How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea

cup of tea
Photo Credit: Carolyn Lagattuta

December 23, 2020

By Carrie Havranek

As I write this, it strikes me how much today is very much a tea kind of day. It’s Monday. It’s pouring and the wind is blowing every which way. It’s mid-afternoon, and I have barely put a dent in my to-do list. But there is always time for tea. And so I stop, and make tea — in order to better write about how to make a perfect cup of tea.

But first, we need to talk about coffee. You see, I used to be a coffee drinker, and I still love the smell of a really good freshly brewed pot. But when I became pregnant, I also became coffee intolerant. And suddenly my relationship with coffee ended. And so I turned to tea.

I will be the first to tell you: Tea is not coffee. Where coffee is easy and convenient, tea is fussy and requires some patience. But tea has compassion, where coffee is a bit of a taskmaster. Coffee might get the job done, but tea is therapy. It’s a friend who meets you where you are, who matches your mood or improves it.

If you’re new to tea or you’re hoping to cut back on coffee or you’ve tried making tea but it never really worked, here is the process that I’ve perfected over the years.

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea

1. Start with your favorite mug.

Mine vacillates between a very old mug that belonged to my mother and one that was gifted to me by a writer friend. The first has a long poetic description of motherhood written around its circumference — I know, it’s corny, but my mom used to drink out of it all the time. The second looks like a beautiful mosaic tile floor and has just my first initial on it. Both have large handles and interiors that don’t stain easily and, importantly, hold more than 8 ounces.

2. Choose the right brew.

On any given morning, I will reach for a bag of green tea with something else in it, maybe ginger, or passionfruit, or citrus. If I’m feeling tired and cold, chai will pick me up. Stressed and tired, but wired — and in need of sleep? Chamomile and lavender will work; maybe a blend with valerian and passionflower, too. Something off in digestion? Anything with fennel, turmeric, or ginger will right what’s wrong. If it’s mid-afternoon and I just want something delicious and uplifting to drink with no caffeine? Rooibos, definitely, to the rescue, especially one with vanilla notes to it. And when something’s starting to settle into the system that just shouldn’t be there, it’s time for echinacea with elderberry and a hearty squeeze of honey (local, if possible).

3. Use an electric kettle to get the temperature just right.

Tea appreciates attention to detail, especially if you are drinking white or green ones. In order for their delicate flavors to best be appreciated, these leaves shouldn’t be submerged in boiling water, but just under that. White is best between 170-185, while green tea can range from 160-180. Herbal tea can take the full boil, and so can most black teas. These nuances are why I got an electric kettle years ago. If you are serious about your tea, I suggest you do the same.

4. Do you when you brew.

Maybe you are using loose tea (bravo!), and so maybe you use a tea ball, or a mesh tea contraption, or those little tea bags. There are so many ways to brew tea, and you can get ceremonial about it if you want. But, truth: Most days, I’m not using loose leaf tea or contemplating the universe while I wait. Instead, I’m putting together breakfast for me and/or cats and/or children, hastily grabbing a bag from the cabinet, and plopping it into the mug. Then I take it upstairs and let it steep while I work. Sometimes it gets cold, and that’s ok. Tea is forgiving.

5. Drink your tea with purpose (and without purpose).

Drinking tea is a time to slow down, chill out, and go within. Tea takes time and asks for your time. Tea wants you to pay attention and also to pay no attention. Stare out the window at the billowing wind and absorb the sounds of rain hitting the house from what feels like every direction. Or maybe there’s someone you can drink the tea with, and so you take the time together. This is a small, beautiful thing.