When it comes to throwing together an easy breakfast, making tea is high up on the list. Preparing a cup is seemingly difficult to mess up—boil water, add a tea bag, and sip away. The “just add water” mentality can make people think that tea is a no-brainer of a beverage. Yet, when true tea connoisseurs make tea, they are well aware that making a solid cup depends on careful consideration of the details. It all starts with the water temperature for tea; water is the main vehicle for the drink, after all. This concept making sure the tea temperature is correct is right in line with the science of water and coffee.
Hot water might seem like nothing more than, well, hot water. But there’s more to it than that. “Boiling is responsible for oxygenating the water, bringing out the best flavors of the tea,” says Donna Lo, co-founder of Far Tea Leaves, a tea cafe in Berkeley, California.
This doesn’t mean that a vigorous boil will yield the best cup, though. Lo says that this will actually tire the water out, causing your tea to have a flat or dull taste. It’s best to stick to a gentle boil, which will bring in just enough oxygen.
Temperature also matters, and it depends on the type of tea you're drinking. After all, much like breakfasts, not all teas are created equal. Lo offers a fun rule of thumb: Pay attention to the size of the bubbles to figure out when it’s time to stop the boil.
“For delicate green teas, stop boiling when the bubbles are the size of crab eyes,” she says. “For the warmer water demanded by oolong, wait until the bubbles grow to the size of fish eyes.” What about for hot black tea, which can take higher temperatures? “Wait for the rolling boil of dragon eyes before infusing.”
Yes, you could also just grab a thermometer and measure water temperature for tea with extreme precision. Water for white and green teas should generally be between 170 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Oolong should be brewed between 180 and 190. And black and herbal teas should be brewed between 208 and 212 degrees. However, something tells me that the eye analogies will make for a more interesting morning.
Cooling time is just as important. Lo states that while strong black teas can work with water near the boiling point, oolongs and greens require more cooling time. Patience is key, eager tea drinkers.