Keeping and Brewing Tea

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Well-made tea is fairly stable and can be stored for several months in an airtight container that is kept cool and dark. Tea quality does eventually deteriorate thanks to the effects of oxygen and some residual enzyme activity; aroma and briskness are lost, and the color of black tea infusions becomes less orange-red, more dull brown.
Teas are brewed in various ways in different parts of the world. In the West, a relatively small quantity of black tea leaves—a teaspoon per 6-oz cup/2–5 gm per 180 ml—is brewed once, for several minutes, then discarded. In Asia, a larger quantity of leaves of any tea—as much as a third the volume of the pot—is first rinsed with hot water, then infused briefly several times, with the second and third infusions offering more delicate, subtle flavor balances. The infusion time ranges from 15 seconds to 5 minutes, and depends on two factors. One is leaf size; small particles and their great surface area require less time for their contents to be extracted. The other is water temperature, which in turn varies depending on the kind of tea being brewed. Both oolong and black teas are infused in water close to the boil, and relatively briefly. Green tea is infused longer in much cooler water, 160–110°F/70–45°C, which limits extraction of its still abundant bitter and astringent phenolics, and minimizes damage to its chlorophyll pigment.