More tea is consumed on earth than any other beverage (other than water) and, especially in these times of “doom-scrolling” and endless hours spent indoors, it makes sense.

A cup of tea is much more than just water and leaves. This 5,000-year-old ritual is quiet and nurturing — for the body and mind. Plus, it’s great for breaking up the tedium.

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But whether you prefer black, green, white, hot, cold, or strong, experts agree these tea rules are paramount:

  1. Always use filtered water, especially if your tap water is funky or hard tasting.
  2. Store loose-leaf tea in an opaque container, away from sunlight, strong odors, and moisture. (Stored in this way, loose-leaf tea will last around 2 years).
  3. Never squeeze the tea bag (this can create bitterness).
  4. Don’t oversteep. We have all the info you need on steeping below.

Stick with us to learn why this ancient drink is as popular as ever and, importantly, how to brew the perfect cup.

Like all good things in life, there’s a right way and a less right way. While most of us do just fine by pouring boiling water over a tea bag and letting it sit till it’s cool enough to sip, the tastiest cup of tea is done much more thoughtfully.

Tea typeTea bag steeping timeLoose-Leaf steeping time
Black3 minutes3–5 minutes
Green1–2 minutes3 minutes
White1 minute1–3 minutes
Oolong3–5 minutes5 minutes
Red5 minutes5–7 minutes
Herbal5 minutes5–7 minutes

Hot steeping 101

  • Use 1 teaspoon of loose-leaf tea, herbs, or 1 tea bag per 6-ounces of water.
  • Bring water to a rolling boil — roughly 212°F (100°C).
  • If brewing white, green, or oolong tea, heat water just short of boiling — roughly 185°F (85°C).
  • Add infuser or tea bag to your mug or teapot. If using a pot, swirl hot water inside (this warms the pot up) before the infuser goes in, pour that water out, and then pop your leaves in.
  • Pour the hot water directly onto the leaves or bag.
  • Wait for the appropriate amount of time (guidelines below).
  • Remove the bag or infuser. Remember not to squeeze the bag!

Pro tip: Most teas can be steeped several times in one sitting, although the flavor will change and generally become more mild after each “wash.”

Cold steeping tea is not only a refreshing way to cool off on a hot summer day, it also produces an aromatic, smooth tea that’s sweeter, less astringent, and less bitter. Plus it’s lower in caffeine.

All of those pros come down to how cold steeping is a much slower and gentler process. We’re talking much slower, up to 12 hours, to gently coax the flavors from the leaves.

Cold steeping 101

  • Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of loose-leaf tea or 1 tea bag per 8-ounces of water.
  • Place tea and cold, filtered water into a glass pitcher and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours, depending on desired strength and tea type.
  • White, green, and herbal tea can steep for 6 to 8 hours; black, red, and oolong tea can steep for 8 to 12 hours.
  • Thoroughly strain the loose-leaf tea or remove tea bags.
  • Store cold-brewed tea in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Pro tip: Store cold-brewed tea in glass containers, as plastic can stain or cause odors.

Tea isn’t just about taste though. It comes along with health benefits, too. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might want to add one of these teas to your daily wellness routine.

Green and black tea are both antioxidant powerhouses. And for maximum antioxidant goodness, use the cold steeping brewing method.

For heart health, stick to the four “true teas.” These teas are high in flavonoids, which are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

If you need help focusing on something difficult, stick to black tea, which has the highest caffeine content of all tea (hello mental alertness) and also contains star amino acid L-theanine, which has been shown to boost mental alertness, focus, and energy.

There are also many sleep-promoting herbal teas, such as chamomile and passionflower. In fact, we did a whole article specifically on the best sleepy time teas!

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since you can make tea — aka herbal teas — out of pretty much any plant, the list of potential health benefits could fill an encyclopedia.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of tea to sooth and support your body.

True teas all contain caffeine, but at different amounts. The general rule of thumb is the darker the tea — aka the more oxidized — the higher the caffeine content. So black tea has the most, followed by oolong, green, and then white.

Another factor affecting caffeine content is the size of the leaf. Long story short, leaves that are chopped up more finely infuse a higher concentration of caffeine. Tea bags generally have finer leaf sizes and are therefore considered more caffeine-heavy than loose tea.

Lastly, the longer a tea steeps and the hotter the water used to make it, the more caffeine will ultimately be extracted.

Wait but what are “true teas”?

Black, green, white, and oolong are considered “true teas.” They all come from the same source: the Camellia sinensis plant.

The type of tea is a result of how the plant is processed — specifically, how heavily the leaves are oxidized. Oxidation is a process of chemical reactions that bring out flavor and brown the leaves.

Black tea, for example, is made from fully oxidized tea leaves, which is why it has a pronounced, deep flavor. Other teas — such as green, white, or oolong — are semi-oxidized or not oxidized at all, resulting in milder flavors.

Within these four general tea types, there are dozens of more specific varieties each with their own unique flavor profile. For example, Ceylon is a type of black tea grown in Sri Lanka and Sencha is a type of green tea from Japan. For more info of tea varieties, read our article on types of tea.

Technically speaking, any tea that doesn’t come from the Camellia sinensis plant isn’t a tea at all. It’s actually called a “tisane,” though most people refer to them as herbal teas.

These non-true teas are made from infusing roots, plants, fruits, flowers — you name it. The main difference is that herbal teas need to steep longer — 5 minutes or more — to extract optimal flavors. They’re also 100 percent caffeine-free.

For example, if you grate ginger into a tea bag and steep away. That’s a tea! (Find DIY tea recipes below.)

Sure, you can easily buy your favorite teas. But ever try making your own?

Crafting your own herbal tea is easy. Popular varieties include turmeric, ginger, lavender, and mint teas, but the options are endless.

Try your hand at some of our favorite recipes:

Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.