We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea

Tea cup with green tea leaf on the wooden table outdoors

Tea is making a comeback after years of playing second fiddle to coffee. Liking tea or coffee isn’t mutually exclusive, and just like coffee drinkers, those who drink tea have strong opinions on what goes into making the best cup.

There are those who think they have their method down, and so long as you have water and tea in a cup, you’re winning. Despite what some might believe, making a cup of tea—or indeed coffee—isn’t rocket science. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some tips to offer that will help you on your way.

Choosing the Right Apparatus

It’s easy to get carried away when seeking the perfect cup of tea. Would that special teapot make it taste better? What about that cup with a built-in infuser for loose tea?

So long as the tools at hand make it easy to get tea into the water, you have all you need. Some infusers are easier to clean than others, and if you’re particularly averse to cleanup, you should choose something that makes it easy to empty used leaves.

A teapot or teacup with a built-in infuser is not a bad solution if loose tea is your jam—you’ll just want to make sure you get something easy to clean. You can get a separate infuser (in all kinds of shapes and sizes) inexpensively, and they’re usually much easier to clean than the built-in variety.

In the end, choose what’s right for you rather than what all the cool kids are using. There are so many different ways of making tea that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Again, if you have a process that works, there’s little reason to change it.

Loose Tea or Tea Bags?

Black tea in a spoon on a black tea background

The choice between using loose tea or a tea bag is usually one of convenience. Tea bags are easier to use and don’t require special teapots, strainers, or cups. The tea bag goes into a cup or pot, and you pour the water in.

But which is better? That very much depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re all about the taste and want the very best tea you can make in the comfort of your home, loose tea is where it’s at. Loose tea is usually higher quality, resulting in a more flavorful, fresher cup of tea than you could expect from anything in a bag.

Loose tea also tends to stay fresher for longer, which may be of consideration if you don’t go through lots of it, but also want to have it available when you fancy a cup.

On the downside, using loose tea requires a little more preparation. At the very least, you’ll need a tea infuser—one of those little mesh or stainless steel strainers that hold the tea while you steep it.

But what about the humble tea bag? Some tea aficionados may look down their noses at bags, but they have their time and place even if you prefer loose tea. Tea bags are the height of convenience because they don’t need any specialized hardware to use. They don’t take a long time to brew or leave you with as much to clean up.

Tea made from bags tastes fine to most people, and even great for some. If there’s a thread running through this piece, it’s that your tea is for you, and nobody else.

Making Tea in a Cup

If you’re making tea in a cup, you’re more than likely using a teabag. That’s fine, and most of us are more than happy with buying store-sold teabags once we’ve found one we like.

Whether you’re using bags or loose tea, though, there are still some steps to follow:

  1. Make sure you’re using fresh water. Let the water run at the tap for a few seconds before filling the kettle because you want it to get nicely oxygenated. Water with plenty of oxygen makes the best tea, and this is another reason not to re-boil water. If you’re using filtered water, that’s fine. Give it a nice shake to aerate it.
  2. Tea likes nice, hot water. But it doesn’t like boiling water. If you have a fancy kettle with which you can select a temperature, aim for around 180F. Otherwise, boil the kettle and let it sit for two or three minutes to cool. Check your tea for any special temperature instructions, just to be sure. Many herbal teas, for example, do require you to boil the water.
  3. When the water is ready, place a tea bag or an infuser with loose tea into your favorite cup and add water. Give the water a brief stir and then leave it alone for a bit. A good cup of tea needs four or five minutes to brew properly.
  4. Once the brew is complete, remove the bag or infuser from the cup.

You’re done. Add milk, sugar, honey, or whatever you like to make your favorite cup and enjoy!

Tip: People debate whether you should squeeze a teabag or not after brewing. It’s up to you, but it does make a difference. When you squeeze a bag, you release extra tannic acid into the tea, giving it more of a bitter taste. It can also make the tea look a bit cloudy. If you like it more on the bitter side, or if you’re adding extras like milk or honey to your tea that will mask that bitterness, then squeeze away!

Making Tea in a Teapot

This process is very similar to using a tea bag, but works better with loose tea and when you’re making tea for multiple people. It’s also nice if you like the ceremonial aspect of making tea in a teapot.

  1. Let the water run from the faucet for a few seconds before filling the kettle or give your filtered water a shake to aerate it. Oxygen is your friend.
  2. Heat the water. Aim for a temperature around 180F (you can boil the water and then wait a couple of minutes for it to cool). If you’re using a specialist or herbal tea, check its packaging for any instructions relating to temperature.
  3. While the kettle is boiling, warm the teapot. If you add warm water to a cold teapot, the temperature of your tea will plummet, and you don’t want that.
  4. Add the tea to the warmed teapot. If you’re using a specialty tea, follow the instructions on the packet. If it’s old-fashioned tea bags, we’d suggest adding a tea bag per cup as well as an extra one for flavor.
  5. When the water is ready, add it to the pot and give it a brief stir.
  6. Leave the tea to brew for around five minutes. We know it’s a long time, but it’ll be worth it!

When it’s done, pour the tea into your favorite cup and enjoy!

Ultimately, be ready to experiment a bit to find what you prefer and be prepared for slight deviations depending upon the tea you’re making. Some teas prefer a slightly higher or lower temperature, and some people prefer a stronger or weaker flavor. A little trial and error will help you find the right balance.

Oliver Haslam Oliver Haslam
Oliver Haslam is a professional freelance writer with nearly ten years of experience. His work has been published on Macworld, PCMag, 1Password's blog, and other websites. He writes about all things Apple. Read Full Bio »
LifeSavvy is focused on one thing: making your life outside of work even better. Want to know more?