Making loose leaf tea does not have to be complicated - here is everything you might need to know about infusing our tea.
Whether it's your first time, or you're a consummate professional, this guide will have hopefully something for everyone.
There are three golden rules of infusing loose leaf tea:
Leaf to Water Ratio
You can apply these rules to any teapot and any tea. The world will be your oyster.
How Much Water
Like any recipe - it’s the perfect ratio of ingredients that gets the perfect results - from a Victoria sponge cake to a pot of afternoon tea.
An average teacup holds approximately 150ml (about 5.3 fl. oz), an average mug holds 250ml (about 8.8 fl. oz).
The easiest way to measure the water into your teapot is to fill your tea cup or mug with hot water, then pour it into your teapot, and repeat for however many cups you want.
You can do this step in advance with water from of the tap – in this way you can then see where the water level is inside your teapot, and you can just fill by eye up to that point in the future. Or you can measure it straight from the kettle into the cup and then into the pot. You might find reference points references like the bottom and top of the spout or the holes in the plate behind the spout to get an idea of where that fill point is.
Our Glass Teapots are specifically designed to be filled up to the top of the spout for exact servings of 150ml and 300ml.
Why is this so important? You only want to make as much tea as you are going to pour from your teapot at any one time. You really really don’t want to leave water sitting on any premium loose leaf teas - drain all the water for every infusion otherwise you risk bitterness from over-infusion.
How Much Tea?
Of course, the amount of water also has an exact counterpoint in the exact amount of tea.
Whilst we’d always recommend a micro-milligram digital scale to measure out your tea, we readily appreciate that isn’t always the easiest option. We’ll always try and give you some idea of quantity using things easily available in the kitchen. If you would like to use a scale, you might notice that some of the quantities are in 0.5g increments - just round these up if your scale doesn’t have that micro-milligram functionality.
For ease, we give all our weights in standard teacup (150ml) ratios - scale them up or down depending on your own cup size. Again, always round up quantities if you’re unsure.
For nearly all of our black teas (including Pu'er tea) use 2.5g per 150ml. This equates to a heaped teaspoon of smaller leaf teas like RAF, Lost Malawi and Earl Grey, and a level tablespoon of whole leaf teas like Huntingdon Hand Rolled and Emperor's Breakfast.
Oolong is a little bit special and we’d recommend using 2 - 4g per 150ml, it’s based entirely on your personal preference. For rolled Oolongs like Golden Lily Milk, Iron Goddess, Very Rare, and Sunset, 2g is approximately a heaped teaspoon. For leaf Oolongs like Da Hong Pao it’s a level tablespoon.
If you're using a Gaiwan, you'll want a high leaf-to-water ratio - use a minimum of 4g - this might sound like a lot but you can get up to 6 infusions out of all of the Rare Tea Company oolongs infused like this.
Golden Lily Milk Oolong
Da Hong Pao
For herbal teas the weight is much less of an issue because tannins are not present. They are so much easier to get right - more leaf will just make a stronger infusion not a bitter one. Use 1 - 3g of leaf depending on desired infusion strength. Speciality whole loose leafs such as Malawi Spearmint are deceptively light - and you may need more leaves than you think to reach a gram. Watch out though, English Peppermint only needs a pinch (0.5g)!
If you want to be extra precise, get a scale that does 0.1g increments - we use laboratory quality balances at Rare Tea headquarters.
If you have access to filtered water then please use it. It will make the tea even better.
If you don’t, freshly drawn cold water from the tap will be more than adequate. Always empty the kettle completely after use as the oxygen content will have been diminished from any previous heatings. Oxygen molecules help to dissolve the most elegant flavours in tea.
Try not to have any hot water remaining though - we’ve only got one planet and kettles are very greedy on electricity. You don’t have to fill the kettle up to the brim!
We’d recommend checking the individual product pages on our website for detailed instructions about the water temperature for each individual tea, but we have some more general instructions here:
For most black teas (including Pu'er) you’ll want water at 80 - 90°C (176 - 194°F). If you enjoy milk with your tea, please use boiling water (100°C / 212°F) to extract the tannins that complement the milk. All of our teas can be drunk without milk and we’d love for you to try them this way.
Our Oolong teas need a bit of extra attention. You’ll want boiling water (100°C / 212°F) to start with to “wash” the leaf. After this step, you can use the remaining water in the kettle (now cooled slightly) to infuse the tea.
If you're making loose leaf Oolong, don't forget to discard the wash!
It’s all very well and good us telling you these temperatures, but how do you get them at home? Well, we’ve got three recommendations:
Temperature Controlled Kettles
We use temperature controlled kettles at Rare Tea - they’re essential in our tasting room and nearly all members of staff have them at home. We’re not recommending any particular type, as we use several different brands. If you’re a tea aficionado then they’re indispensable, and they’re useful outside of tea-making too.
Adding Cold Water
If you’ve only got access to boiling, just add cold water to your infusing vessel before you add the hot water. An approximate rule of thumb is 10% of the water should be cold to reduce the temperature by 10°C.
Let’s say we were using the small Rare Tea Company Glass Teapot (the perfect single serve) - here’s the ratios you’d need:
You will always want to add the cold to the leaf first though.
If you are of a meditative constitution you can just employ the millennial old tradition of waiting for the water to cool - pop a thermometer in , meditate or contemplate for a little while and congratulate yourself for excellent self control.
This is almost entirely based on your personal preference. We’ve happily provided some guidelines but the best indicators are your own taste buds. We really recommend tasting little and often from about a minute onward until it is just right for you.
For black, green, white and Pu'er teas, anywhere between one and two minutes should be sufficient. Start off on the low end and work your way up - remember tannins develop the longer you leave the tea in the water.
Some notable exceptions are Rare Earl Grey - this one will be done in 45 seconds if you enjoy the infusion without milk and Speedy Breakfast is damn fast too. Malawian Antlers are made from the steams rather than the leaves and needs longer for the water to penetrate, so you might want to leave it for 5 minutes to infuse.
Taste little and often...
For Oolongs, it depends if you’re doing multiple high leaf-to-water ratio infusions (in a Gaiwan) or making a cup in the classic teapot way. For a Gaiwan infusion do 20 - 30 second infusions multiple times, with a teapot, infuse anywhere from a minute to two minutes.
We have detailed infusion instructions for every tea in the “Method” section of the product pages.
Lastly, the most important thing is to infuse away to your hearts content. Loose leaf tea doesn’t have to be complicated – experimenting to get the perfect infusion, just the way your like it will flood your life with pleasure.