The tea to water volume ratio divided by temperature minus steeping time
August 15, 2009 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Tea Brewing question. Help me fill in a few missing details for how to brew the perfect cup of tea. Bonus question: should I trust the instructions printed on the box?

So here is what I do know about how to brew tea: Warm the cup. Pour just-boiling water over the teabag. Cover, and let it steep no less than 3 minutes, no more than 5.

Missing Details--How big of a cup? Are we talking tiny teacups? A literal 1-cup measurement? Is this different based on the company? I sometimes suspect that British teabags are designed for British teacups, while 1 American teabag is designed for the standard, larger American coffee mug. Or maybe teabags assume a big mug, while loose leaf instructions assume teacups?

The old "one for each person and one for the pot" logic doesn't help me here... the question is about how much *water*, not how much tea.

So I know you steep Green Tea at a lower temperature, but I assumed you'd steep it for the same amount of time.. yet one package I have advises me to "wait about 30 seconds before you remove the tea bag from your cup." How can this be? Could it be because it's using fine fanning/dust in the teabag? (Which I would think would affect the tea/water ratio, not steeping time.) Furthermore, I have a White Tea box that suggests full boiling water for 3-5 minutes, as if it were black tea. What's going on?

Final question: can white and green tea be re-steeped for different flavors? Does this depend on the quality of tea, or can all white teas be re-steeped?
posted by brenton to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Well, for starters, British mugs are the same size as American mugs as far as I know.

Youtube is a good resource for this. This English dude being interrogated by Americans on how to do it seems authoritative.
posted by koeselitz at 1:37 PM on August 15, 2009

The perfect steep time depends on how you like your tea. Just don't overdo it as your tea might start to get bitter. I try to maximize steep time and if too strong, just add hot water.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:45 PM on August 15, 2009

...and here's an awesome thing from the BFI National Archive from 1941 that gives tips on making tea, although of course there may be ways in which these suggestions aren't as useful as they once might have been.

By the by, I notice now that the guy in the video I linked above pours the milk into the tea. As this essential tea-making article by Douglas Adams makes clear, this may be socially acceptable, but it's just wrong tea-wise; it always results in white floaties when the milk is scalded by the tea. Better, as the article says, to pour the tea into milk; although this doesn't always seem practical, it's worth it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:47 PM on August 15, 2009

posted by koeselitz at 1:47 PM on August 15, 2009

First, don't bother with tea bags if you're really worried about a perfect cup. Start with good loose leaf or at least a tea bag that contains visible whole leaves.

Any loose leaf tea should come with a dose recommendation, like "one tablespoon loose leaves per 8oz cup." If you're buying in bulk without package directions, ask the seller what the recommended ratio is. This varies by the type of tea. Your water can be whatever amount you want as long as you know this ratio (and you're not using tea bags). If the package gives this ratio in cups of water instead of ounces, I would guess a 6oz tea cup and adjust from there.

Brew time and temp also depends on the tea. The darker the tea, the higher the temp it calls for. White tea is usually brewed around 195 F, while a black tea like Ceylon might call for 210F. You can just wait longer for your water temp to fall after you take it off the boil to get a lower temperature. No good green tea would be brewed for less than a minute- that's probably a recommendation based on the assumption that people won't mind their water temperature and thus will oversteep the tea if left for the proper amount of time.

Yes, you can get a second or third steep from many good teas. Some say to make the second steep longer and slightly cooler than the first, but again, probably depends on the tea.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:49 PM on August 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

brenton: Final question: can white and green tea be re-steeped for different flavors? Does this depend on the quality of tea, or can all white teas be re-steeped?

It does depend on the quality of the tea; good green and white teas can be re-steeped. Roasted or noticeably sweet elements generally disappear on the second steeping, and the tea is a bit more mellow. The re-steeped tea is usually my late-morning routine.
posted by koeselitz at 1:50 PM on August 15, 2009

My own loose green tea steeps until I'm finished drinking it.

With so many variables in terms of tea type, freshness, time, water temp, atmospheric pressure and so on, I don't think you can get a definitive answer here other than experiment. Keep notes on what works, and make one modification at a time until the tea is just perfect.

Also, what koeselitz says about milk. I don't take milk in my tea but I do so hate it when people add milk to coffee, rather than the smarter reverse order that prevents scalding. I didn't realize there was a Doug Adams cite for this.
posted by rokusan at 2:05 PM on August 15, 2009

My tea guru, Mefite Alnedra, has this
to say about tea bags on her tea blog. Using a small tea pot or a different infuser, like a tea ball, could allow you to control the quality of the tea leaves the resulting brew.
posted by path at 2:17 PM on August 15, 2009

sorry for the missing "and."
posted by path at 2:20 PM on August 15, 2009

Whether you agree with them or not, George Orwell's eleven golden rules of tea making are well worth a read . . .
posted by protorp at 2:32 PM on August 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get a teapot. You're not at a building site. Warm the teapot with a some of the water from the kettle, one bag or one teaspoon loose tea per mug (and possibly "one for the pot"), wait, milk in cup/mug, pour.

I sometimes suspect that British teabags are designed for British teacups, while 1 American teabag is designed for the standard, larger American coffee mug.

Most American teabags are designed for either a) people who drink iced tea; b) people who've never had a good cup of tea in their life. They're the sweepings of the sweepings. To my mind, they also seem to have a 'diner coffee cup' capacity, which is smaller than my preferred tea mug.

Your best bet for grocery store teabags on the cheap (i.e. not the $7 for PG Tips, nor the tiny Twinings/premium ) is Tetley British Blend, or you can get a 1lb bag of decent loose tea (or 80 decent teabags) for $5 at a variety of ethnic groceries: Indian, East Asian, East African, Eastern European, Arab, etc.
posted by holgate at 2:35 PM on August 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: koeselitz: I have seen British tend to use teacups more often, while Americans tend to drink tea from mugs. Of course there is a lot of variation in mug size, but I didn't know the standard size is the same for American/British. Anyway the real point here is that cups come in all sorts of sizes, most are not exactly 1 cup.

slow graffiti: now it would certainly be handy if they put the tea/water ratio on the box with ounces, but far more often I see some variation of the "one for the pot" rule or they simply don't specify what kind of cup at all. I have six tins of loose leaf tea here (all Twinings brand) and none specify to my satisfaction.

The answers to this thread are exemplary, but much in line with the tea research I have already done. It seems there is an abundance of good tea information out there, but not much discussion of the tea to water ratio, which seems, to me, to be an important detail. Once you've got the basics of steeping time and temperature perfected, how can you go on to worry about things like pouring the tea into the milk (which, btw, I do. thanks koeselitz) if you have too much or too little water?
posted by brenton at 2:46 PM on August 15, 2009

The problem with your desire for a hard and fast ratio is that there isn't one. Everyone's preferences vary, and you should just experiment with a tea that you enjoy the flavor of until you hit that sweet spot. For example, some teas that I have, such as a lovely Russian Caravan, I like to steep the hell out of, great big spoonfuls in my teapot, until it's black as coffee and wicked complex. My one other friend whom I've convinced smoked teas are a good idea only likes it one teaspoon to one mug, placed in a tea ball and swished around a few times and promptly discarded. We're both right. It's up to the tea drinker to decide. That's one reason I got into drinking tea in the first place; it's more personal, and less proscriptive, than drinking coffee. At least in America, it is.

You're also forgetting that once you step out of the tea bag world and into loose leaf teas, you really need far more area for the leaves to expand and release their delightful flavors. There are a great deal of good and even fantastic tea bags out there, but if you're getting specific about things you'll want the precision that loose leaf teas provide. So get yourself a good teapot, one that makes you happy, and use that as your base unit of water measurement, and change the tea variable.

It sounds silly, but one thing that cleared up a few questions I had about tea, and presented information in a grounded, scientific way (instead of steeped in tradition, oh, sorry about the pun there, like you get from most everywhere) is Alton Brown's Good Eats episode about tea: Trew Brew II, which you should watch just because hell, it's Good Eats.
posted by Mizu at 3:15 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

A standard mug is going to be around 300 ml in size. Tea to water ratio is entirely a matter of taste. For example, I was raised on the "one spoon per person and one for the pot" rule, whereas in my partner's family the extra for the pot is omitted.

In general it is best to err on the side of over-strong, because you can always add hot water to dilute strong tea, whereas there's no easy way to rescue a weak brew. This is the basis of the Russian tea-making method, where a very strong tea liquor is made, and then diluted to taste with hot water by each person.

Note that there are two factors in strength: the ratio of tea to water, and the steeping time. Again, these are matters of taste and you must decide for yourself. In my family we used a lot of tea AND steeped for about 4 minutes (except owing to Yorkshire dialect roots, we referred to this as mashing the tea).

If you steep for too long (say longer than 5 minutes), you get a very tannic brew which people call "stewed". Some like this, and it certainly goes well with milk. Other people hate it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:23 PM on August 15, 2009

Response by poster: Mizu: There is a little mathematician inside me that is really angry at you. :) Also a tiny scientist. He agrees with the mathematician. There has to be an exact ratio that is "correct." With all the highly detailed advice everyone gives (see the Orwell link, fascinating!) how can this all-important detail be left out?

As for teapots, the only reason that I don't have one is that I only drink one cup at a time! (Blasphemy, I know.) I use a little mesh metal infuser, which works well enough, saves me the extra step of pouring from the pot to the cup. I've been considering getting one of those larger infusers that looks like a metal cup with holes in it. I'm not sure about them though, since the holes tend to stop a half an inch from the bottom, which seems odd to me...

Actually, I just realized that this is exactly what set me off on my obsession with water ratio! I like my metal ball infuser, but I can't put too much tea in it, or else it won't have room to "agonize" ( And the box says how much tea "per person" which isn't a useful unit at all. I like to drink from a mug which holds about 2.5 cups of water. So if Twinings assumes each person drinks a "cup," then my infuser is too small and I have been drinking watered down tea (and tempting me to compensate by steeping longer than I should).
posted by brenton at 3:49 PM on August 15, 2009

Brenton: Deal With It.

Tea is one of the oldest foods humans have consumed. There are billions of us on the planet. There are thousands, if not more, different substances that qualify as "tea", many of which don't even contain traces of the tea plant. Tastes are going to vary. You can have your OWN ratio that is "correct" for yourself and try to be satisfied with that. The tiny mathematician and tiny scientist inside of you can have a great big science orgy involving notes and graphs and equations while you experiment to find your ratio, if you really want to go that route.

If you only drink one cup of tea at a time, that's fine. Get a smaller teapot. The increased volume, the better insulation (keeping the water from cooling at a faster rate), and the freedom from infusers that a teapot provides will all be beneficial, even if you're not filling the pot all the way.

Oh, and to answer part of your original question: Never trust the packaging. It's all lies. Nobody ever actually pays attention to it, you should wipe it from your mind and treat the tea as a basic ingredient, like flour or sugar, to do with as you please. Or, for you, as your teeny tiny science crazy friends tell you to do.

Alright, turning off the "belittling the guy who's trouncing all over my tea related freedoms" voice. This is why I am a great cook and a terrible baker.
posted by Mizu at 4:10 PM on August 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

There has to be an exact ratio that is "correct."

Nope. As mentioned several times above, it's a matter of taste. Some people like their tea very thick, and some like their tea very light.

I can sit down at the teahouse, using the same tea leaves and tea set, with the same temperature (more or less) water as the teahouse manager does, and the tea we both make will be subtly different. She prefers to have more tea leaves but with a shorter steeping time, creating a light tea that is still quite strong in fragrance. I prefer to have fewer leaves but a longer steeping time, creating a tea that is slightly less fragrant than hers, but with a slightly stronger taste.

The "correct" way is the way you like it. Sucker for thick, robust tea? Throw another teabag into the cup. Prefer lighter teas? Get a bigger mug. If you have to compromise on the amount of tea leaves in your infuser, go ahead and steep the leaves a bit longer. Just not ridiculously long, like an old customer at the teahouse did: He would make a cup of tea before going off to work in the morning, and let the bloody thing steep the entire day before coming back to drink it at night.
posted by Alnedra at 4:16 PM on August 15, 2009

1. Use loose tea (I like but there are many out there)

2. use 1 teaspoon (a real tsp, as in 1/3 of a tablespoon) of tea per 8 oz cup

3. white or green tea - 180 degrees for 3 minutes
black or oolong tea - 195-212 degrees for 5 minutes

If your tea is bitter use a shorter brew time.

I use a 8 cup measuring bowl and a fine strainer, and I put the tea in a thermos.

Most teas can be re-steeped and will often indicate this on the label.

/I have made tea for years and I can say I'm pretty good at it.
posted by jockc at 4:27 PM on August 15, 2009

When you brew tea, different substances are extracted from the leaves at different temperatures and at different rates. So the amount of time and temperature you use will determine the proportions of the different elements which get extracted, and hence the specific flavor.

On the other hand, to first approximation the amount of water you use will only determine the strength of the flavor. Use more water, and it will taste right, just a bit weak.

So it may be that the reason people are so into precision with the temperature and time is that they are trying to optimize the flavor, specifically, and this is hard. The strength is something that any fool can adjust to his or her liking!

(Something I learned recently, although my German colleague says it's common knowledge over there: there's something other than caffeine in tea, which comes out more slowly than the caffeine, but which has a calming effect on you. I forget what it's called, it took a bit of googling. Anyways, if you brew the tea for more than 4 minutes, it may calm you down rather than wake you up!)
posted by wyzewoman at 5:11 PM on August 15, 2009

Also: I highly recommend the basket thingies that sit in your mug. I've got the one you link to on Amazon -- although it seems not to be available right now! -- and I love it. It's so much less fussy scooping the tea into the basket rather than using the ball, and of course the leaves have more room to go around. I love love love it. :-)
posted by wyzewoman at 5:13 PM on August 15, 2009

There's no way there can be a correct ratio of tea to water, because it depends on the size of the tea leaves (fannings? OP? SFTGFOP?) which control the surface area of the tea available for reaction, the infusion method (teapot? teabag? tea-ball?) which control the availability of water to react with, the water (temperature of the water? freshly-drawn? re-boiled? freshly boiled?), the flavour of the individual tea blend itself and your preference.

But go crazy with your inner scientist and conduct some experiments. Find out how much difference it makes (as in, detectable by you) when you brew the same tea various different ways and for different times. A sort of pepsi taste test for tea. Enlist some friends to help and make it a double-blind experiment. I have always meant to do that myself!
posted by Joh at 5:16 PM on August 15, 2009

As a Brit, and therefore a lifelong tea drinker, this question amuses me. I brew my tea according to colour. There is a very precise pinky-brown that it needs to be, or else I won't drink it because it'll taste like ass. It's more artistic than scientific but there you go.
posted by poissonrouge at 6:05 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

My apologies, but I can't resist posting this bit of advice from Douglas Adams:

"So the best advice I can give to an American arriving in England is this: Go to Marks and Spencer and buy a packet of Earl Grey tea. Go back to where you’re staying and boil a kettle of water. While it is coming to the boil, open the sealed packet and sniff. Careful—you may feel a bit dizzy, but this is in fact perfectly legal. When the kettle has boiled, pour a little of it into a teapot, swirl it around, and tip it out again. Put a couple (or three, depending on the size of the pot) of tea bags into the pot. (If I was really trying to lead you into the paths of righteousness, I would tell you to use free leaves rather than bags, but let’s just take this in easy stages.) Bring the kettle back up to the boil, and then pour the boiling water as quickly as you can into the pot. Let is stand for two or three minutes, and then pour it into a cup. Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t have milk with Earl Grey, just a slice of lemon. Screw them. I like it with milk. If you think you will like it with milk, then it’s probably best to put some milk into the bottom of the cup before you pour in the tea. If you pour milk into a cup of hot tea, you will scald the milk. If you think you will prefer it with a slice of lemon, then, well, add a slice of lemon.

Drink it. After a few moments you will begin to think that the place you’ve come to isn’t maybe quite so strange and crazy after all."
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:33 PM on August 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

rules of good tea:

* never teabags

* never infusers

* always loose leaf floating freely in a teapot

* amount of water is determined individually for each particular tea. Can vary even with a different harvest of the same tea. I'm not kidding.

* if drinking one cup at a time: bodum infuser mug is your friend. Technically it does contain an infuser but it takes up full volume so that's ok (and convenient).

* spring water will make best tea. Even if you have good tap water, try occasionally with spring water to see if you're missing anything.

* water temp varies with individual tea, but general starting points are: boiling (212) with pu-erh and black, ~175-180 with whites, 170-200 with oolongs, ~180-212 (I prefer 180) for Darjeelings, 140-150 for the best, most subtle greens (and senchas) and 160-180 for other greens.

* Even if we're talking about a very good, reputable tea seller, tea amount and water temp instructions are nearly always bogus and even if they're not, they're still just starting points. The reason is that there's so much variety in teas and taste and brewing equipment that there can be no definite rules.

* Pot has to be preheated. If it's a thick clay pot, it has to be heated with a lot of hot water; the thinner your pot, less preheating is needed and glass pots almost need no preheating.

* Multiple steeps vary by tea. Pu-erhs and good oolongs will range from 9 up to many dozens of steeps, but they are steeped in small Yixing pots that are completely filled with leaf (that is, when it expands). Senchas are usually brewed with 3-4 steeps but I personally get slightly better results with using less leaf and doing just one longer infusion (3min vs. recommended 1min for first steep). However, I don't have a kyusu which is the standard pot for sencha..

* White teas are typically 1 steep, 2 steeps at most, although some do more steeps even with whites. With greens it's kind of an individual taste thing. Many people like to do many steeps in a gaiwan without lid. I like to do only one steep, use less leaf and longer brewing time. The advantage with one steep is that you can make all your tea in one go and take it with you, without spending more time to do another steep and never ending with stale-tasting tea because you forgot to do the next steep quickly enough.

* Brewing time also varies by each individual tea, but the general idea is that you start with 3min for blacks, 5-6 min for whites, 2.5-3min for greens, 1.5-2min for darjeelings; for oolongs and pu-erhs, if you brew them in a yixing, you start with a 5 second infusion, then do something like 7, 12, 25, 45, 1min, 1.5min, 2.5min with subsequent infusions. If you brew them in a regular way, oolong can be anywhere from 3-6 mins, puerh can be 5-8min.

* here are some good tea shops: teaspring, hou de, o-cha (for sencha).

* I'm not an expert on pu-erhs, but the idea with them is that you buy a number of cakes for a fairly low price and then keep them in storage and as they age, they get better and tastier. In 5-10 years they're great, in 20-30 years they just keep getting better and better. But, if you just go and try to buy a 30+ years old pu-erh, it'll cost you.
posted by rainy at 8:20 PM on August 15, 2009 [8 favorites]

Oh, and there's also teachat for this type of questions. Folks there are very helpful and knowledgeable.
posted by rainy at 8:33 PM on August 15, 2009

Almost forgot, the most important rule of tea: it will take you years to figure out what you like, how you like it, how to brew it just-so. There's no shortcuts and once you get into hardcore tea drinking, there's really no rules, either.
posted by rainy at 8:54 PM on August 15, 2009

Lots of good advice here. I agree that loose tea brewed in the pot is the way to go, but when I just want a quick mug, this medium tea filter from Harney is the way to go. It works much better than the amazon one you link to.
posted by gudrun at 12:13 AM on August 16, 2009

Mizu and rainy's comments above contain excellent advice. Just to reprise some of their points (and add some of my own).

* The British are barbarians when it comes to tea. Don't look to them for advice. The Chinese have been drinking tea for thousands of years. Look to what they and the neighbouring tea countries do (Japan, Korea, Vietnam).

* No to teabags and infusers. Tea has to be in leaf form and the water has to have complete access to the tea. That means tea in a pot. Or sometimes the Chinese will put a long leaf green tea in a cup, fill with hot water and drink from there. The tea naturally mostly sits on the bottom.

* The small teapot both mizu and rainy mention is a really good suggestion if you are a solo tea drinker. I have a small unglazed pot that was given to me in Taiwan that holds exactly one teacup's worth of tea. Once it's steeped and I've poured out the cup I refill it with fresh hot water so the next cup is ready when I've finished with the first. These small pots are usually available for sale in the better asian food stores.

* Drinking your tea out of a china teacup adds to the experience. Drinking it from a mug detracts.

* High quality water is really good advice. Good rain water or even better, spring water, will make a real difference.

* Store your teas carefully away from air and light.

* And to answer your actual question, you work out the amount of tea to water ratio yourself. Each tea is different. With a new tea it will only take a couple of goes to work out the basic ratio. And doing so you develop your sensitivity and understanding of the tea, rather than following some robotic process.

* Tea is drunk for pleasure. People who are attracted to drinking tea for its purported health benefits often neglect to simply just value the taste of the tea. Focus on the taste. A good tea can be exquisite.
posted by Sitegeist at 3:19 AM on August 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

Water will have a tea saturation point. Where the water will hold no more tea.

You know how colour streaks out through the clear water? It gets darker and darker, yeah? So a larger amount of water will exhaust the tea but a small amount of water would reach it's saturation point and not be able to draw anything more out of the leaves. (And this would also determine whether those leaves actually have any flavour left to offer a second time around...)

Time is also a part of this sliding scale. Do you only like the initial flavours or do you like the depth it achieves after it has sat to steep for a while? And then do you like that weak or strong? So you'll need to perfect your less time/more water or more time/less water ratio.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:28 AM on August 16, 2009

Well, if you are going to be so insistent about being scientific about it, here's some documents you might find useful:

* BS 6008:1980, ISO 3103-1980 Method for preparation of a liquor of tea for use in sensory tests (PDF)
* More on ISO 3130
* Royal Society of Chemistry on how to make a perfect cup of tea (also PDF)

If you want to be British about it, pick how you like it then bicker in the communal work kitchen with your colleagues on how they are Doing It Wrong. Milk first, milk last, mug, cup, mug, squeeze tea bag, don't squeeze, dunk, don't dunk biscuit, milk, no milk, no sugar, 1, 2, 3 spoons, sweetner, boil water in kettle, use hot water from coffee machine, or shook of all horrors, use the automatic tea from the coffee machine.

That last one is considered a sin of the highest order by all right minded tea drinkers. Coffee machines never heat the water hot enough and you end up with dishwater.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:53 AM on August 16, 2009

The Book of Tea is an extremely interesting and amusing read for those interested. Here is a small snippet from Chapter 2, which discusses the concept of perfection in tea-brewing.

Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out its noblest qualities. We have good and bad tea, as we have good and bad paintings--generally the latter. There is no single recipe for making the perfect tea, as there are no rules for producing a Titian or a Sesson. Each preparation of the leaves has its individuality, its special affinity with water and heat, its own method of telling a story. The truly beautiful must always be in it. How much do we not suffer through the constant failure of society to recognise this simple and fundamental law of art and life; Lichilai, a Sung poet, has sadly remarked that there were three most deplorable things in the world: the spoiling of fine youths through false education, the degradation of fine art through vulgar admiration, and the utter waste of fine tea through incompetent manipulation.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:21 AM on August 16, 2009

Just for reference, my great grandmother wouldn't drink tea unless it was brewed with BOILING water.
posted by gjc at 6:50 AM on August 16, 2009

Two Christmases ago my wife gave me this Tevana Tea Maker. Best gift ever. Pour some extra boiling water into a mug, then set the tea maker, on its stand, on the mug while the tea steeps. Watch the tea leaves float up and down, backlit by morning light, until the time has elapsed or the color is just right. Then pour the water out of the mug, add some milk if you so desire, and set the maker, minus stand, onto the mug to strain the tea.

The pleasure of watching how different types of tea leaves behave while steeping can be immense.

I'm drinking Peet's English Breakfast (leaf) cut with Yorkshire Gold (leaf) these days, and loving it. I steep it for 3.5 minutes, and add a bit of Stevia to sweeten it up.
posted by dws at 11:48 AM on August 16, 2009

I am a tea drinker. I don't know what is "right" or "wrong", but I know what I like - from my limited experimentation.

There is a lot of talk about what is "proper", "correct", etc. in the tea world. My brother told me of something he heard on NPR years ago. He called it "The Great Tea Debate" (I doubt that was the actual name of the show). It had tea experts from many cultures; British, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian. And none of them agreed on anything - water temperature, steeping time, amount of tea/cup, etc. Some say milk is OK, some say milk ruins things. And on and on.

That said, there are a few things I would suggest:
- Use good water. If you don't have good water, try filtering or using bottled water.
- Use good tea. This is as defined by you. So try different teas. In my experience, loose teas tend to be better than bags. And major tea names (Lipton, Tetley, etc.) are the least flavorful. I like Bewley's (Irish), but now I'm drinking Red Rose.

Beyond that, I would say experiment. Some say 3 minutes is enough time to steep. Try it. And longer. And shorter. Try more tea/cup. And less. Eventually, you will get to where it is perfect for you. (And part of "perfect" means the perfect balance of time, money, flavor, etc.)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:37 AM on August 17, 2009

It is entirely a personal preference. You can't brew the perfect cup of tea. You can only brew the perfect cup of tea for you. There is a lot of leeway in what is a decent cuppa so experiment away. If you must, take notes on what you like & don't.
posted by chairface at 11:24 AM on August 17, 2009

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