How to prevent tea from going bitter
T Tegan Woo

How to prevent tea from going bitter

Nov 18, 2018 · green-tea · tea101

With proper storage, temperature settings, and timed steeping, you can prevent bitterness in tea.

It’s an affliction that many tea lovers suffer through. Often not even milk and sugar are enough to overcome the bitterness in a cup of tea. But cheer up. With the right preparation, bitterness can become a thing of the past.

So what can you do to keep your tea tasty and free from bitterness? Follow these steps.

Keep your tea in a dark, dry, and aroma-free space

Tea leaves are delicate. Over time, exposure to light, heat and kitchen smells can take its toll. Without proper care, tea’s ideal flavour can change into something bitter. So how can that be prevented?

First, keep your tea far away from light. Since leaves are photosensitive, any light degrades the colour and flavour of tea. It might not happen immediately, but time takes its inevitable toll. For this reason, it’s better to leave tea inside a dark cupboard, only exposing the leaves when you want to use them.

It’s also important to keep tea far away from moisture. Whether as water or steam, moisture has the effect of binding tannins together. Tannins, it should be mentioned, are what cause bitterness in tea. Storing your tea in a dry place alleviates this potential problem.

Foods with heavy odours have their impact too. If you keep tea leaves next to a stinky pile of onions, this will also impact the flavour. Not only may this cause tea to become more bitter, it brings a whole new dimension of yuck! Teas and spices do not below in the same cupboard! And best to keep your tea away from the stove too.

Water temperature really matters

While black tea is fantastic in boiling water, this not the case with other forms of tea. Oolong should be brewed at temperatures slightly below boiling point, while green and white teas need to be drastically lower.

The reason for lower brewing times for oolong, green, and white teas is because, once again, higher brewing temperatures activate tannins. These tannins overwhelm the sweet, umami, and flowery flavours that are beloved in these teas. Since black tea is heavily oxidized, tannins aren’t as impactful, and can actually augment their brisk and earthy flavours.

Here’s the ideal temperatures for brewing tea:

  • Black tea: 100°C (212°F)
  • Oolong: 80°C-85°C (176°F-185°F)
  • Green: 75°C-80°C (167°F-176°F)
  • White: 65°C-80°C (149°F-176°F)

Putting a thermometer inside a kettle and waiting for it to rise to the ideal temperature can be inconvenient. Thankfully, there’s a range of affordable temperature-controlled kettles on Amazon that are adjustable with a dial.

A fun way to monitor water temperatures is the fish eyes method. Watch the size of the bubbles forming on the bottom of your pot or peek inside your kettle. Bubbles the size of shrimp eyes (tiny bubbles!) for about 70º and bubbles the size of crab eyes for around 80º. After that bubbles the size of fish eyes will start to roll to the top of the kettle or pot and this water is around 85º. Have fun with this method!

Watch your steeping times

The longer tea is steeped, the more bitterness is likely to be a factor. This is because heat and moisture bind tannins -- and yes, black tea can become spoiled by too many tannins.

The solution? Steep your teas at just the right times. The optimal time varies by the type of tea you’re steeping. Here’s the steeping times we recommend:

  • Black tea: 3-5 minutes
  • Oolong: 2-3 minutes
  • Green: 1-2 minutes
  • White: 1-2 minutes

One further factor in how long to steep your tea is the amount of leaves that are in your brew. More leaves, the shorter the steep; less leaves, the longer the steep. This will handily minimize the amount of bitterness in your tea.

cold steeping tea

Try alternate steeping methods

Can't seem to get the temperature right or watch the clock? Try cold-steeping. It's fool proof. Add twice the amount of tea leaves into a 12-16oz mason jar. Cover with cold water and place into the fridge for 4 hours to overnight. Cold steeping doesn't draw out the tannins in the same way as hot water steeping, so you'll always have a bitter-less brew. Our favourite teas to cold steep are oolongs and green teas, but try any tea you like!

Tea doesn’t have to be bitter. Proper storage, temperature controls, and precise steeping times will minimize bitterness, and allow you to appreciate tea as it’s meant to be tasted.

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