We've all had over-brewed tea. That bitter, overpowering, kind of dry first sip isn't exactly what we'd call enjoyable. Not all teas over-brew, many can survive just fine being forgotten for a little and returned to. And quality is a big component of those taste profiles.
A lot of factors could lead to an over-extracted cup of tea, and we get a lot of people looking for a definitive rule. As with many things in life, there's no hard rule on steep times. But to serve as a guideline for western-style brewing true tea (not including herbals, those are much harder to over-brew), we put together a few tips to avoid an over-brewed pot of tea. If you're interested in gong-fu style brewing, check out our guide on it here.
We hope this guide helps, but please - drink your tea as you enjoy! That's our number one ask of all of you. Don't be afraid to make your tea in a different way, if that's what you enjoy. It's your tea after all :)
Tea releases different components at different times. Typically, when western-style brewing, 80% of the caffeine is released in the first minute. It takes 7 minutes to release the same amount of tannins. Tannins are what we perceive as "bitter" in beverages. It's commonly discussed in wine and can be equally relevant in tea.
Without considering steep time, you allow all of the various components of the tea to release to their maximum. As tea drinkers, we're looking for a delicate balance of these components to produce a complex cup of tea. This balancing act varies from tea to tea, and each style of tea has its own "happy place" to give us the most nuanced and balanced brew.
Another element that affects your steep time and ability to over-brew is temperature. We've got a whole guide on that in detail here, but it's important to note that steeping at higher temperatures increases the rate of extraction, potentially causing over-brewing.
Now, this may sound like a cop-out, but we genuinely recommend you look at the packaging of your tea for the purveyor's optimal brew time. That's the best bet for understanding the tea you have and how to brew it. If we're stuck with leaves and no directions, we'll usually start with a 1-minute brew and adjust accordingly.