Over steeping tea is a common mistake all tea drinkers, newbies and connoisseurs, make sometimes - whether they do it knowingly or not. Learn more about what really happens if you over steep tea, how over steeping affects certain types of teas, and how to avoid a bitter cup of tea.
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SHOP BEST LOOSE LEAF TEA
Discover the best loose leaf teas as rated by Sips by's 700,000 tea-loving Members. Across all tea types, from black tea to green tea to herbal tea and more, these are the best loose leaf teas from different tea brands around the world. Find your favorite loose leaf tea - no matter the type or flavor of loose leaf tea you're searching for, Sips by has options you'll love. Discover your new favorite loose leaf tea, as well as disposable tea bag kits to make brewing loose leaf tea easy.
CAN YOU OVER STEEP TEA?
Can you over steep your cup of tea? The short answer is: yes. In fact, it’s one of the most common mistakes people make when brewing tea. Over steeping occurs when you let your tea leaves diffuse in water for too long.
Now, there’s no correct way to drink your tea, and ‘too long’ might seem like a relative term when taste preferences range - so we're saying over steeping is when you steep tea beyond the recommended time on the package or past the general guidelines until it no longer tastes good to you.
It can be a learning curve to figure out how to make loose leaf tea properly, so over steeping happens easily, in many different ways. For instance, letting your leaves sit in the teapot for too long instead of straining them out is a common way tea is over steeped. The first cup of tea is too weak, but by the end of the pot the last cups are dark and bitter. Or, you might be leaving the tea bag in the mug while you drink it (trust us, we’ve all been there more than a time or two). You could also simply forget about your tea once you start steeping it to go do something else, and once you get back it's steeped 2-3x too long. Check out this list of the best loose leaf tea brands to find your next favorite blend!
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU OVER STEEP TEA?
When you add hot water to tea leaves to steep it triggers the nutrient compounds in the tea to diffuse and release into the water, seeking equilibrium. For the nutrients to be fully transferred, however, a cup of tea must be really over steeped.
When tea is normally steeped, the enticing aroma escapes first. Then, the caffeine, nutrients, and antioxidants are extracted until finally the tannins are released. Tannins are naturally found in everything from tea, chocolate, and wine to spices, berries, and tree bark. They are a type of polyphenol that contain antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory health benefits, but they are characteristically bitter and astringent in flavor.
The steeping process usually takes 3-5 minutes. However, when you over steep tea beyond this time more tannins are released into your cup, so the color turns darker and the flavor becomes bitter from the extra tannins, especially when steeping black tea.
This will happen to all true teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant - black tea, green tea, pu-erh tea, white teas, and oolong tea. Herbal teas and rooibos are actually tisanes made from herbs, shrubs, flowers, and spices so most varieties have reduced levels of tannins. These blends can still become murky or sharp in flavor when steeped for too long.
IS IT BAD TO OVER STEEP TEA?
While it’s not the end of the world if you over steep your tea, you will be missing out on the best tasting cup, especially if you’re using quality loose leaf tea.
The subtle notes and crafted flavors in good tea are usually light, smooth, and layered. When tea is over steeped, you might get a bitter, astringent, murky, or burnt flavor instead of unlocking the full potential of the tea.
For instance, if you over steep an Earl Grey tea, which is a flavored black tea blend with light bergamot citrus and a floral note, then the astringency and tannins in the black tea will overpower the delicate citrus and florals until it tastes too acidic or chalky instead of delicately smooth. Similarly, green tea is one of the easiest teas to over steep. Some can be hardy, but most green teas are delicate and require attention when brewing to get the best flavor. When steeped just right, the grassy, nutty, vegetal, or oceanic flavors unique to green tea are pleasing, but when over steeped these same flavors taste bitter and burnt.
Once tea is over steeped, it also can’t be re-steeped. Re-steeping is a trick to get more value and unlock the changing flavors in loose leaf tea, which won’t work if all the flavor is extracted in the first cup.
BENEFITS OF OVER STEEPING TEA
On a positive note, some research does point to extra health benefits in a cup of over steeped tea. Whether you over steeped your tea accidentally or intentionally, because the concentration of tannins in your cup increases the longer it's steeped, what makes your tea taste bitter is also making it healthier. However, studies show that even in a cup of tea brewed for 10 minutes, most of the nutrients were extracted within 5 minutes. More caffeine is extracted the longer you steep your tea, which can also lend a bitter taste.
A cup of normal tea already contains a significant amount of health benefits, but if your main goal is a healthful cup of tea with the most nutrients as possible, and not the taste, then go ahead and leave your tea bag in the cup while you’re sipping or double or triple the steeping time.
HOW TO AVOID A BITTER CUP
Steeping tea doesn’t have to be an elaborate science experiment, but there are a few important elements to ensure you get the best tasting cup that is full of healthy antioxidants and compounds: water temperature, steeping time, and the amount of tea.
Always follow the steeping instructions on your tea package first, but if you don’t have those handy follow our How to Make Loose Leaf Tea guide or watch our How to Steep Tea videos to learn how to steep every type of tea properly. Depending on the type of tea, the general range for steeping will be about 1 tsp per cup of water in 175°-212° heated water, steeped for 2-5 minutes.
The first way to avoid over steeping is with your brewing vessel. Try brewing your tea with a tea filter or in a mug with an infuser because you can’t start drinking your tea until you lift the infuser out.
If you want those extra benefits in a cup of over steeped tea, there are a few tricks to help improve the taste. Water and temperature are correlated, so reducing the temperature and increasing steep time may counteract some negative effects of over steeping. Also, adding milk, sweetener, or a squeeze of lemon can help mellow out the astringent flavor, especially in a cup of over steeped black tea. Finally, if you fear that your cup of over steeped tea is too far gone, use it as an opportunity to try out a new tea infused recipe! Try a out a tea toddy on a cold evening, throw your tea in a smoothie, or make a scrumptious pu-erh banana bread.
We recommend these teas to help you avoid a bitter cup.
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About Sips by: We’re a female-founded and led startup that makes discovering tea fun, personalized, and affordable. The Sips by Box is the only multi-brand, personalized tea subscription box. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Based out of Austin, Texas, we are adept at savoring a hot mug even when it’s seasonally inappropriate.