-all. Jackson says different tea types have different ideal steeping temperatures. For instance, green and white teas will taste bitter if you use water that’s too hot. Here’s what she says about each.
- Black tea: As soon as it reaches its boiling point, it’s good to go
- Oolong: Steep at 190°F
- Green and white teas: Steep at 180°F
3. Steep time
The time you steep your tea for—aka how long you let the water extract from the tea leaves—can make or break how it tastes. “The color comes off your tea bag quickly, but that doesn’t indicate that the flavor has been extracted,” Jackson says. “A minimum of three minutes is recommended for tea, but I have heard some tea scientists recommend a five-minute steep.”
While she says it can be hard to be patient, doing so won’t just give you a most robust flavor—it’ll also provide more health benefits. Aka very much worth the wait. “Longer steep times will extract more antioxidants,” she says. Not to mention, you’ll get more caffeine. Energy boost, here you come.
The best additives for your tea
While you can drink your tea plain, Jackson shared some of her favorite additives that can make your cup even tastier.
Milk is one of Jackson’s go-tos. “It’s one of my favorite things to add,” she says. “I usually add a splash of a plant-based option.”
If you like your tea on the sweeter side, just make sure to keep the flavor balanced. “Too much sugar will overpower the tea flavor, but I do enjoy some local honey in my tea,” she says.
Lemon adds great flavor to everything—especially tea. “A squeeze of lemon can be great in a tea,” she says. “But don’t add lemon if you’re using milk. It will likely curdle.”
Collagen is a beneficial addition to any cup of tea, too. “It’s a great way to get more protein in your diet and amino acids that may aid skin, nails, and hair growth,” Jackson says. There are even plant-based versions available, like Moon Juice Collagen Protect ($29).
The best tea kettles and infusers
Make your tea-brewing experience easy (and enjoyable!) with these tools.
1. Fellow Stagg EKG Electric Kettle, $169
This sleek electric kettle has a temperature range between 135°F and 212°F, is easy to use, and looks amazing on your countertop.
Shop now: Fellow Stagg EKG Electric Kettle, $169
I mean… have you seen a prettier tea infuser? All you need to do is fill it with your loose tea, then rest it over your mug. The lid also doubles as a coaster for the strainer, allowing you to sip mess-free.
Shop now: Cup of Té Gold Perfect Steep Infuser, $15
3. Hario Tea Kettle, $82
If you’d rather have a tea kettle you can heat up on the stovetop, this one is a keeper. It also has an easy-to-pour gooseneck spout and a teak handle and knob.
Shop now: Hario Tea Kettle, $82
This electric option has a removable tea infuser in case you want to place loose-leaf or bagged teas directly into the kettle.
Shop now: Chefman Digital Electric Glass Kettle, $80
5. Kikkerland Tea Stick, $12
This unique tea strainer is a fun—and aesthetically-pleasing—way to brew loose-leaf teas.
Shop now: Kikkerland Tea Stick, $12
6. HadinEEon Electric Kettle, $34
This affordable electric kettle boils your water in around three minutes, has an auto shut-off, and a stainless steel interior.
Shop now: HadinEEon Electric Kettle, $34
If you prefer your tea kettle to whistle, this pretty stovetop option will do just that.
Shop now: SUSTEAS Stove Top Whistling Tea Kettle, $34
Try this tea recipe for better digestion:
For more healthy recipes and cooking ideas from our community, join Well+Good’s Cook With Us Facebook group.