How To Brew White Tea

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White tea is so refined and delicate that it can feel intimidating to make. It doesn't help that white tea in particular is the subject of a wide range of advice regarding water temperature and steeping time. Here's a guide to get you started so you can relax and enjoy the beautiful qualities of this special tea.

This tutorial is for white tea. (For a description of different varieties of white tea, see What You Should Know About White Tea.) Bear in mind that there is no ONE standard for how to brew white tea. Think of this as a guide, and then follow your own palate. Above all remember to trust your taste buds and approach it with a sense of experimentation. The worst that can happen is you make a cup of tea you don't love, but you can always try again! (And then take notes so you remember for next time.)

The Tea

As a general rule of thumb, for 6 ounces of water, use 2 teaspoons if the tea consists of buds only, and 2 tablespoons if the tea consists of light and fluffy leaves. For a combination of buds and leaves, you may wish to use an amount in-between.

The Water

The water you use is perhaps just as important as the tea. Whether it's tap, filtered, or spring water, it should taste good. Avoid distilled water, which can taste flat. Start with fresh, cold water that has not been previously boiled.

As a general rule of thumb, let the water heat to 170°F or under boiling. Depending on the particular tea the ideal temperature can range from 160°F to 180°F, which you can measure using a thermometer, or simply eyeball it.

The Steeping Time

As a general rule of thumb, steep the tea from 1 to 5 minutes, although some teas may take up to 10 minutes. The exact amount of time will depend on the particular tea and your personal preference. Small leaves generally infuse more quickly than large leaves, and buds generally take the longest. You may wish to taste the tea at the 1-minute mark and then every 30 seconds. When brewed, white tea can range in color from pale yellow to light orange.

Note: To make a stronger tea use more buds/leaves rather than more time, which can make the tea bitter.

Infusers and Strainers

Keep in mind that you want room for the tea buds/leaves to unfold and release their flavors. A basket-style infuser or filter (made of glass, metal, or cloth) is usually preferable to the ball-style of infuser. You can also brew the tea buds/leaves directly in the pot or cup and strain them out as you pour.

How To Brew White Tea

Makes 1 cup (multiply as desired)

What You Need

Ingredients
6 ounces water, plus more if pre-warming the pot or cup
2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons white tea (less for bud tea, more for leaf tea)

Equipment
Kettle to boil water
Thermometer (optional)
Teapot
Measuring spoon
Filter or strainer
Timer
Tea cup for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat the water: Place the water in a tea kettle and heat it to 160°F to 180°F. Alternatively, bring the water to a boil and then let it rest for a couple of minutes until it cools to the correct temperature. If you do not have a thermometer to measure the specific temperature, heat the water to just short of boiling.
  2. Pre-warm the teapot or cup (optional): Pour a small amount of boiling water into the pot or cup. When the pot or cup is warm, pour out the water.
  3. Measure the tea buds/leaves: Measure between 2 teaspoons and 2 tablespoons of tea. Use less if the tea consists of buds and more if the tea consists of leaves.
  4. Place the buds/leaves in the teapot or cup: Place the tea buds/leaves in the pot or cup, either directly or in an infuser.
  5. Pour the water: Pour the water over the tea buds/leaves.
  6. Cover the teapot or cup: Place the lid on the teapot, or if using a cup, cover it with a lid or a small saucer.
  7. Steep the tea: Depending on the particular variety and personal preference, the tea may steep between 1 to 5 minutes, although some teas may take up to 10 minutes. In general, leaf tea infuses more quickly than bud tea. Set a timer for 1 minute. Taste the tea at 1 minute and then every 30 seconds until it is to your liking.
  8. Stop the infusion: As soon as the tea is ready, remove the buds/leaves by lifting out the infuser or pouring the tea through a strainer.

Recipe Notes

  • Reusing tea buds/leaves: White tea can often be steeped 2 to 3 times, producing new flavors with each subsequent brew. Slightly increase the water temperature and steeping time for each brew.

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(Image credits: Emily Han)