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17 Ways You're Drinking Your Tea Wrong

Spoiler alert: Milk first, tea second.

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1. First, you need to understand that there are only six kinds of tea.

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All tea comes from the same plant. "All teas that are classed as a tea have to come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant," Kate Woollard, tea expert at Whittard, tells BuzzFeed Life. "A lot of companies have gotten into the habit of giving something the title 'tea' because it's something that you put in your cup and it's hot.

"Specifically, tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia plant. Everything else, a herb (like mint), fruit (like raspberry) and so on, is an infusion."

The types of tea are white tea, green tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, black tea, and pu-erh tea. "When you have the title 'white tea' or 'green tea', you're actually describing the process by which it has been made," Woollard says.

Read more about how tea is processed here.

2. You should never add boiling water to the pot.

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"You never want boiling water when you're drinking tea," Woollard says. "You don't want to burn the leaf." When it comes to making an infusion, however, boiling water is a good idea. "You want to make sure you get the best amount of flavour out of an infusion. It's almost like a jam. You're rehydrating the fruit."

Here's a handy temperature guide:

White tea: 65–75°C

Green tea: 75–85°C

Black tea: 85–95°C

Infusions: 100°C

3. But I don't have a thermometer on my kettle!

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Don't worry, you can learn to judge the temperature by eye.

"For white tea, once you see the first bit of steam come out of the kettle, and the kettle begins to vibrate, then you should pour," Woollard says. "That's round about 65–75°C. When it comes to the black teas, you end up getting used to your own kettle, but generally the moment it really starts to vibrate and bubble, then you can turn it off."

4. You should try to use fresh water every time.

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If you live in a hard-water area, you might find a scum at the top of your cuppa. There are a few ways around this.

Firstly, if you have a water filter, then use filtered water in your kettle.

But if not, Woollard says, "a nice trick is to use fresh water every time. Every time you reboil your water, you're condensing the minerals that are naturally in existence in water. So when they cool down, they rise to the surface and give you that film on the top. If you only use the certain amount of water in your kettle, enough to fill up your cup, every time you're using fresh water, you're reducing the amount of limescale build-up in your kettle."

5. You never need to add a spoon for the teapot.

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You should only use one level teaspoon of tea leaves per person – by adding more tea you will end up making the tea too strong and lose that original unique flavour of the tea. Effectively, you're wasting tea.

"Never add 'one for the pot', it's an old wives' tale," Woollard says. "You're using way too much tea than what you need. With a six-cup teapot, and a standard tea, use five level teaspoons. A large leaf tea, something like a silver needle, you'd use six level teaspoons."

But what about teabags? "Personally, I don't drink normal teabags, but I do drink large-leaf teabags. This is the convenience of a teabag, but with loose leaf tea in it. It means that I get the best quality tea, and I can reuse it two to three times, and I don't need a strainer."

6. You never need to heat up your teapot.

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The only time you should heat up your teapot with a splash of hot water is if it's heavy stoneware.

"I would heat up your stoneware teapot slightly, with a little hot water," Woollard says. "If you have quite a heavy stoneware or china teapot, it'll retain a lot of its own temperature – so it'll be cool. It can drop the temperature of your tea quite rapidly down."

Whittard likes to use a glass teapot. "We've got a six-cup Chelsea teapot made from reinforced glass. I love to have a glass teapot – it's nice to see the different colours. It's got a really visual impact."

7. Take the lid off your teapot while it's brewing.

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"Leaving the lid off allows for much more oxygen for the leaves while it's being brewed," Woollard says.

8. If you're using a pot, add milk to the cup first.

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The order depends on how you're brewing your tea. If you're making tea in a teapot, add milk to the cup first, according to Whittard.

"If you're making it in a teapot, we always recommend that you put the milk in first," Woollard says. "If you pour the tea afterwards, it heats up the milk to the same temperature as the tea. It heats the milk up. It makes all the proteins in the milk break down at the same rate. It means you get great flavour throughout the cup of tea and it stops that build up of scum you might get at the top.

"Basically, if you put the milk in first, then you bring the temperature of the milk back up to the same temperature as the tea. If you're adding milk afterwards, you're making the tea cooler."

9. If you're using a teabag, add the milk second.

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Let the tea brew, Woollard advises. Add the bag to hot water for three minutes, take it out, and then add milk.

"Some places pour water in on top of your teabag, and then pour milk right on top. You have to allow the tea to to breathe, you have to allow the tea to start to brew. I would recommend to put the teabag in, then your hot water. Then leave it for the allotted amount of time (three minutes). And then you can add milk as you like. If you put milk in straight on top, it cools the water down. Also, the fat on top can clog the tea leaves and stop it from brewing."

10. You should remove the leaves from the teapot once you're done.

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"Remove your leaves after three minutes," Woollard says. "You can pop the leaves back on the side, and rebrew your tea with them again later."

11. Never squash the teabag against the side of your cup.

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It will release more tannins, and leave a bitter taste.

"Don't squash your teabag next to the side, as it will squeeze out all the natural astringent tannins that are in there," Woollard says. "Just lift it out, that will stop the bitter flavour. If you leave it in for too long, you're going to overwhelm the flavour with all the natural tannin flavours in there, and polyethanols etc.

"We've gotten used to really strong bitterness and think that's what tea should taste like. Tea should never feel that strong or bitter. If you do really like a really rounded malty flavour, as opposed to a really bitter flavour, then we just reccomend you change your tea. A really strong malty flavour would be an assam second flush. It gives you a nice breakfast flavour. Or stronger again, I'd go for a Kenyan. So instead of overbrewing, just change your tea."

12. Why does tea taste better from a teapot?

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"If you're using loose leaf tea, then the tea has a wider surface area," Woollard says. "This means it needs space to brew. If you give it that space (in a teapot), then it gives it a rounder and more easygoing flavour. If you're using a teabag in a cup, it's designed for speed. Because you've broken down the size of the leaf, if brewed incorrectly, it can be stronger.

"We're not trying to dissuade people from using teabags, but if you want a more rounded flavour, then we'd recommend loose leaf tea."

A good compromise is a tea pyramid (here are a couple of options), which give you some of the benefit of loose leaf tea with the convenience of a teabag.

13. Green tea isn't caffeine-free.

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As all tea comes from the same plant, all tea has roughly the same amount of caffeine.

"We can't guarantee year on and year out that one tea has more antioxidants than the other," Woollard says, "as it depends on weather conditions, the quality of the tea and so on. And all tea has roughly the same amount of caffeine as well."

So, for example, green tea has caffeine in it. If you're trying to find something to help you drop off, your best bet is an infusion. Whittard recommends its vanilla, camomile, and honey blend. "Camomile is a natural muscle relaxant," Woollard says.

14. Does tea contain more caffeine than coffee?

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Yes and no.

"Weight for weight, tea has more caffeine," Woollard says. "But you use more coffee to make a cup of coffee. So you're using less tea, which means less caffeine."

Cup of black tea = 40–70mg caffeine per cup.

Cup of black coffee = 100–200mg caffeine per cup.

15. But if you're worried about caffeine, here's a tip.

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You can reuse loose leaves again throughout the day – and this includes loose leaf teabags too.

"If you use one level teaspoon in the morning," Woollard says, "you can use the same level teaspoon two to three times. So it means you're only getting that first batch of caffeine in the morning, and throughout the day you're just nibbling away at the remaining caffeine in the leaves."

16. So, here is how to make the perfect cup of tea:

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1. Empty your kettle and fill it with fresh water. Use only the amount of water that is needed. Using fresh water means you have a brighter, fresher taste, as fresh water contains lots of oxygen that will enhance your tasting experience.

2. Add one level teaspoon of tea per person. Never one for the pot.

3. Brew for three minutes. This will give you a good fresh flavour with no bitterness.

4. After your three minutes have finished the most important stage is to remove the leaves or teabag from your cup or teapot.

5. If using a teabag, never squash the teabag on the side as all you will do is push all the tannic bitterness out and ruin the tea.

6. If using loose leaf tea, keep your leaves because you can reuse them two or three times.

7. Add milk as you like, but never use milk in white, green, yellow, and oolong teas.

17. Bonus! Here's a suggested tea menu for the day:

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Morning: An assam second flush. It's a nice rounded tea.

Mid-morning: Oolong. This will give you a gentle boost into the afternoon. Milk oolong is good for people who are trying to cut back on milk and sugar. (However, it does contain dairy.)

Lunch: Gen mai cha = Japanese tea with rice. Savoury and good with a light lunch.

Afternoon: Earl Grey – good with a slice of cake.

Dinner/evening: A herbal infusion, but probably camomile or peppermint.


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