The first thing is, "there are no rules", you should make tea the way you like it. In our shop there is no ONE right way to make the perfect cup of tea, we make tea the way the customer likes it made! Our main objective is to find the right tea and the way to make it so it is "your cup of tea". Tea is a very personal experience and only the individual can decide what is right and what is wrong. There are those out there that insist putting milk in a cup of tea is heresy and those who participate in this activity should be drawn and quartered! The problem is some tea tastes really good with a little milk and honey, so start sharpening those blades, one of our best selling teas in our store is Masala Chai made with large amounts of milk, sugar, and spices! What we try to do with our customers is to establish a baseline where the individual then adjusts brewing techniques to create the perfect cup of tea. For example, Yunnan tea from China is a tea with complex flavors a medium body with a style unto itself. For variety we will alter how much tea we will use for each cup ( a big or small teaspoon of tea ) and then adjust the amount of steeping time to create a completely unique beverage. If we use more tea and reduce the time steeped this produces almost an Oolong style of tea which is light, delicate, and with interesting notes of flavor. If one uses an average amount of tea and steeps longer you will produce a slightly heavier tea that is more robust and has a sharper flavor. This is simply an illustration of how one tea can be adjusted however it does have a universal application.
Often we will send tea home with customers as samples and then eagerly await the feedback. It has been noted that on more than one occasion customers will state that they found the particular tea a little bitter for their taste, when asked "how long was the tea steeped?", the answer is often a little longer than usual as they thought the tea looked a little light and they prefer a stronger tea! It should be noted that it is virtually impossible to make a light body tea into a full body tea by brewing longer, it only gets sharper not fuller. It is possible to make a given tea fuller by adding more tea and taking the sharpness out by reducing time. The longer a tea brews the sharper it gets, which is not necessarily a bad thing. More often than not Darjeeling tea is often prepared steeping a little longer to accentuate the sharp character often sought after in that particular style of tea. Some other considerations in preparing tea is the water. We use a filter system mostly due to the fact we are in an older building so a little filtering is probably a good thing here. Most of the literature today suggests not using boiling water but something close to the boil (203F degrees) for many black teas. The practice of pouring boiling water on tea probably dates back to times before water filters and water sanitation existed, so boiling water was a good thing. Also heating cold china was important so that the cold pot did not cool the tea before it had a chance to steep, again drafty open buildings are not the norm in this day and age. Green tea is a completely different story, most green teas taste better (opinion only) when boiling water or close to boiling water is NOT used! It is fairly common practice to use water well off the boil (160F) for many green teas, there are many exceptions as is so often the case in life! However boiling water on Green tea has the nasty affect of making the tea bitter. Here is another example of how adjusting the quantity of tea and time steeped dramatically affects the resulting brew. Please experiment for yourself and you will find a new world of tea for those who have found green tea bitter and undrinkable.
How much tea should I use?
What about ONE FOR THE POT? We are often asked "How much tea should we use?" The typical answer is start with a level teaspoon per cup of tea if you are using a pot, e.g. 4 cup pot = 4 teaspoons. For those who insist on drinking your tea from small kiddie pools (really BIG cups) you might want to consider a little larger teaspoon per cup. As for "one for the pot" which stems from 1 teaspoon per cup and one for the pot, Mark says it works for him but he likes a little stronger brew.
Herbal teas are not from the tea plant and are often used for a variety of reasons. Once again we suggest usually using a teaspoon of the tea per cup of tea, but again we do not recommend boiling water rather a temperature well off the boil but much hotter than hottest tap water. Herbal teas for medicinal purposes are generally steeped 10-15 minutes while others will steep their herbal teas overnight. For those using herbal teas for medicinal use please follow the recommendation from the referring practitioner.
We hope this is a start for your brewing library keeping in mind these are only guidelines and your results may vary.