Brewing loose leaf tea

How to brew loose leaf tea?

Western Style

BY KIRSTEN

Reading time: 7 minutes

I often hear in our tea shop that brewing loose leaf tea is so laborious and difficult. Which is actually not the case!

In five simple steps I try to explain how you can make the perfect cup of tea. In this blog I will discuss the western method of making tea.

In another article I will discuss in detail a commonly used oriental way of making tea, the so-called 'Cong Fu' method.

Step 1 – Supplies for brewing loose leaf tea

To brew loose leaf tea, you need the following:

  • Loose leaf tea. This literally means loose tea leaves. So not the prepackaged tea in tea bags. You can use any loose tea for this: white, yellow, green, black, oolong, pu-erh.
  • Cup, mug, gaiwan or pot, here you make your tea.
  • Tea filter. In general, this is how the tea is brewed. Filters come in many shapes and sizes. There are tea infusers, tea tongs, metal tea filters and paper tea filters.
  • Kettle or whistling kettle. Of course you need something to heat the water. This can be done very easily by placing the whistling kettle on the (gas) stove or by using the kettle. If you don't have both available, just put a pan of water on the fire or use the microwave to heat the water.

"The temperature of the water is very important for brewing a good cup of tea. If you use too hot water, the tea leaves can burn. If the water is too cold, the tea will become too weak and bland. The water temperature can also have an influence. on the caffeine content of the tea."

Super useful but not necessary:

  • Water thermometer. It is useful to use a thermometer to determine the correct temperature. Some kettles already have these built in. If you do not have such a thermometer, there is no man overboard. Allowing the water to cool for a few minutes after boiling will also bring it to the right temperature.
  • Perfect cup or tea scoop. This scoop is ideal for measuring the right amount of tea. However, if the scoop is just not in your kitchen drawer, you can also use a teaspoon.

Step 2 – Heating the water

The temperature of the water is very important for brewing a good cup of tea. If you use too hot water, the tea leaves can burn. If the water is too cold, the tea will become too weak and bland. Also, the water temperature can affect the caffeine content of the tea.

Fill the kettle, or any other method that better suits your situation, with cold, filtered water if possible. The right temperature for brewing tea can range from 70 degrees Celsius for specialty green teas to 100 degrees Celsius for black and herbal teas, with many degrees in between.

A kettle with temperature control is very useful but not necessary. If you do not have this, it is important to keep a close eye on the water during heating in order to estimate the temperature.

Depending on the type of tea you're brewing, the water may be ready when it first starts to steam, when it steams vigorously, or when it comes to a full boil.

You can also let the water boil first and then let it cool for a few minutes.

"Measuring tea leaves is really not an exact science. Having made loose leaf tea for a while will give you a better idea of the amount of tea leaves you need, depending on your own personal taste preference."

Recommended water temperature per type of tea:

Type of teaWater temperature
Black tea100 degrees Celsius
Green tea80 to 85 degrees Celsius
(let the boiled water cool for 3 minutes)
White thee80 to 85 degrees Celsius
(let the boiled water cool for 3 minutes)
Oolong tea90 degrees Celsius
(let the boiled water cool for 2 minutes)
Pu-erh tea100 degrees Celsius
Infusions100 degrees Celsius
Rooibos tea100 degrees Celsius

The table above indicates the water temperature at which tea should be brewed

Frequently asked questions about water

We often have people in tea shops who do not appreciate green tea because it tastes so bitter. This bitterness is mainly determined by the water temperature and the duration of brewing.

Compared to black tea, green and white tea contain relatively more tannins. Tannin causes, among other things, the bitter taste of tea. The tannins in the green and white teas are released in large quantities above water temperatures of 80 degrees Celsius. That is why we recommend not brewing green and white tea with boiling water.

In step 4 I will explain what the influence of the duration of the brewing of the tea has on the taste.In stap 4 zal ik uitleggen wat de invloed van de duur van het zetten van de thee heeft op de smaak.

In principle, tap water in the Netherlands is good enough for brewing tea. In Amsterdam, the hardness of the water is even soft. This means that the water contains little magnesium and lime. The higher the hardness of water (read more magnesium and lime), the more influence this has on the taste experience of tea. If you live in an environment with 'hard' tap water, it might be better to use soft spring water such as Spa Blauw.

In another article, I'll go into more detail on the hardness (and residual dryness) of water and the impact it has on the quality of the tea.

Step 3 – Measuring the Tea Leaves

While heating the water, fill a tea filter with loose leaf tea. In general, we use the rule that you need 2 grams of tea per 200 ml of water (about the size of a normal teacup). And this equals 1 level teaspoon.

However, you don't have to skim the spoon for the more 'voluminous' teas such as white tea or herbal tea. Then you just use a full teaspoon.

The History of the Teaspoon

A small sidestep about the origin of the teaspoon. Why do we use a teaspoon to measure tea these days?

The teaspoon made its appearance in England at the end of the 17th century. Before that time, spoons were already used to measure tea, but no standard size had been agreed for a teaspoon. The standardization of the teaspoon was mainly driven by the price of tea. Until the mid-19th century, a pound of tea already cost the average Briton a few weeks' wages. Tea was even more expensive than coffee. As a result, there was a lot of cheating with the necessary quantities for brewing tea.

In the meantime, English pharmacists had switched to an informal standardization of the teaspoon to prevent abuse. The pharmacists agreed that 1 teaspoon would contain 1⅓ liquid drams (the pharmacy unit of the time). This is equivalent to 5 milliliters or about 2 grams of tea. Eventually the teaspoon became an official unit of measure. It was also agreed that 3 teaspoons equal 1 tablespoon.

And now back to our time. Back to brewing the perfect cup of tea!

Some people 'speed up' the process by continuously moving the tea during brewing. To these people I want to say: "Just leave the tea alone while brewing!".

Measuring tea leaves is really not an exact science. If you've been making loose leaf tea for a while, you'll get a better idea of the amount of tea leaves you'll need, depending on your own personal taste preference.

Recommended amount of tea per tea type:

Type of teaAmount of tea per cup
Black tea1 level teaspoon per 200ml
Green tea1 level teaspoon per 200ml
White tea2 level teaspoons per 200ml
Oolong tea1 level teaspoon per 200ml
Pu-erh tea1 full teaspoon per 200ml
Infusions1 full teaspoon per 200ml
Rooibos tea1 level teaspoon per 200ml

The table above indicates the desired amount of loose leaf tea per cup

Would you rather make a pot of tea? Most teapots have a capacity of about 1 liter. For a teapot you have to use 10 grams of tea.

Recommended amount of tea per type of tea per teapot:

Type of teaAmount of tea per tea pot (1 litre)
Black tea5 level teaspoons
Green tea5 level teaspoons
White tea10 level teaspoons
Oolong tea5 level teaspoons
Pu-erh tea5 full teaspoons
Infusionsfull teaspoons
Rooibos tea5 level teaspoons

The table above indicates the desired amount of loose leaf tea per tea pot

Step 4 – Let the tea steep

Once the water has reached the desired temperature, it's time to actually brew tea. You do this by pouring the hot water over the tea leaves. This saturates every part of the tea leaf, making for a more flavourful tea.

The brewing time depends on the type of tea you use. Some teas may only steep for a minute or two, while others can be steeped for up to ten minutes.

To use the correct brewing time, you can use a timer. An hourglass, clock, egg timer or the timer on your phone, it all works. Once you've mastered tea brewing, you can also estimate the times based on your personal preference.

Recommended brewing time per type of tea:

Type of teaRecommended brewing time
Black tea3 to 5 minutes
Green tea1 to 2 minutes
White tea2 to 3 minutes
Oolong tea2 to 3 minutes
Pu-erh tea5 minutes
Infusions5 minutes or more
Rooibos tea5 minutes or more

The table above indicates the desired brewing time of loose tea

Tip: I know and the temptation is great too. Ideally you want to enjoy a nice cup of tea as soon as possible. Some people 'speed up' the process by continuously moving the tea during brewing. To these people I want to say: "Just leave the tea alone while brewing!". Patience really is a virtue in this case.

By moving the tea leaves while brewing, you disrupt the brewing process. This can result in a negative taste experience of the tea. If you let the tea steep for longer than indicated, the tea can become bitter and cause astringency.

Astringency is a complex of related sensations that produces a dry and astringent sensation in the mouth. Tannins in the tea chemically react with the proteins in your mouth and cause this feeling. You get the same result, for example, by biting the seeds of a grape.

Step – 5 Removing the Tea Leaves

Is the brewing time over? Then remove the tea filter with the loose tea from your cup or teapot. And now your tea is ready to drink! Enjoy!

If you have put your tea in a pot or cup without a filter, so you have simply poured water over the loose leaf, it is good to first strain the tea and pour it into another pot or cup before drinking. This way the tea does not become too strong.

(Step – 6 Repeating steps 4 and 5, again and again)

Actually, you don't have to perform this step, but I'll describe it anyway. What you may not know yet, you can make tea again from the previously brewed tea leaves.

The loose tea that we sell in the store and online is of such a quality that you can make tea several times. You will notice that with each subsequent brew you will find different nuances in the taste of the tea. You can usually repeat this process up to 3 times. Sometimes up to 5 times. After that, the taste of the tea becomes too weak.

In conclusion

I hope that after reading this blog you have gained more insight into brewing the perfect cup of tea. Please understand that the above are only guidelines.

The perfect cup of tea is different for everyone. Niels likes to drink his tea hot and strong, while I can also enjoy a 'weak' tea that has cooled down considerably.

Try experimenting with the above guidelines, for example by using a little more tea with a shorter brewing time or colder water. The possibilities are actually endless.

Do you enjoy sharing your optimal brewing process with the rest of the world? Please leave it in the comments box below.

- Kirsten -

For a large part of her life Kirsten has had a passion for entrepreneurship and tea. Since 2014, she has been combining this with her husband, Niels, in the tea specialty store Het Kleinste Huis (The Smallest House in Amsterdam). Kirsten likes to write about things that keep her busy (this doesn't have to be just tea!).

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