What Is the Proper Way to Steep Tea?

  • Medical Reviewer: Mahammad Juber, MD
Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2022

What are the different kinds of tea?

Tea is the drink you obtain from a process of steeping extracts flavors and other compounds from tea leaves and herbs. Steep different teas at different temperatures for different amounts of times.
Tea is the drink you obtain from a process of steeping extracts flavors and other compounds from tea leaves and herbs. Steep different teas at different temperatures for different amounts of times.

Tea is one of the most popular drinks worldwide. In order to make tea, though, you first have to steep your ingredients in water.  

The process of steeping extracts flavors and other compounds from tea leaves and herbs. When tea is steeped properly, a number of tasty and beneficial molecules are transferred from the plants to the water that you drink. 

The two most important things to consider when steeping tea are the amount of time that the tea is in contact with the water and the temperature of the water. 

The best way to steep tea ultimately depends on the kind that you’re making. 

Real tea comes from the leaves of one specific plant. This plant’s scientific name is Camellia sinensis. It’s native to: 

  • China
  • India
  • Japan
  • Thailand

People have been using these leaves for thousands of years, both as a medicine and as a delicious drink. The main types of tea that are made from the leaves of this plant are: 

  • White Tea. Very little is done to the leaves to create white tea. The leaves are not fermented or cured.
  • Green Tea. For this tea, the leaves are steamed and parched right after they’re picked. 
  • Oolong. This is a partially fermented tea. The leaves are treated more thoroughly than they are to create green tea but treated less thoroughly than those that are used for black tea.
  • Black Tea. To create this tea, leaves are left to ferment over the course of winter. The leaves also oxidize.   
  • Pu-erh. This is a specific type of black tea. It’s made through aging and fermentation. 

There are also a large number of herbal teas available worldwide. These teas are prepared from the flowers and leaves of other herbal plants. Common examples include products made from: 

  • Ginseng
  • Goldenseal
  • Hibiscus flowers
  • Lemongrass
  • Bark from stone fruit trees like peaches and plums
  • Citrus leaves, flowers, bark, roots, or peels
  • Roobios

What substances found in tea affect your health?

Many different molecules are extracted from tea in the steeping process. These substances can affect your health. 

Examples of compounds found in traditional tea preparations include: 

  • CaffeineThis molecule provides energy. The amount that’s found in tea can vary dramatically. 
  • Theanine. This is a specific amino acid. It has a calming, relaxing effect on the human body — even when caffeine is also present. 
  • Catechins. These are a large group of molecules that can help your body in a number of ways. One of the most heavily studied catechins in tea is called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). This provides antioxidant properties that can help prevent heart disease and certain cancers.  

The way that people process tea leaves affects the amount of these compounds in the leaves. For example, black tea has more theanine than green tea. Green tea contains more catechins than black tea. 

Each herbal tea is different. This means that they contain dramatically different compounds. Check the nutrition label on your particular herbal tea for more information on the presence of different substances, like caffeine. Consider talking to your doctor before starting a new herbal tea to make sure that it’s safe for you. 

How do you steep each kind of tea? 

When steeping all types of tea, you should start with clean, fresh water. Then, you need to figure out how hot the water should be and how long you should let the tea steep. Both of these factors affect the number of beneficial compounds that make it from the tea leaves into your cup. 

In general, the temperature you should aim for depends on the type of tea that you’re making. Use the following temperatures for the types of teas mentioned: 

  • 212 degrees Fahrenheit for black tea
  • 190 degrees Fahrenheit for oolong
  • 185 degrees Fahrenheit for white tea
  • 175 degrees Fahrenheit for green tea

You can use a thermometer or buy a kettle with a built-in thermometer to help you figure out the exact temperature of your water. 

Next, you need to figure out how long to leave your loose leaves or tea bag in contact with your hot water. Some experts recommend tasting your tea every 30 seconds to determine the best steeping time for you. 

Otherwise, a general rule of thumb is to let it steep for at least three minutes but no more than five. The amount of time that you let tea steep affects many different aspects of the tea, including the: 

  • Bitterness
  • Color
  • Amount of caffeine
  • Amount of other compounds, like EGCG

In green tea, many of these beneficial molecules peak in your cup at eight minutes or earlier. After this, the flavor quality of your tea starts to get worse. It’s also particularly important to keep the water for green tea preparations below 194 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures start to degrade some of the beneficial catechins. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 100-gram portion of normally brewed green tea contains 12 milligrams of caffeine. 100 grams of black tea that’s similarly prepared contain 20 milligrams of caffeine.

That being said, studies have found that the amount of caffeine in each cup can vary widely. For example, one study found that a single additional minute of brewing led to a 29 percent increase in the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea. Researchers also found that boiling water releases more caffeine than lower temperatures. 


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

Are there benefits in cold-brewed teas? 

Research shows that cold-brewing teas can lead to slightly different products. Some of the benefits of steeping your tea in cold water include: 

  • Lower amounts of caffeine
  • Less of a bitter taste
  • An increased aroma

Tea can either be brewed at room temperature or around four degrees celsius in your refrigerator. The main drawback of cold steeping is that you need to let your tea sit for a long time before you can drink it.

Some people choose to leave their tea out in the sun for eight to 10 hours. This is one brewing method. You can also let tea sit in the fridge overnight to brew. 

Always start with clean, fresh water for the best results.  

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Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2022

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