How to Steep Tea

When making tea, knowing how long to steep your tea leaves can mean the difference between a delightful cuppa and a disappointing drink. Read on to learn how long to properly steep different types of tea.

All Teas
Before we get started, there are a few things that are common to all teas. What are these things?
  • Clean, fresh water Tap water is just fine and filtered water is better. Some people use bottled water or spring water, but it isn't necessary. A good thing to remember: the main ingredient in tea is water which means your water needs to taste good.
  • High-quality tea Use a high-quality tea like the loose-leaf teas at GourmetCoffees.com.
  • A way to boil your water A kettle, either on the stovetop or an electric version, is the easiest, but a pan would do.
  • A way to measure your tea and water Measuring spoons and cups are just fine. If you really want to weigh everything out you can, but it is not necessary.
  • A vessel in which to steep the tea You can prepare tea by the pot but preparing it in your cup is perfectly fine.
  • Something to strain out the tea If you haven't used something like a tea ball or an infuser to hold your tea leaves, use a small, fine-mesh strainer to catch the leaves as you pour.
  • A vessel from which to drink the tea Your favorite mug, of course!

Straightforward and simple, right? Can you make it more complicated? Sure, you can, but why?

Now, let's take a look at making a tasty cup of tea. Each type of tea, black, green, white, oolong, and herbal, all have different configurations of tea to water ratios and steep time. Read on to learn more. And remember, everyone's taste is different.

Black Tea
As black tea is one of the more common teas we drink in the States, we'll start here. Set your water to boil and measure out one teaspoon of tea per six to eight ounces of water. Once the water is boiling, pour your water over the tea leaves. If you want to check the temperature of the water, it should be around 206℉. Be careful not to scald yourself! Cover the tea and wrap it in a tea towel or cozy to keep it warm as it sits. Allow the tea to steep for three to five minutes. Once your tea has reached your desired flavor, strain out the tea leaves. If you leave the tea leaves much longer, you will notice a bitterness. Modify your tea to taste with sweetener, milk, lemon, or drink it as is.

Green Tea
A close second to black tea in popularity is green tea. Though it comes from the same plant as black tea, green tea has not been oxidized so the flavor is more delicate as are the tea leaves. To properly brew green tea, you need to make sure you don't scorch the leaves with the water temperature as this will cause the tea to be bitter or astringent. Start with one teaspoon of tea per six to eight ounces of water. Depending on your taste preference or if the tea leaves are larger, you may wish to up that to two teaspoons of tea per six to eight ounces of water. Heat your water to just under boiling. If it has already started boiling, let it sit for about a minute before pouring over the tea leaves. You want the temperature to be around 160℉ to 180℉. Allow the tea to steep between one and three minutes. Begin checking the flavor at around a minute then every 30 or so seconds after that. Once you know your preferred flavor, you'll be able to steep without constantly tasting. When you find your perfect flavor, strain the tea leaves. Set aside the leaves as they can be used up to two more times. Yes, really! Modify your tea to taste with sweetener or lemon or drink it as is.

White Tea
Steeping white tea is similar to steeping green tea. The leaves of this tea have been withered but not oxidized, giving them a very mild flavor. Due to the delicate nature of the leaves, you must be careful not to scorch them. Measure out around one tablespoon of tea per six to eight ounces of water. If the leaves are especially large or "fluffy" you may want to add more tea, up to two tablespoons. Heat your water to around 170℉ to 185℉. Allow the tea to steep around two minutes and begin checking the flavor. Keep checking every 30 seconds or so; white tea can take up to 10 minutes to impart the flavor you prefer. Once the tea reaches your preferred flavor, strain out the leaves. White tea is considered a "sipping" tea and you typically drink it without any modifiers. But this is your cup, so feel free to add a little sweetener or lemon to enhance the flavor.

Oolong Tea
Because oolong tea can sometimes be formed into small balls while other times the leaves can be rolled or left "fluffy" you will have to determine how much tea to use based on which type you have. For small balls, use about a teaspoon of the tea whereas if it is the open leaves or rolled, you may use up to two tablespoons. Heat the water to between 180℉ and 200℉. Allow the tea to steep for between three to five minutes. Start tasting the tea at around the three-minute mark. It may take up to seven minutes to achieve the taste you prefer. Once you reach your preferred flavor, strain out the leaves. Sometimes, oolong tea can be steeped a second time, and possibly up to five times, especially if it is the flat or "fluffy" leaves, so set those tea leaves aside. If you prefer, you may add a little sweetener to your tea, but it is best to drink it as it is.

Herbal Tea and Tisanes
When it comes to herbal tea, it really isn't that much different from steeping any other kind of tea. You may need to steep longer than the Camellia sinensis teas we've been concentrating on to this point. And by longer, we mean up to 15 minutes! You may also need to use more of the herbs depending on your taste. But that's about it. Let's walk through it.

Depending on what your herbal tea is, flowers, leaves, stems, and/or roots, you will use from one teaspoon up to a couple of tablespoons. Begin heating your water and measure your tea into your cup or teapot. Once your water just gets to a boil this would be the tiny bubbles, also known as the "first boil" take the water off the heat and pour over the herbs. If you go too long and get to a full, rolling boil, let the water sit for a few minutes to cool off a little bit. Pour six to eight ounces of the water over the herbal tea and cover. Using a cover keeps the essential oils from escaping with the steam. Allow your tea to steep. At about five minutes, taste the tea and, if it is to your liking, strain it and you're ready to go. If not, allow it to steep longer, tasting every 30 seconds or so until you find your favorite flavor. Though it may take longer to steep, don't leave the herbs in the tea as it can cause it to become bitter. Serve as is or with sweetener. It's also delicious and refreshing over ice.

Tip: If you decide to use a teapot or you want to add your herbal tea leaves to your pan for steeping purposes, make sure it is not aluminum. An aluminum pan or pot, when in contact with certain herbs, can cause a production of a toxic substance.

Here's a handy table to help determine how much, what temperature, and how long.

Type of TeaAmount of TeaTemp of WaterSteep Time
Black1 teaspoonFull boil (206℉)3-5 minutes
Green1-2 teaspoonsOff the boil (160℉-180℉)1-3 minutes
White1 tablespoonOff the boil (170℉-185℉)2-10 minutes
Oolong1 teaspoon-2 tablespoonsFull boil (206℉)3-5 minutes
Herbal / Tisane1 teaspoon-2 tablespoonsOff the boil (170℉-185℉)5-15 minutes


Though we've laid out the guidelines for steeping the best cup of tea, your taste buds may prefer a stronger or lighter taste. So, make sure to experiment a little with the tea to water ratio as well as the length of time for steeping. Just like coffee, finding your favorite tea, prepared your favorite way takes a little time but can be so rewarding.