Learning how to make the perfect cup of tea might take a few attempts, but it is well worth the effort. You’ll know just how to please the boss, keep your mother-in-law happy, and treat yourself to a satisfying cuppa whenever the mood strikes you.
This guide to making tea covers a simple fool-proof recipe that you can use for any teabags you find laying around. It also includes extra methods for making tea with loose leaf and getting the perfect results with green tea and other specialty teas.
Pop the kettle on and get the biscuits!
Method for Making the Perfect Cup of Tea
To make the perfect cup of tea, you will need 1 teabag, 1 mug, fresh water, a teaspoon, plus milk and sugar if you’d like (these aren’t essential).
Fresh water: it’s super important to use fresh water, don’t just re-boil water that has been sitting around in a kettle. Stale water creates stale tea.
Milk and sugar: you can use any milk you like, but semi skimmed dairy milk is the classic. White granulated sugar (or table sugar, for my American readers) is the most common choice, but you can swap this for a sweetener of your choice.
Here’s how to make the perfect cup of tea, according to a British tea lover:
- Boil your fresh water. Kettles are highly recommended, but boiling water on the stove will also suffice. I don’t recommend using the microwave for boiling water, as it can be a safety hazard.
- Remove the outer packaging of your teabag. You should be left with a sealed paper bag that has tea leaves inside. Place this inside your mug. If the bag has a piece of string and tag attached, this string should be dangled over the side.
- Once your water has reached a boil the kettle will switch off (or turn your stove off). Let the water stop bubbling for a few seconds, then pour the water into the mug over the teabag. Leave a small gap at the top of the mug, don’t fill it all the way to the brim.
- Set a timer for 3 minutes. You can stir the teabag or tug it around using the string – this will help water flow through it and allow the tea to brew. Do not squish, press or mash the teabag with your spoon, as this releases extra tannins that can lead to a bitter taste.
- Once the timer goes off, look at your tea. If it is light to mid brown, leave the teabag to brew for 2 more minutes. If it is a rich dark brown, remove the teabag. With a few practice rounds and taste tests, you’ll soon know by eye what colour equals the right strength level.
- Add a splash of milk – go a little at a time until you reach a classic tea colour. Keep in mind that you might need to use more of a non-dairy milk to reach the right colour and creaminess. In my experience, oat milk takes the most and almond milk takes the least.
- Blow on the surface of the tea and take a sip once it is cool enough. If you decide you want your tea sweet, and a teaspoon of sugar or honey. Always go one teaspoon at a time until you know exactly how much sugar you need for your tastes.
And that’s it!
To help beginners discern what the right colour is once milk has been added, use this chart from Yorkshire Tea. Most people prefer somewhere between Werther’s Original and Tannin Salon.
Where most people go wrong is by not letting the teabag brew long enough. They want a quick, hot cuppa and they don’t want to stand around waiting for it. So, always follow the brew instructions on the packet if you really want to perfect your tea making skills. Most standard black teabags need a 3-5 minute brew, though some teabags are designed to be speedier with a 1-2 minute brew.
Don’t mash the teabag by squishing it around in the mug. Although this makes the tea go darker more quickly, it’s just releasing extra tannins and forcing water through the leaves. So, you’ll get an intense tannin note but no depth. Tea leaves need to be bathed in hot water to release all the flavour notes – you won’t get a rich and well-rounded flavour unless you brew for 3-5 minutes.
Considering the size of your mug is also important. A single teabag per serving is ideal, but if you have a mega mug or want to brew in a coffee flask, then double the number of teabags. The same goes for the teapot. If you want to brew a 3-person teapot, the general rule is to use 4 teabags (3 for the servings, 1 for the pot).
Finally, should you add milk first to tea? The method above uses milk second. I prefer this, as it allows me to better see the quality and strength of the black tea before milk is added. I also find that pouring boiling water straight over a non-dairy milk can cause it to split (soy milk is notorious for this). However, there is nothing wrong with adding milk first if that is what you prefer. The end result is the same.
How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea with Loose Leaf
Loose leaf tea is self-explanatory: leaf pieces that aren’t in a teabag, they’re just loose! Using these tea types requires all the same equipment as above, but with an additional piece of equipment and an additional step.
Extra equipment: you need a replacement teabag. You can buy fillable teabags on Amazon or use a reusable infuser. These infusers can be filled with tea leaves, brewed, and then the tea leaves are discarded so the infuser can be used again. I recommend Whittard’s Teatime Infuser for something very simple, or their Glass Pao Infuser Mug for something more elegant.
Loose tea leaves: these come in many formats, often just bags of leaves or tins that are called ‘tea caddies.’ Most brands will offer their tea in loose format, including Twinings and Novus Tea. Use my Tea Review Index to browse brands and find a good loose leaf to try.
Here’s how to adjust the method for loose leaf tea:
- Open your infuser or fillable teabag and add 1 teaspoon of loose leaf tea per serving. Place this in your mug.
- Follow the method above from 1 to 5.
- Once you have removed the infuser (careful, metal ones get hot), place it on the side to cool.
- Add milk and sugar to taste.
- After the infuser cools, throw away or compost the tea leaves and wash the infuser for next time.
When brewing with loose leaf tea, you may find that the tea tastes weaker. There are two reasons for this. First, the larger the pieces of tea leaf, the longer they need to infuse. Loose leaf is typically made of large or whole leaf pieces, so a long brew is needed to get a good strength. This also means that the flavour has more depth and complexity. The second reason loose leaf tea is weaker is because you aren’t using enough! Read the instructions on the packet – it’s not unusual for loose leaf to need 2 teaspoons per cup, rather than 1.
Sometimes, the tea comes out of the infuser and leaves tiny pieces in your cuppa. This is more common with finely chopped loose leaf teas, as well as naturally small ingredients like rooibos. When this happens, the best thing to do is just wait – these pieces will settle to the bottom of your cup and you can avoid drinking them very easily. For future brews, use a finer strainer or a fillable paper teabag (linked above).
The other benefit of loose leaf tea is that you can resteep the tea leaves multiple times. This only works with metal infusers, as rebrewing a paper bag multiple times will just cause it to fall apart. You will also find that it works best with tea-only blends. If your tea blend has flavouring, this will usually infuse into your first cup and leave subsequent cups tasting bland.
If you want to explore fine loose leaf teas that can be brewed multiple times to not only extend the amount of tea, but develop new flavours as you go, then I recommend Teapro. Their black tea explorer box is a classic.
How to Make Specialty Teas Correctly!
The methods above work wonderfully for your standard black tea, whether you favour Tetley or just pick up whatever is cheap at the supermarket. However, for other tea types you will need to adjust your brewing method to get the most out of those leaves.
Let’s break it down into the different tea types.
Green tea leaves are unoxidized, so they have a milder and softer flavour. They are often grassy and people complain that it is bitter and unpleasant. But when brewed correctly, green tea can have a natural sweetness and freshness that’s hard to beat. The trick is to use water at 80°C rather than boiling, and brew for less time. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, follow this:
- Once your water has boiled, let it sit for 5-10 minutes in the kettle to bring the temperature down.
- Pour it over your green tea bag or loose leaf infuser, and let it brew for 1 minute. If it isn’t strong enough, brew for an additional minute.
- Dispose of the tea leaves as directed in the methods above. Rather than milk and sugar, try lemon and/or honey.
With herbal teas, you don’t need to worry about water temperatures. Boiling water is ideal. You also have more freedom with the brew time. While some ingredients need longer to brew to release their properties, it’s very difficult to overbrew an herbal tea. You can also add other flavour ingredients, like lemon slices or pieces of ginger. I like to go a little further, adding dried fruits, mint leaves, and even spices like cinnamon scrolls and vanilla pods for an extra treat.
- Boil your water and pour it over the teabag like normal.
- Let your tea steep for 3 to 5 minutes, or longer.
- You can leave the tea in your cup as you drink or take it out if it’s at the right strength.
- Try different additives, like a lemon slice, sugar, honey, piece of ginger, etc.
Oolong Tea, White Tea, and More
My advice for these tea types is more like buying advice as they are so varied. For example, a lightly oxidized oolong tea can be brewed like green tea, while a heavily oxidized oolong is more like a black tea.
So, the rule is to purchase teas with brewing instructions! When you are shopping for high-quality teas, they should have unique brewing instructions on them. For example, What Cha’s Argentinian tea needs to be brewed at 95°C for 2 to 3 minutes.
If you are looking at a fine white tea, and the manufacturer doesn’t provide instructions, then you can either look for a different white tea or try experimenting.
- Too bitter? Lower the water temperature.
- Too strong? Reduce the brewing time.
- No complexity? Increase the amount of tea you brew.
- Too weak? Increase the amount of tea you brew and/or increase the brewing time.
How to Find the Best Tea to Brew
At Immortal Wordsmith, my role is to review and judge teas one by one. I have reviewed hundreds of teas for the blog and compiled guides too. You might be interested in reading The Best English Breakfast Teas in the UK or my most popular guide, The Best Earl Grey Teas in the UK.
Use the search bar on my Tea Review Index to explore further teas that you might like on the blog.