How to Make Black Tea Properly
Have you given up making black tea because it just never tastes good? Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. Every single day, I begin by brewing up a delicious cup of black tea, usually English Breakfast or Earl Grey. Since I’ve perfected my process over many years, I can’t wait to show you step-by-step how to make black tea taste good every time.
Tea Consumption on the Rise
Would you believe me if I told you Americans drink around 3.8 billion gallons of tea per year? And 84% of all that tea consumption is black tea? One thing I know for sure, I do my part to contribute to those Tea Association of the USA stats.
Interestingly, however, the Tea Association explains that 75-80% of American tea consumption is iced tea. Iced tea? That means only 20-25% of black tea drinkers consume it hot, my favorite way to drink it.
Why is that? Well, first and foremost, with more Starbucks than McDonald’s dotting the American landscape, we’re a nation of coffee drinkers. Just so you know, though, Starbucks has some really good hot and iced teas on the menu, in addition to coffee. To see more about their tea offerings and lots of other great information, check out these guides I put together.
Starbucks Tea Guides
- A Barista’s Guide to Hot Tea at Starbucks
- Best Iced Tea at Starbucks, A Barista’s Guide
- A Barista’s Guide to Starbucks Green Tea & Matcha
Additionally, and this is pure speculation on my part, I think many people just don’t know how to brew a cup of black tea properly. I’m a firm believer that details matter, especially when making black tea. Let me show you how I do it.
How to Make Black Tea: Step by Step
Select tea to brew
Step 1: Pick out a tea to brew
Tea comes in three forms: loose, in a sachet, or in a tea bag. Generally speaking, loose tea provides the best flavor. Since the tea is brewed loose in a teapot you must use either a strainer or tea infuser (a little basket to put tea in). Loose leaves are usually large and unfurl in the water as they release lots of flavor.
Tea sachets, also called pyramid bags, are a pre-packaged way to brew tea and they usually have fairly large tea leaves. The pyramid shaped bag gives the leaves room to open up and brew.
Tea bags contain smaller pieces of ground up tea called fannings. On a quality scale, tea bags fall in last place among the three types.
Now, some tea drinkers insist on loose leaf only. I’m not one of them. I tend to make loose leaf more on the weekends and evenings when I have time to fiddle with an infuser and teapot. Otherwise, I really like Harney tea sachets and even enjoy Pukka and Tazo tea bags. It’s all a matter of taste preference.
Now that you’ve selected your tea, look at the package’s recommendation for brewing temperature and time. Remember both.
Use filtered water
Step 2: Pour filtered water in tea kettle
The number one ingredient in brewed tea is water. So it stands to reason that the taste of the water impacts the taste of the tea.
Don’t believe me? Take a sip of your tap water and a sip of filtered water. Most often, the difference is striking.
That’s why I say, whether you’re making tea or coffee; orange juice or lemonade, use filtered water.
Previously I’ve mentioned that I have a filter on my new refrigerator. I love the cool, filtered water it provides, as well as pure tasting filtered ice. But if you don’t have a water filter in your refrigerator or sink, don’t worry.
Filter pitchers like Brita work really well. Just fill one up and keep it in your fridge. That way it’s a snap to pour filtered water in a tea kettle.
Heat water to the proper temperature
Step 3: Select brewing temperature on kettle or boil water on stove
Did you know different types of tea like black, green and white, are properly brewed at different temperatures? For instance, green tea should never be brewed in boiling water as it cooks the delicate green tea leaves.
The focus of this post, however, is how to make the best cup of black tea. And the temperature of the water really matters. If it’s too cold, the flavors cannot be extracted (at least not quickly). Black tea is processed longer than green tea and so requires near-boiling water to extract all the flavor and caffeine molecules.
The perfect way to brew tea is with an electric kettle that has temperature settings. I have the Cuisinart PerfecTemp Electric Kettle and I absolutely love it.
All I have to do is fill it up with filtered water and press the proper tea button. In the case of this how-to article, I select black tea. Additionally, the kettle has a convenient water level window and beeps when the water is ready.
On the other hand, heating water on the stove is fine too. Bring the water to the temperature recommended on the tea box.
Keep in mind, black tea is usually heated to a boil. When it’s done, let the rolling water stop and cool for a few seconds. Now, it’s ready to pour.
Preheat tea cup and kettle
Step 4: Preheat your tea cup or mug and teapot if you’re using one
Preheating your cup and teapot are an important step that is often overlooked or skipped over out of laziness. The latter is me sometimes.
But, preheating is easy to do and may impact flavor. Simply, pour a little hot water in whatever vessel you plan on brewing the tea inside-mug or teapot. Let it sit for a few seconds.
Here’s my quick test to know when the cup is heated through; I wrap my hands around the mug and see if it’s too hot to touch. Then, pour the water out. Now you have a hot cup or teapot all ready to brew the tea in.
You may be wondering, why bother? Remember how I said the brewing temperature of the water really matters to extract flavor and all the tea goodness? Well if you pour hot water in a cold mug, the water temperature immediately drops. Preheating the mug or teapot avoids this situation.
Of course, if you boil water on the stove using the same teapot you use to infuse the tea, there’s no need to preheat it.
Use the correct amount of black tea
Step 5: Put tea in mug or teapot with infuser and add hot water to it
Now it’s time to brew the tea. But, how much? A good rule of thumb for tea bags is to use one tea bag per 8 ounces of water. As far as measuring loose tea goes, typically 1-2 teaspoons per 8 ounces of water is suggested. The best bet, see what it says on the tea box or tea tin.
If you’re not sure how many ounces your mug is, flip it over and see if it’s printed on the bottom. Otherwise, use a measuring cup to determine how much it holds.
Importantly, you want to get the tea to water ratio correct to make a good cup of tea. Use too little tea, and it will be too weak; too much tea and it will be too strong.
Add non-dissolved sweeteners while steeping
Step 6: Add sweeteners like cane sugar or raw sugar to tea while it’s steeping.
One of my favorite ways to drink black tea is with a little sweetener and a little milk. Although lately, I’ve been drinking tea sans sugar (trying to be healthier).
That being said, there’s nothing better than a cup of English Breakfast tea with milk to start the day. On days when I treat myself to something a little sweet, I make a yummy cup of brown sugar milk tea.
So, if you sweeten your black tea, go ahead and add sugar while the tea is steeping. The hot water will dissolve it nicely.
How long to steep black tea
Step 7: Set a timer and remove the tea bags or loose tea when time is up
If I had to pick out the one thing that affects the taste of a hot brewed cup of black tea the most, hands down I would say it’s how long to steep the black tea. Here’s why.
While brewing tea seems so simple, a lot happens once the tea is placed in water. Basically, the hot water starts the process of extracting molecules from the tea leaves and transferring them into the water.
When tea and hot water meet, for example, aroma and flavor happen first. After a couple minutes caffeine is extracted. Tannins, the thing that can make a cup of tea way too bitter, are last.
So steeping time really, really matters. If you dunk a black tea bag in and out rather quickly, there will barely be any flavor or caffeine. If you leave the black tea in too long then bitter tannins override the good flavors.
When it comes to how long to steep black tea, you want to steep it at least 3 minutes for flavor and caffeine, but no longer than 5 minutes. And those minutes go by fast, especially when you get busy in the kitchen doing something else. That’s why I always set a timer; the one on my phone, actually.
Trust me, a cup of black tea accidentally steeped for six minutes is getting poured right down the drain.
Put in other additives
Step 8: Add milk, simple syrup and anything else you like in black tea
Now that you’ve properly brewed a delicious cup of tea, it’s time to customize it with other flavors if that’s your preference.
For instance, black tea is perfect for lattes. All you have to do is add some steamed, frothed milk. A London Fog Latte made with Earl Grey tea is a popular type of black tea latte, for example.
An absolutely decadent but delicious way to enjoy chai tea (especially in the fall) is to make a pumpkin spice chai latte. I cannot even begin to tell you how good it is. To chai tea, add homemade pumpkin spice sauce (like Starbucks) and steamed milk. Finally, top it off with a sprinkle of pumpkin spice. So good!
Learning how to make black tea taste good every time is simple.
Now that you see the steps to make hot black tea, here’s a summary of things that affect its flavor. Armed with this knowledge, you’re sure to make a good cup of black tea every time.
5 Factors that Affect the Flavor of Black Tea
- Always use filtered water for tea making.
- Heat the water to the correct temperature for the type of tea. Black tea is most often is heated to boiling or near-boiling.
- Preheat the tea mug or kettle before using it to brew tea. This prevents the temperature of the brewing water from dropping as much.
- Make sure to use the correct tea to water ratio. Normally, this is around 1 tea bag or 1 teaspoon of loose tea per cup of water.
- Do not under steep or over steep your tea. Typically, black tea is steeped 3-5 minutes. If you want stronger tea, add more tea; don’t be tempted to steep longer.
- 1 black tea bag or 1-2 teaspoons loose leaf black tea
- 2 cups filtered water (divided)
- Milk (optional)
- Sweetener (optional)
- Measuring cup
- Measuring spoon for loose tea
- Electric kettle with tea temperature settings or a stovetop kettle
- Teapot with infuser or a tea infuser to put in mug (if using loose tea)
- Cup or mug
- Put 2 cups of filtered water in an electric electric kettle with temperature settings. Otherwise, add water to a stovetop kettle. (1 cup will be used to preheat the mug and kettle and 1 cup will be used to make the tea.)
- On the electric kettle, select the black button, otherwise, bring water to a boil on the stove.
- When water reaches a boil, pour a little bit of hot water (about 1/2 cup) into an empty mug. If you are making loose black tea using a teapot, add a little hot water to the empty teapot.
- When the mug and teapot are warmed up after a few seconds, discard the hot water from both.
- Next, if using a tea bag or tea sachet, put the bag or sachet in the cup with the string hanging over the lip of cup. Then, pour 1 cup (8 ounces) boiling water into the cup over the tea bag. If using loose tea, add 1 teaspoon loose tea to infuser and add 1 cup boiling water to the teapot (or cup) holding infuser.
- Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. My personal preference is to steep black tea for 3 1/2 minutes.
- If you want granulated sugar or sweetener in your black tea, add it to the cup or kettle while the tea is steeping to help it dissolve.
- When the time is up, remove tea bag or lift out infuser immediately.
- Stir in other additives like milk, honey, simple syrup.
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