How To Make A Perfect Cup of Black Tea, According to Science

black tea

George Orwell once famously wrote – in his 1946 essay “A Nice Cup of Tea” – that when it comes to a good cup of tea, “the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.” In other words, nobody can really agree on the best way to make a good cup of coffee, and everybody you ask will give you a slightly different method for preparing it. Boiling water, or just hot water? Leave the tea bag in, or take it out?

While tradition is certainly a reliable way of knowing how to make a good cup of coffee, it turns out there are actually methods and techniques scientifically proven to create a better cup of tea. Yep – some researchers from the British Royal Society of Chemistry all got together and found out exactly what creates the perfect cup of tea. Here’s what they had to say:


Start With The Right Water

Most of the tea is water, anyway, so using the right water is the first step to making a good cup of tea. Specifically, you want to use softened and filtered water, with all the “hard” minerals removed. Hard water is cloudy and can create “tea scum” in your otherwise good cup of tea. Avoid bottled mineral for this reason, and reach for fresh, softened water before every cup.

Use A Tea Cup or Mug – Not a Styrofoam Cup

Styrofoam cups may be cheap and disposable, but they don’t absorb heat like a mug, making the tea too hot to drink right away. They also absorb some of the flavor of the tea and can impart a gross plastic flavor, in some cases. Also, they’re ugly and ruin the presentation that makes tea comforting to drink in the first place. Use a large mug as it will retain more heat than a smaller one.

Boil The Water – But Not Too Much

Unlike coffee, which only needs to reach temperatures between 195 and 205 to make a good brew, tea needs to be infused at boiling to get all that rich flavor. So boil the water, but be sure to pull it off as soon it reaches the boiling point; boiling it for too long will cause it to lose a bit of the oxygen in the water, which is essential for the infusion (brewing) process. A trusty whistling kettle can help with this part.

Brew It Just Long Enough – But Not Too Long

A proper cup of English tea brews for 3 to 4 minutes. Specific teas will all have their own exact times – maybe less, maybe more – but 3 to 4 minutes will make a perfect cup of classic English tea, with just the right amount of flavors (and tannins and antioxidants and all those other good things). Leave it in too much, and it will over-infuse, resulting in a bitter-tasting tea.

And what about the tea bag? Leave it in, or take it out? Many people do like to leave it in, but for most tea, removing the bag after 3 to 4 minutes will prevent the tea from overstepping and becoming bitter.

Wait About One Minute

Once the tea has brewed, pour it and wait about one minute, at which point it will be the perfect temperature to drink – about 140F/60C. Any cooler, it might taste a bit cold. Any hotter and it might be uncomfortable to drink.