the appetizer:

Learn about the world's most popular beverage in The Story of Tea by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, including these excerpts and recipes: Tea Facts; Brewing Hot Tea; White Tea Snow Sorbet; and Savory Chinese Marbled Eggs (Cha Ye Dan).

Cookbook Profile

Brewing Hot Tea
Excerpt from The Story of Tea

by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss

Pouring tea
Korean tea service


Brewing leaf tea requires minimal equipment and a modicum of attention. Preparing tea is not difficult; it should be a pleasurable moment of your day.

Millions of people the world over make tea under the most primitive of conditions, so there is no need to complicate it. Allow the leaves to circulate freely in the cup or teapot. We advise our customers to never "contain" bulky spring green tea, oolongs, white tea, or tippy black teas in a tea ball. Tea balls are fine for CTC or very finely cut orthodox tea leaves, but using them for larger leaf will do one of two things. First, using a tea ball might force you to break the leaves into pieces, negating the care with which they have been handled all the way from the tea garden to your kitchen counter. Second, your tea ball might not hold the proper amount of tea because it is too small; or, if the tea ball is large enough, it will displace so much water that the brewing proportions will be wrong. So, while there are many clever filtering and straining devices on the market that will assist you in removing the leaves from your brewed tea, tea balls are not among our recommended choices for this task.

Various cultures have developed creative and legitimate techniques for removing the spent leaves from brewed tea. Five time-tested options are outlined below:


Steeping Time

If you have one pot
And can make your tea in it
That will do quite well.
How much does he lack himself
Who must have a lot of things.
     —Sen Rikyu

Now that you have the brewing equipment assembled, fresh water at the proper temperature, and the measure of your favorite tea (or perhaps a new selection) prepared, what is the correct steeping time? We encourage the reinfusion of some types of tea. This is standard with green, oolong, and white tea and pu-erh, plus a few others, such as many of the presentation teas and jasmines. We have been experimenting with the extremely tippy black tea subvarietals from Yunnan and super-large-leaf clonals from northern India that brew wonderfully for a second infusion, but you must infuse them properly and not brew a long first infusion.

This ability to reinfuse is because of a combination of the short brewing time and the tippy nature of the leaf being used. The ability to infuse oolongs multiple times results from the fact that oolongs are traditionally brewed that way, and the process of partial oxidation in the manufacture of oolongs requires the use of a larger, more mature leaf that yields a more flavor-packed leaf that demands reinfusion (see "Oolong Tea, Defined" in chapter 3 of the book for more information). When you know that you will be infusing multiple times, the brew time is kept short, from sixty seconds to slightly more than two minutes per infusion. Some teas that can be brewed multiple times can also be brewed once (or twice) for a longer, more traditional period of time. See table below, for guidelines on correct steeping times for teas by type.


Steeping Time for Brewing Tea, by Type

Tea Chart
Brew Times
Tea Type Time
Black tea 3-5 minutes (one steeping only)
Oolong tea 90 seconds to 2 minutes (several steepings)
Green tea 2-3 minutes (several steepings)
Spring (or new) green tea 90 seconds to 2 minutes (several steepings)
White tea 90 seconds to 2 minutes (several steepings)
Pu-erh tea 2-5 minutes (many steepings)

Buy The Story of Tea


The Story of Tea:
A Cultural History and Drinking Guide

Excerpts and Recipes


This page created March 2008