How Long To Steep Tea: A Complete Guide

Learn how to make loose leaf tea from Sips by

Have you ever fixed yourself a nice cup of tea, only to realize that you steeped it for too long? Not sure how to steep like a pro? Thankfully, it’s easy to make a delightful cuppa.

Grab your tea and kettle, and follow along as we learn how to make wonderfully steeped tea, every time.

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Pick Your Tea

The first step to brewing a lovely pot of tea is to choose which tea you’re making. This may not seem important, but different types of tea actually require different steeping techniques. 

Each form of tea also requires a unique approach. There are quite a few teas to choose from, but it really comes down to personal preference.

True Tea vs. Herbal Tea

“True” tea includes black tea, green tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, and white tea. However, this doesn’t mean that your favorite chamomile blend isn’t “real” tea. Herbal teas like rooibos and chamomile are just a little different than those “true” teas listed above.

The term “true” tea refers to tea made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. All types of true teas come from this plant. Processing, harvest season, Camellia sinensis variety, and growing conditions change how teas taste, creating many unique tea types from one amazing plant.

Black tea is often the strongest true tea, while white tea is often the mildest. White tea leaves receive very little oxidation, which results in a floral flavor profile. 

Meanwhile, black tea leaves are left on the tea plant and oxidized for much longer, resulting in a more robust taste. Black tea also contains more caffeine than white tea many times. Still, because a few factors go into the creation of tea, these are generalizations rather than hard-and-fast rules.

On the other hand, herbal teas (also called tisanes) are not made with the tea plant. That’s one reason why they are often caffeine-free. Herbal teas include timeless classics such as chamomile, lavender, rooibos, and peppermint.

Tea types each have unique benefits, so it’s completely up to you to choose which tea suits your fancy. The tea you choose will affect what techniques you can try to steep your tea.

Loose Leaf Tea vs. Bagged Tea

Another factor that can affect your steep is the way your tea is packaged. Loose leaf tea is typically made of whole tea leaves and pieces of fruit or herbs, depending on whether or not you’re using a tea blend. 

Bagged tea is typically made up of finely ground tea leaves and ingredients. This tea has to be finely ground in order to fit inside the tea bags.

If you’re all about convenience, then you may want to pick bagged tea. It’s faster and there’s no prep work or cleanup required. Loose tea requires the use of a strainer or infuser so it can open fully, but it provides a lovely, unique tea experience. 

The Science of the Steep

Before they are made into tea, tea leaves are dried. When they are added to hot water, they soak up the water and re-hydrate.

This is why tea leaves get bigger when you soak them. As they draw in hydration, the leaves begin to infuse their flavor into the water. This process is called diffusion, which is a term you might remember from your high school chemistry class.

Essentially, both the water and the tea swap compounds until they both have equal amounts. This is how tea gets its flavor and its potential wellness benefits.

There are a lot of factors that can affect the final result of your steep. For the leaves, these factors include:

  • How long the plant was allowed to mature

  • The weather conditions when the plant was harvested

  • The quality of the soil where the plant grew 

  • How long the tea leaves were set out to dry

  • How the leaves have been stored since drying

(You may notice a lot of these factors also determine tea type — thus different tea types having unique steeping methods!)

There are also some ways that the water you use can affect your tea taste. These include:

  • The water’s mineral content 

  • Whether you use filtered water or tap water

  • Whether the water is hard

  • The water’s pH

We recommend filtered water for the yummiest cup!

Even apart from all of these variables, the water temperature and how long you steep the tea can affect the final taste. You’ll also need to adjust your steeping time if you’re re-steeping your tea. There’s a lot that goes into making a nice cup of tea!

How Long to Steep Tea

So, how long should you actually steep your tea? It depends on the type of tea.

Longer steep times lead to stronger tea. This is good for mellow teas like white tea and herbal tea, but it can lead to less-than-lovely black tea. 

This is due to the tannins in black tea. Tannins are antioxidants that can cause an astringent mouthfeel – in other words, they can make your mouth feel a little dry and make tea taste differently than its intended flavor profile. 

There are more tannins in black tea than in green tea, but over-steeping can affect both of their tastes.

For an even more in-depth how-to for steeping each tea type, check out our videos on how to make a lovely cuppa.

Black Tea

Black tea is the only type of “true” tea that calls for boiling water. However, you may consider using a “soft boil,” instead of a more vigorous one. To steep black tea, you’ll need water that is between 205 and 212℉. 

While your water is boiling, go ahead and measure your tea out. Whether you’re using loose-leaf or bagged tea, you can make sure the ratio is roughly one teaspoon of tea to every eight ounces of water.

Once your water has reached a boil, pour it over your tea and steep for about three to five minutes. If you like your tea with cream and sugar, try steeping for six minutes. You can experiment with the full range of steep times to find what works for you.

Some of our favorite black teas are English Breakfast and chai. If you’re also a sucker for chai, we recommend checking out our Chai Box for a curated selection of both caffeinated and decaf chai teas.

Green Tea

Green tea requires steaming water for lovely tea brewing. To make green tea, your water can be 175℉ for a faint steam. Try a green tea to water ratio that’s the same as black tea: one teaspoon of tea per eight ounces of water.

Your green tea can steep for two to three minutes, although you can play around with this time frame. Some people enjoy green tea that’s only been steeped for thirty seconds, and some like stronger green tea. It’s all up to your personal preference.

One thing to consider when steeping green tea is that this type of tea can easily be over-steeped. There’s a reason that the Japanese consider making green tea to be an art!

White Tea

White tea is made from the buds of tea leaves, so its taste is very light. In order to get a yummy amount of flavor, we recommend doubling up on white tea for a ratio of two teaspoons of tea per eight ounces of water.

Similarly to green tea, you’ll boil white tea with a light steam between 175℉ and 180℉. To extract delightful flavors from these delicate tea leaves, we recommend steeping for one to three minutes.

Herbal Tea

Herbal tea isn’t quite as prone to over-steeping, so you can exercise a lot of creativity in how you brew it. We recommend sticking with around one teaspoon of tea per eight ounces of water, but it’s up to you and your own tea palate.

To steep herbal tea, you’ll bring the water to a hard boil at 212℉. The amount of time that you steep herbal tea depends entirely on how strong you like your tea, but we recommend a wide window of five to ten minutes.

Hot Tea vs. Iced Tea

This advice only applies if you like hot tea — but what if you want to make iced tea?

You can make iced tea with hot tea, but a fun method is to cold brew your tea. To use this method, simply steep your tea in room temperature water for about half an hour, then put the whole container into the refrigerator for about eight hours or overnight.

We know that eight hours is a lot longer than our previously recommended two to five minutes. That’s because cold water doesn’t draw out tannins the way that hot water does. You’re welcome to steep your cold brewed tea as long as you’d like without largely changing the flavor profile.

The cold brew process draws out a tea’s natural sweetness, so we recommend using a sweet tea to make cold tea. One of our favorite teas for iced tea is Tea Goblin The Piquant Peach. This peach tea also includes apple, rose, and hibiscus for a fruity flavor. It’s naturally sweet and caffeine-free, to boot!

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of factors that come together to make a nice cup of tea. Even the smallest of variables like what conditions the plant grew in can make a world of difference.

For a consistently delicious cup of tea, you can try taking special care with water temperature and steep times. These will vary depending on what tea you’re working with and even what brand you’re using, so you may need to experiment a bit before you find the cup for you. 

For more tea tips, check out our blog and follow us on social media!

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How Long Should You Steep Tea? | Tree Hugger 

Tea Preparation | HowStuffWorks 

Effects of alternative steeping methods on composition, antioxidant property and colour of green, black and oolong tea infusions | NCBI

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