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Tea 101 - Water Temperature

Variable Temperature Water Warmer
Variable Temperature Water Warmer

When I first started brewing tea I thought it was simple: boil water, throw in some tea leaves, serve and enjoy.  However, it was brought to my attention[1] that a lot of the teas fair better when steeped at a lower temperature.

White: 140-165° 
Green: 170-180°
Oolong: 190-205°
Black: Above 200°
Pu-erh: Just below boiling

A great rule of thumb: the more delicate the tea leaves, the lower the temperature for steeping.  The reason for this is also because there are three major components to tea: caffeine, essential oils and polyphenols.  The hotter the water, the faster the essential oils dissipate which, in the case of more delicate leaves, will cause the tea to lose its flavor quicker.

You have to also keep in mind that you also keep on the amount of time that you steep the tea.  I used to wait for some sort of color change…that’s a no no.  Instead a combination of heat and time optimizes that amount of flavor you will achieve.

White:  4-6 minutes
Green: 2-4 minutes
Oolong: 5-8 minutes
Black: 4-6 minutes
Rooibos: 4-6 minutes

If you don’t have a thermometer handy, here is a neat little trick I found to give you an idea of getting the temperature you want:

Watch the bubbles!  If you have small bubbles that float to the surface, then you are at about 160-170ºF. If you find a constant stream of bubbles from the bottom of the kettle to the top then you are at 180-190ºF.

Who would have thought that water could be so complicated?  But when you think about it, brewing tea is like cooking a gourmet meal: you want the best ingredients to bring out the best flavor of your dish.  This is the same with tea…except that the only other ingredient is the water!

What do you think, dear readers? Did you find this helpful?