Few things are as satisfying as a well-made cup of tea, which might explain why tea is the most consumed beverage globally after water. American history books don't mention a Boston Coffee Party, do they? (Sorry, coffee snobs!)
Some love their tea hot, with or without a dash of milk, and others enjoy a glass of refreshing iced tea on a warm summer's day. But let's focus on the former. There is an art and a science to the perfect cuppa.
Here's what you'll require to make a delicious cup of tea, just like the connoisseurs do: a loose-leaf black tea of your choice, empty disposable tea bags or a tea ball, a cup or mug made from porcelain or china, a thermometer, and a teapot.
In a pinch? You can use a regular tea bag if you must.
There are hundreds of kinds of tea leaves. When it comes to black tea, you might be familiar with traditional blends, including English Breakfast and Earl Grey, or single-origin teas such as Assam, Ceylon, or Darjeeling. There are subtle variations in taste and caffeine levels, so do your research.
Measure about one teaspoon of loose leaf tea for one cup (8 oz.) and place it in your preferred infuser.
Remember, the more space you give your tea leaves to move about, the better your tea will taste. And bear in mind that tea leaves can expand to up to five times their dry volume. In other words, a big tea bag or infuser provides the necessary roominess.
It's a small change, but a worthwhile one. There are a lot of adorable tea balls on the market these days, but a basic basket or large ball will likely work best.
Avoid water that's too hard or soft by filtering what comes out of your faucet or buying mineral water. You want to reach just over 200 F for black tea. It's also okay to bring the water to a full boil at 212 F, but green, yellow, oolong, and white teas shouldn't get this hot.
For the best results, retain oxygen by steering clear of water that's already been boiled. There are kettles on the market that allow you to set your temperature, but in place of that, a thermometer works well. Once your kettle is ready, pour a cup of water into your teapot. Plop a thermometer in and wait till it cools to the optimal temperature. If you don't have a thermometer, let your water rest for a minute after you boil it.
Place your strainer or infuser into the water. For a robust, richly-flavored cup of black tea, you need to be mindful of brewing time. This is not a dunk-teabag-and-instantly-extract-it operation. It's an "occupy yourself for between two to five minutes til the timer goes" kind of process.
A longer brew time doesn't just help with depth of flavor, but it often means a more substantial hit of caffeine if that's what you're after, and more antioxidants released from the tea. Defer to the brewing instructions that come with your particular type of tea and the finished product should turn out just right.
As indicated above, you need to be precise and remove your infuser when the recommended time is up. But during or after your wait, don't fiddle with the pot. Never squeeze the teabag unless you like your tea bitter and want to release more tannins, and try not to stir it either. Trust that when hot water meets tea, the magic will happen without too many interventions on your part.
After you remove the tea bag or infuser, wait another five minutes before pouring it into a cup and drinking.
Avoid metal cups because they can alter the taste of your tea, making it slightly metallic. Porous ceramics cool the tea down too quickly and reheating it is a taste and technique no-no. Styrofoam cups, convenient though they are, are another common mistake as the material sucks up some of the tea's flavor.
The tea's tannins also cling to the sides of plastic cups, so use porcelain or china instead. Glass is fine, too.
Use your discretion when adding milk and sugar or honey. If you ask most pros, they'll tell you black teas are the only ones you should ever pair with milk, but many people savor them without.
If you love a cup of creamy chai, then that's what you should make, but traditionally, just a tot of milk should do — add it after you remove your teabag or infuser. Many people will point out that milk proteins help with the bitterness of less expensive teabags — good quality tea doesn't require as much milk and sugar.
Opt for loose leaf tea rather than a teabag. It doesn't just make you look fancy; the smaller pieces of tea that go in grocery store teabags don't allow for as much complexity or as impressive a flavor profile.
Additionally, think of the last box of tea you bought. Each individually wrapped bag was probably in a box surrounded by plastic. Loose leaf tea is also more environmentally friendly, as it cuts down on packaging.
The polyphenols in black tea have a range of benefits for your general health and may lower the risk of chronic disease. However, the tannins in tea also affect your body's ability to absorb iron. So wait about half an hour after eating to drink your tea, especially if you're anemic.
To learn more about the benefits of black tea, check out this article from Facty: The Benefits of Assam Tea.