7 Simple Steps to Better Tea

Making Better Tea
By Bruce Richardson 

I am asked occasionally if water for tea can be heated in a microwave or a coffeemaker. The plain answer is yes. However, my leading question to the inquirer is, does the use of a microwave add to your sense of ritual?
Lu Yu was the first tea master to address these questions. He didn’t have microwaves or coffeepots to deal with, but he did face a society that needed a bit of guidance in making tea properly.
The crude tea practices he encountered in eighth-century China included crushing tea in a mortar and making it into a cake before boiling it together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, milk, spices—and sometimes onions! In his celebrated work, Ch’a Ching (Holy Scripture of Tea), he gave instruction on tea preparation that transformed tea making from a utilitarian chore into an honored ritual.
With the tea novice and the spirit of Lu Yu in mind, here are seven simple steps to set you on the right path to making good tea.
1. Tea kettles and teapots are not the same. This may sound too basic, but I mention it because new tea students often don’t realize they need both utensils. And a microwave does not replace a teakettle! You can control the temperature of water only with a stove-top kettle or an electric kettle.
2. Coffeemakers are not designed to make tea. Tea takes time to steep, and coffeemakers are unable to perform that task. Be aware that the oils in coffee will contaminate a vessel after one use and forevermore negate the possibility of making good tea in that container.
3. Collect teapots in various sizes. Don’t restrict your search to just English or traditional Western teapots. Asian iron and clay pots hold heat well and are the pots of choice for making green, oolong, and white teas. Display them throughout your home, and see how many conversations they spark.
4. Develop a relationship with one or more tea suppliers. Just like parents who want to talk about their children, tea merchants are eager to share the pedigrees of their teas. They yearn to share brewing techniques, water temperatures, and tasting notes with you.
5. Be sure your tea is fresh. Ask your merchant how long the tea has been shelved. If it has been on the shelf more than nine months, leave it for someone else. Buy in small quantities, and buy often.
6. Store your tea at home in an airtight container. Tea is like a sponge. Keep it away from odors, heat, moisture, and light. Don’t store tea in the freezer, and store only green teas in the refrigerator.
7. Water temperature is key to brewing great tea. When it comes to water temperature, just remember—the blacker the tea, the hotter the water. General guidelines are as follows: white tea, 165°; green tea, 175°; oolongs, 200°; black teas and herbals, 212°. Placing a small amount of hot water in the teapot first to warm it is always good, but be sure to discard that water before adding the tea leaves and the final water.
Tea making should become a ritual for any serious tea student. Like any discipline, it demands consistent practice and attention to details. When you have mastered these basic steps, tea making will flow easily from your spirit and infuse you and your guests with serenity.

Bruce Richardson is the owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas and the author of The New Tea Companion. Read his blog at theteamaestro.com

From TeaTime March/April 2012


  1. I very much agree on the steps for making a good cup of tea.
    I wish restaurants would take instructions from someone who could show them how to make a cup of tea worth serving to a person who loves tea. The lukewarm coffee flavored water with a tea bag dragged through it is not what a good restaurant should be serving also at ridicules prices. Among other things, they do not understand that the water must boil

    I no longer order tea when eating out as I get so annoyed with what I am served that I prefer to go home and have a perfect cup of tea made to perfection!!

    Numbers, 4, 5, and 6 are all followed when I make tea. People who visit me and have tea always make a comment on the tea. I like tea to taste like tea so I do not skimp when brewing a pot.

    I love my electric tea kettle as it has the temperatures on the handle listed for the kind of tea you are preparing by pushing a button that heats it to the proper temp. I would never use a microwave to make tea as the water never really heats properly.

    I have been drinking tea my whole life even as a young child as my English family served tea to every one including children and even dogs!

    Of course on my many trips to England ordering tea is a joy. Proper hot tea served in a china cup and saucer what more could one ask for. Shows it can be done.

    I am a long time subscriber to Tea Time Magazine and have used many of the recipes when having tea parties for friends. Love, Love, tea.
    Thank you for your article.

  2. I knew all of your 7 steps but I enjoy reading everything about tea. Sometimes I am forced to have teabags but it is not the same as having the ritual of making loose tea. Thanks for your article. It would have been very helpful when I first started drinking tea. My dining room is full of tea related things. I have a couple of cupboards in my kitchen where I have tea and teacups. I love picking out which cup I am going to use with which tea I am going to have. Thanks again, ritatea


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