What Is the Difference Between Brewing Tea & Steeping Tea?

glass teapot with herbal infussion
A brewing glass teapot sits on a kitchen table with a cup and herbs next to it. (Image: PatrikStedrak/iStock/Getty Images)

Brewing and steeping are both part-and-parcel of the same process. Brewing is the act of making tea, while steeping is the process involved. Brewing the perfect cup of tea requires carefully steeping loose tea leaves or tea bags in fresh water that's heated correctly. Various types of teas steep within different times, and understanding this may make the difference between drinking a bland cup of tea and enjoying a great cup of tea.

Brewing the Perfect Cup

Brewing a superb cup of tea relies on three main components: fresh tea leaves, high-quality water and correct steeping times. The rule of thumb for brewing one cup of tea consists of one tea bag or 1 teaspoon of loose leaf tea for each six to eight ounces of clean hot water. The exceptions are delicate herbal, white, yellow and oolong teas, which usually require 2 teaspoons of tea. Use fresh, spring or filtered water, and heat it to a rolling boil. If you choose a delicate leaf tea, such as white or green tea, pour the water just before boiling begins to avoid over-processing the leaves.

The Art of Steeping

Steeping can make or break a cup of tea, and for those who love tea, steeping is an art form in itself. Steeping begins when heated water is poured over the tea bag, infuser, tea strainer or in the teapot. The goal of steeping is to infuse the water with the tea. Over-steeping may cause bitterness, so it’s important to experiment with different types of teas, bags or loose leaf teas, and the appropriate steeping times for each.

Steeping to Perfection

Heartier teas, such as black, red, herb and oolong, can be steeped in water that has fully boiled without risk of over-processing. White and green teas are more delicate, and should be steeped in water that is heated to just below the boiling point. Black tea bags and black loose-leaf tea may steep up to five minutes. Oolong tea bags may steep up to five minutes while the loose leaf variety may steep up to seven minutes. Red and herb loose leaf teas and tea bags can both be steeped for up to seven minutes. White tea bags may be steeped up to one minute and loose leaf teas up to three minutes. Green tea bags may be steeped up to three minutes and loose leaf tea up to four minutes,

Loose Leaf Tea or Tea Bags?

Experts and tea enthusiasts suggest loose leaf tea is superior to tea bags in freshness and quality, and also offers more bang for your buck. Steeped loose tea leaves provide better taste and aroma, while also extending further for more cups than the humble tea bag. Of course, personal preference overrides all rules and suggestions.

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