Five Steps to Brewing a Healthy Cup of Tea in Honor of Hot Tea Month
Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is good for you! But research shows that it is best to skip the convenient bottled versions in favor of home-brewed tea. Following is a list of tips to help brew the best tasting and most healthful tea…and what better month for that than National Hot Tea Month?
In the depths of winter, there is not much more soothing than a cup of hot tea – whether your favorite choice is herbal, ginseng, black, green or an exotic specialty blend. Tea is not only warm refreshment; it is also a major contributor of health-promoting nutrients. Researchers from the University of California Davis found in 2005 that tea provides more flavonoids to the average American diet than any other food or beverage.
Flavonoids are a major class of dietary phytonutrients (nutrients from plants) that have been shown to be potent antioxidants which help neutralize free radicals that scavenge cells over time and are believed to contribute to bodily damage leading to conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and premature aging.
However, says Shiming Li PhD and Professor Chi-Tang Ho who presented data at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, you should take the time to brew your own tea rather than stop by the grocery to pick up a bottled version. A home-brewed cup of tea has 20 times the antioxidants than most commercial tea beverages.
"Consumers understand very well the concept of the health benefits from drinking tea or consuming other tea products," said Dr. Li. “However, there is a huge gap between the perception that tea consumption is healthy and the actual amount of the healthful nutrients - polyphenols - found in bottled tea beverages. Our analysis of tea beverages found that the polyphenol content is extremely low."
In addition to the low nutrient content, bottled commercial tea often contains other unwanted substances such as excess sugar.
Making the perfect cup of tea involves a secret ingredient – patience, claims researchers with the University of Northumbria's School of Life Sciences who spent 180 hours of testing and a panel of volunteers that consumed 285 cups of tea in the laboratory to come up with an equation for the perfect cuppa.
1. Start with fresh cold water
Use fresh cold water rather than hot tap water or water that has already been heated for making your tea. Hot tap water and reheated water have less oxygen and give a "flatter" flavor. Let the water run from the tap for a few seconds to incorporate more oxygen. Unless the directions for your tea state otherwise, heat about 8-ounces of water for each cup of tea you plan to make.
TIP: Use bottled or filtered water if your regular tap water has an unpleasant flavor.
2. Preheat teapot or cup
While waiting for your water to heat, preheat the teapot or cup in which your tea bag(s) or loose tea will be steeped by filling it with hot water. It's OK to use hot tap water for preheating. If the heated water for your tea is poured into a cold teapot or cup, the water temperature may drop several degrees and decrease the flavor extraction from the tea.
TIP: If steeping tea directly in a cup, you may wish to cover the cup both while warming it with hot water and while the tea is brewing to retain the heat. Your saucer is a possibility for a cover. You also can purchase tea mugs with lids.
3. Use correct amount of water and tea
As a general guideline, use about 1 tea bag or 1 teaspoon of loose tea per 8-ounce cup of tea. Check package directions. If your tea is too strong, add more hot water after your tea has brewed. If your tea is too weak, either use more tea or less water the next time you make tea.
4. Brew at correct time/temperature
The optimum temperature for tea flavor is 60 degrees Centigrade (140 degrees Fahrenheit). The team at University of Northumbria suggest leaving the tea bag in the mug for two minutes, then remove the bag, add milk (if desired) and let sit for an additional six minutes until it reaches that optimal temperature. But don’t leave for too long. After 17 minutes and 30 seconds, the tea will be past its best and bitter due to the release of tannins. Remember that the color of the tea isn’t necessarily the best indicator of taste.
5. Don't overcrowd loose tea
If you use loose tea leaves rather than tea bags, your tea will taste best if the leaves have some room to expand. Place the tea leaves directly into a teapot and strain the brewed tea with a fine mesh strainer into your cups. Or use a basket infuser or a large tea ball in your teapot or cup. A tea ball or basket infuser should be filled no more than half full with tea so the leaves have room to expand for the best flavor.
More about each type of tea:
Probably the most basic and common variety (it’s the basis for most iced tea), and the one that’s oxidized the longest, black tea is also usually the most caffeinated, delivering about 20 percent as much of a buzz as coffee. Varieties you may know: Earl Gray and English Breakfast. Steep in very hot, almost-boiling water for 3-5 minutes.
This superdrink is lighter in color and flavor than black tea, and often paired with fruits or florals. Some varieties can be high in tannins (the same compounds in red wine), which deliver a dry, pucker-inducing mouthfeel along with their health benefits. Green tea is more delicate than black tea so use water that is about 160 to 180 degrees F or just below boiling. At this temperature, you will see some steam rise from the water. This lower temperature helps protect against a bitter or astringent taste in green tea. TIP: If heating your water for green tea in a whistling tea kettle, flip back or remove the whistle section so you can see when steam starts rising from the spout. Steep for 1-3 minutes.
Oolong or Wu Long
Consider this your Goldilocks tea—not as strong as black, but not as mild as green, and caffeine-free. It’s the traditional variety served in many Chinese restaurants. Steep times vary, so check the package. Normally, just-boiling water works well.
The name comes from silvery fibers that adorn the tea plant, pre-processing. It’s a little sweeter than some other types, but has more antioxidants than many fruits and veggies. Steep in not-yet-boiling water for just about a minute.
A favorite in China, pu-erh starts out as a type of green tea, then undergoes a special oxidation process. It’s touted as a digestive aid, metabolism sparker, and even a hangover remedy. The science isn’t on the books, but a mug of this after a long night out—whether for dinner or adult beverages—can’t hurt. Steep in boiling water for 2-4 minutes.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Food Nutrition and Health
Telegraph UK: How to make the perfect cup of tea
Women’s Health Magazine: Find your cup of tea – 5 unbeatable brews