Unfortunately, there is no universal secret for making the perfect cup of tea. There are, however, many helpful hints towards getting the highest levels of both nutrition and flavor from your cup. If you break down all teas into their own categories, you can better understand how to best steep each individual variety.
But first, a quick lesson in tea.
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All tea comes from the same plant. The technical name from the plant is camellia sinensis. This is not to be confused with herbal tea. Herbals, like mint or chamomile do not come from the tea plant, though some varieties available are actually blends of both tea and herbs.
The tea leaf is labeled based on how much oxidation the leaf has gone through. This is an enzymatic process which is either completed before firing or roasting, in the case of black tea, or interrupted half way through in order to make oolong. A green tea leaf will be steamed from the start in order to retain the chlorophyll and its green color. A white tea is the baby tea leaf, picked before it has even matured into a green leaf. In order from least to most oxidized is white, green, oolong and black.
White tea is very fragile. It is loaded with antioxidants. These antioxidants fight free radicals from harming your cells and causing you to age more rapidly. You will want to steep a white tea for only about 2 minutes, or to taste. The water will still be very light, as you wont get much color from these leaves. It will have a delicate flavor. The optimal steeping temperature for this tea is somewhere around 175-185 degrees Fahrenheit. Water boils at 212. While you always want to boil your water first, you should let the pot cool for several minutes before pouring it over these leaves.
Green tea is very popular here in America–especially with the latest buzz revolving around the power of antioxidants. It has about ¼ the caffeine as a cup of coffee. However, the caffeine in tea does work differently in your body than the caffeine in coffee. With tea, the caffeine is introduced more gradually, and sustained for a longer period of time within your blood stream. It also declines more gradually. This is why caffeine from tea rarely results in the jitters or crashing.
A green tea should be steeped for around 2-3 minutes. Each type of green tea out there is different. With whole leaf tea (the most nutritious type), sometimes steeping longer than 2 minutes can result in the tannins being released. These tannins are responsible for making your tea bitter. Squeezing your tea bag at the end of the steep can also actually result in more tannins in your tea. A green tea should be steeped at 185 degrees.
OOLONG and BLACK TEA
Both oolong and black tea should be steeped anywhere from 3-5 minutes at around 195 degrees Fahrenheit. These teas are a little sturdier, so they can withstand a higher steeping temperature and longer steeping times before they release their bitter tannins. While a black tea will have less antioxidant levels than Green or White, it has about twice as much caffeine as a Green tea. This is about ½ a cup of coffee.
Herbal teas like chamomile, mint or ginger can really never be over-steeped. They do not possess these tannins, so therefore will never become bitter. Most herbal teas are a lot sturdier than the tea plant and therefore can also be steeped at around 205 degrees. Leave the herbs in as long as you want for more flavor and more medicinal properties in your cup. At least 3 minutes would be recommended for steeping an herbal tea.
The Alternative To Coffee
Tea is a fabulous alternative to coffee, as it does not come with the negative side effects that coffee can induce on the digestive system. It is a lot easier on the nervous system as well, while simultaneously providing higher levels of vitamins and minerals.
While both milk and sugar can be added to tea, neither is really worth recommending, because neither exhibit any real health benefits. These can be added for taste, but use sparingly.
Why Drinking Tea Is Good For You
The reason tea has stood the test of time, and been used for thousands of years is because of it’s nutritional levels and its medicinal properties. So get some high quality whole leaf tea from India, or China, and enjoy a relaxing cup as often as you desire. Drinking whole leaf tea is very different from the stuff that you buy in the store in those tea bags. Plus bleach, metal, and glue can be used in those bags, which definitely affect your tea quality, and safety. Not to mention all the additives, perfumes, preservatives, flavors and oils that they add to these teas to keep them fresh and fresh smelling. They are best to avoid.