Rant: Water Temperature for Tea

This is perhaps the most pointless rant I will ever write on this blog. It serves no political purpose, it’s not germane to any current events… I just…

I work at Teavana, and this is, by far, the single most common complaint we get from customers:

Customer (talking about our samples): This tea tastes so much better here then when I make it at home. And I do have the sugar.

Me: What tea are you making at home?

Customer: [It’s usually Youthberry/Wild Orange Blossom, which is a white tea blended with an herbal tea. But it’s almost alwaystea, and not an herbal tisane]

Me: And how hot is the water you use to brew it?

Customer: I mean, I [boil it on the stove/heat it in the microwave/get it from the Keurig/get it from the hot-water spigot/…]

Okay folks…

Can we talk about water temperature and tea for a minute?

The reason I hate bagged tea has nothing to do with taste, or quality, or any of that. It has to do entirely with the fact that everyone is taught to utterly destroy tea leaves with boiling water.

Tea leaves are fragile, folks. Boiling water burns it. That is why most people who’ve only ever had bagged tea find green tea to be so damn bitter. When you steep that bagged green tea for 10 minutes in boiling water, and then squeeze the bag, what you’re drinking is the taste equivalent of forgetting you have a burger cooking on the stove until your smoke alarm goes off. (Why do you think England’s “tea ritual” includes milk and sugar?)

So… first things first…

Water typically boils at around 212.036°F ± 0.04°F (100.02°C ± 0.04°C). At Teavana, our water is at 205°F (96.1°C) for our herbal tisanes. However, for our actual teas, we use different temperatures:

For our whites, greens, yellow, and Darjeeling, we use 175°F (79.4°C), and steep the tea for 1-4 minutes depending on which tea it is (Gyokuro green gets 1 minute, the rest of our greens and our yellow get 2 minutes, our whites get either 2 minutes or 4 minutes, and our Darjeeling gets 3 minutes).

For our oolongs and black teas, we normally use 195°F (90.56°C), and steep them for about 3 minutes. We do use 205°F (96.1°C) water, however, for English Breakfast, Earl Grey and Earl Grey Crème, and Golden Monkey.

And how do we achieve those temperatures?

Sadly, not precisely. We use ice. Our ice isn’t too big:

Teavana Ice 1 Teavana Ice 2

So, as I said above… our water is at 205°F. For a 16oz cup of tea, we use 2 ice cubes to get it down to 195°F, and 4 ice cubes to get it down to 175°F. Chances are your ice is larger at home. So what you can do is, after your water is boiled, use one or two ice cubes to get it down to 175°F, or let it sit for a couple minutes before you start steeping the tea to let the water cool to 195°F.

Now, on the other hand, some customers are using either water from their Keurig or water from a hot water spigot they have set up on their kitchen sinks. Those usually only get to 185°F. So if you need hotter water, you’re going to have to heat that water up. If you need cooler water (like 175°F), just let it sit for a couple minutes in your mug or teamaker or teapot or whatever you’re using to brew tea in…

If you decide to get deeper into tea than Teavana offers, it gets quite a bit more complicated (for example… a really high quality Gyokuro can be brewed at any temperature from 122°F – 140°F [48.89°C – 87.78°C], depending on what flavor you’re looking for out of it), which is why I ended up buying a variable temperature tea kettle a few years ago… there’s way less guess work involved with it. I just figure out what temperature I need or want for my tea, set the kettle, and let it heat up. It’s not 100% accurate, but then I don’t think such a kettle exists… yet… and mine is, I think, the most accurate you can get on the market.

Please folks… if you’re going to get into loose leaf, mind your water temperature.

But also… if you work at a tea place (like Teavana) and you’re selling someone loose leaf tea who’s never had it before, stress that damn water temperature. They are going to come back complaining about how it “doesn’t taste right” because you were too lazy to point out that water temperature is important. And if you really just don’t want to bother, sell them an herbal tisane. I’ve done that, too, for first-timers. They can use boiling water, and as long they steep it for at least five minutes, they can leave it in the water as long as they want. Herbal tisanes are a really great way of easing someone who’s used to bagged tea into loose leaf, and you don’t have to become a tea professor for ten minutes explaining the best way to cool that water down and why the tea should only be left in for a specific amount of minutes.

Or you could try your hardest to sell them a Breville One-Touch…

Good luck with that…


  1. blf says

    I’ve also got a variable-temperature kettle, whose accuracy I’ve never attempted to measure, but some simplistic side-by-side tastings I did using the same tea (bagged) at both the temperature recommended on the box’s instructions and the “usual” boiling certainly supported the contention boiling did no f(l)avours.

Leave a Reply