When it comes to steeping your tea, there's no wrong way necessarily, says award-winning tea blender, Steve Schwartz, author of Art of Tea: A Journey of Ritual, Discovery, and Impact. However, there is a strategy for brewing a better experience for you tastebuds and yield a more beneficial cup.
Each variety of tea has a peak "maturation" point and temperature in which it tastes the best and offers the maximum amount of benefits. "The benefit of pulling the tea out at a designated time is that you're preventing it from reaching its past-maturation point," says Schwartz. Japanese green tea, for example, prefers a lower water temperature and a brief steeping time to produce the best flavor; oolong, on the other hand, can be steeped multiple times and continue to extract those flavors and benefits.
So what happens when you leave your tea in longer than recommended? According to Schwartz, it's nothing dire; it just won't produce the best-tasting cup of tea possible. "You will certainly extract more benefits the longer you steep a tea. You'll get more flavonoids, polyphenols, and catechins, but you'll also extract more caffeine and tannins, which can lead to a more bitter, unpalatable liquid the longer the leaves remain," Schwartz says.
In less scientific words, you'll be upping your consumption of those immune-supporting, free radical-fighting compounds that are A+ for your body, but you'll also have a less enjoyable time sipping your tea. (Plus, scientists have actually studied steep time and found that the benefits you're getting from the tea does, in fact, reach a saturation point.) Conversely, if you leave your tea in for too short a time, you may not consume as many of those flavonoids, and your tea will have a weaker, more subtle flavor.
It's really a balancing act, right? You want your tea to have a rich, palatable flavor and you want it to benefit you. That's why Schwartz recommends following two simple rules for the perfect cup of tea every time. First: Invest in high-quality, whole leaf teas (when you can). These varieties have a higher concentration of benefits because they haven't been ground down, and thus have a higher nutritional profile. Matcha, for example, hails from a whole green tea leaf and is potentially 137 times more potent than green tea.
Here's all the benefits you get from sipping matcha:
Second, follow the package instructions for both steep time and temperatures. (I know, I know: You love to rebel, but they are there for a reason.) "We want people to have the best experience when they drink our teas, so we conduct rigorous tests— everything from over- and under-steeping leaves to playing with different temperatures—to find what we believe works best (generally, 1-3 minutes), while understanding that there is a range of times and temperatures people have to work with," says Schwartz. A lot of thought has gone into those instructions; they won't lead you astray.
One final note: "A steak is brought out at the perfect temperature and doneness that the chef deems optimal for enjoyment, and we like to think of tea in the same way. We believe all teas should be served at their optimal steep times and temperature for peak enjoyment," says Schwartz. If that's not a mic drop, I don't know what is.
Brew your own high-iron herbal tea at home:
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