Tea 101

The Stringent Rules of Tea Preparation

Rule #1 - There are no stringent rules.

Enjoying tea is about finding that niche of the tea world, whether large or small, that pleases your palate. Only you can work out how to prepare that “perfect” cup of tea.

  • One teaspoon of tea per 8 ounces of water or three?
  • Teabags because you don't have time (or can't be bothered) to fiddle with tea accessories, or loose?
  • Boiling water, or less so?
  • Steeped for 30 seconds or 25 minutes? (Yes, some of us grew up as overbrewers with “WORKMAN'S TEA”!)
  • Milk? Sugar? Both? Neither? Sweet? Astringent? Grassy? Hot? Cold? Large? Small? Pure? Blended? Flavoured?

Don't let anyone tell you how to enjoy your cup of tea. We can provide guidelines or starting points for teas you have never tried before, but half the fun of tea is in the experimentation. Try new things, fall back on old favourites — maybe even mix the two and become your own tea blender! Just remember that no two palates are alike. While we can recommend a tea or two you might enjoy, only you can work out how to best achieve that cup of tea you just can't live without. Don't let anyone dictate your pleasure and always brew your tea your way!

Rule #2 — Enjoy!

Tea shouldn't be a chore — it should be something you look forward to and something that satisfies and pleases you. Experiment with different teas; you never know where the next favourite tea may pop up! Consider the time you invest in preparing your special cup of tea — whatever ritual you feel comfortable with — to be your time. A temporary escape, a release valve, "me-time". Whether you drink alone, quickly at work, or slowly with your friends, first and foremost, tea should be enjoyed.

How to brew your tea

Here are a few guidelines to help you through the basics of brewing the different families of tea. In general, start with one level teaspoon (measuring spoon or 2-3 grams) per 6 ounce cup.

Increase the quantity of tea for a fuller flavour and decrease the infusion time to avoid astringency.

Water Temperature (Fahrenheit)Water Temperature (Celsius)Steeping Time
White Tea165-180 °F75-80 °C Steep 1 to 2 minutes. Many can be used for multiple infusions.
Green TeaSencha150-165 °F 65-75 °C Steep 1 to 2 minutes. Many can be used for up to 2 infusions.
Genmaicha175-190 °F 80-88 °C Steep 1 to 3 minutes.
Gyokuro140-160 °F 60-70 °C Steep 2 to 3 minutes.
Macha190 °F 88 °C Whisk until a gentle froth appears.
Oolong Tea190 °F 88 °C Steep 5+ minutes.
Oolong Tea (Alternate Method)190 °F 88 °C Use in multiple infusions starting with steeping first for 30 to 45 seconds and increasing by 15 seconds for each successive infusion.
Black TeaBoiling water100 °C Steep 3 to 5 minutes.
RooibosBoiling water100 °C Steep 4 to 10 minutes.
Herbal or Fruit TisaneBoiling water100 °C Steep 4 to 6 minutes (unless the blend involves anything that can overpower with long infusions).

Higher quality teas, especially with green teas, prefer lower temperatures to produce the best possible cup of tea. Higher quality unflavoured green teas can also be infused more than once, depending upon the depth of flavour that you desire in subsequent infusions.

“The 30 second tea decaffeination routine”

aka “A 30 second tea rinse will remove 80%-90% of caffeine!”

This is the often mentioned “simple decaffeination” method that keeps popping back into tea lore. Unfortunately, one-step solutions rarely turn out as well as you'd hope! Recent lab work* has shown the 30 second rinse will generally remove 30% or less of the available caffeine in an average loose leaf tea — nowhere near the 80% to 90% that many people quote. (Some teas would have to be rinsed/steeped for 5 to 7 minutes before they release anywhere near 80% of their caffeine — especially bad for flavoured teas!)

The actual percentage of caffeine removed is greatly affected by the type and form of the tea — the level of caffeine in the leaf to begin with, the level of processing involved in producing the tea leaf for use, the size of the tea leaf used for the infusion, and the method used for infusion. With a full leaf white tea infused at 165°F, it has been estimated that the caffeine doesn't really start to release until 45 to 60 seconds after the water is poured!

If you are attempting to decrease your caffeine intake (or have been instructed to by your medical practitioner) it might be better to try a decaffeinated tea or a naturally caffeine free tea such as those in the Rooibos, herbal or fruit tisane groups.

^ Please check out the article on decaffeination by tea expert Bruce Richardson at elmwoodinn.com/about/articles.html for his report on the subject. You can also Google “30 second tea decaffeination” and find a few other experts that have tested the myth and found it wanting.

Caffeine in Tea

When we talk about the caffeine in a cup of tea we can only talk about ranges, not exact figures — a specific tea will show different levels of caffeine depending on all aspects of its history. Everything from soil, climate, weather, age, season, parts picked, to handling, processing methods, amounts used to brew, temperature, and time, will have an impact upon the total available caffeine in a tea.

The following chart is just a guide to the caffeine in an average cup of various beverages for comparison.

Average Caffeine in Various Beverages
Brewed Coffee — 8 oz60-240 mg
Percolated Coffee — 8 oz100-180 mg
Espresso — 1 oz42-65 mg
Instant Coffee — 8 oz70-110 mg
Decaffeinated Coffee — 8 oz2-5 mg
Black Tea — 8 oz40-100 mg
Oolong Tea — 8 oz12-55 mg
Green Tea — 8 oz25-50 mg
White Tea — 8 oz10-25 mg
Yerba Mate — 8 oz30-90 mg
Decaffeinated Black Tea — 8 oz2-5 mg
Rooibos0 mg
Herbal & Fruit Tisanes0 mg
Carbonated Soda — 12 oz25-55 mg

All of these figures are incomplete ranges — the actual caffeine content of an infused cup of tea is dependent upon every aspect involved in the movement of tea from growth to cup.

The variations are wide — and not necessarily common sense — but include:

  • The basic variation between different species within the camellia family — including the difference between most “Indian” tea (from the assamica species) versus “Chinese” tea (sinensis species)
  • Clonal/varietal differences
  • Growing season/conditions
  • Age of leaf picked
  • Processing of the tea leaf
  • Size of the tea leaf produced
  • Temperature of the water used to infuse
  • Length of time tea is infused

With tea, the longer you steep the leaves, the greater the caffeine that is released into the cup. If you want to achieve a strong flavour and avoid the caffeine, try using more of the tea in your cup and infuse for a shorter time.

The tea used in teabags is of a smaller size and can lead to higher caffeine levels in your cup.