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Does Water Temperature Change Tea?

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Attention tea drinkers: It turns out that we can all learn a thing or two from Goldilocks. Just like the bears' porridge, our leafy brews can in fact be too hot or too cold. In fact, brewing tea at an improper temperature can drastically affect its taste.

But unlike Goldilocks' taste in porridge, proper brewing requires a precision of degrees. Here's how it works:

It All Boils Down to Chemistry
First, it's worth understanding exactly how temperature affects tea. Sure, it would be much simpler to just boil a pot of water and go with the flow, but there's a science behind all of this, and true tea aficionados ought to understand it. 

For starters, amino acids play a significant role in this beverage's complexity and deliciousness. The most prominent of these amino acids are L-Theanine (which incredibly, is almost entirely exclusive to tea plants), Aminoglutaric acid, Asparaginic acid and Arginine. The other key ingredients include flavor compounds (called flavonoids), tea polyphenol (i.e., tannins) and caffeine. (Fun fact about caffeine – it's an organic pesticide that has evolved in certain plants like coffee and teas.)

In order for these chemicals to manifest as flavor and aroma, they must be exposed to the right temperature and for the right amount of time. Depending on the precise makeup of those leaves, that temperature will vary. Too much heat on the wrong leaf will dissolve tannins and critical flavor compounds rapidly, which creates an unbalanced taste. Not enough heat will inhibit these same compounds from dissolving completely, regardless of steep time. The result is a somewhat tasteless tea, and it's the reason that every iced-tea must start as a hot tea. 

There's a temperature for every type of tea.There's a temperature for every type of tea.

How to Apply This to Your Experience
With that background in mind, let's go back to basics. First, to brew tea at a precise temperature, you will need a precision kettle, such as the Mr. Coffee® Tea Maker + Kettle. If you're looking for exactness of flavor, invest in a tea maker with a stainless steel infuser. This material will not retain flavor or odor, so you can have a 100 percent unadulterated tea-drinking experience. 

Second, it's vital that certain teas are brewed at proper temperatures. The rule of thumb is to always ask your tea seller for guidance or to consult the instructions on the packaging. But as a starting point, here's a general layout of temperature requirements by type of tea:

  • White tea: Steep at 175 degrees Fahrenheit for 4-5 minutes. 
  • Flavored white tea: Steep at 175 degrees F for 2 minutes.
  • Green tea: Steep at 175 degrees F for 45-60 seconds (same for flavored).
  • Oolong tea: Steep at 195 degrees F for 3 minutes.
  • Black tea: Steep at 195-205 degrees F for 2-3 minutes (same for flavored).
  • Pu'er tea: Steep at 200-210 degrees F for 3-4 minutes. 
  • Mate, rooibos and herbal: Steep at 208 degrees F for 5-6 minutes. 

Preference of taste certainly plays a role in all of this. However, if your goal is to maximize flavor while still keeping the taste balanced, we recommend sticking with the above matrix. If ever there were a Goldilocks taste for tea, it would be somewhere between 175 and 210 degrees F.

It's time to step up your tea game.It's time to step up your tea game.

The Big Takeaway
If you're a casual tea drinker who is more concerned with caffeine punch or that soothing feeling a nice chamomile can provide before bed, then a lot this information may seem a bit extraneous. But if you're actually going through the trouble to purchase loose leaf teas from premium sellers, then this was just the dose of facts you needed.

Don't brew another cup of tea without taking temperature into consideration. Trust us. It really does make all the difference in the world.