Tea is the second most popular drink in the world – in fact, it is second only to water. Some 25,000 cups of tea are consumed every second, which equates to 2.16 billion cups per day. Tea drinking is a 4000-year-old Chinese tradition, which is also how long the debate on brewing the perfect cup of tea has existed. So let’s put this millennia-old debate to bed once and for all – by asking: What does science say about it?

The Need for Scientific Research 

Lu Yu, dubbed the “Sage of Tea,” was the first to publish a book on the proper methods of making tea. He wrote a 10-chapter guide called “Cha Jing,” or “The Classic of Tea,” in the year 792. This book included tutorials on cultivation, preparation, and even enjoyment of tea. Brewing tea is as much an art as it is a science and there’s more to it than just adding tea leaves to boiling water.

To help put arguments and debates regarding the best way to brew tea to rest, scientists have long studied the best ways to make tea. However, as you might have already guessed, there is no simple answer. This is due to the fact that there are many different varieties of tea, which fall under five major categories: White, green, black, oolong, and pu-erh tea. There are also such factors as preference, culture, and traditions, which differ depending on the country. But in terms of a general guide that can cover most types of tea, experts have agreed on a few universal rules to keep in mind when brewing the perfect cuppa.

Tea being poured from a small perfect white teapot into a small white tea cup

Although tea is not generally recommended for children under 12 (due to the caffeine content), both kids and adults can learn a lot about brewing the perfect cup of tea at home from this scientific guide. In fact, tea making is one of the simplest ways to get kids interested in science since there are a lot of scientific factors involved, such as temperature, chemistry, and even the psychological effects of using the right color of cup. Here are the four golden rules for making the perfect cup of tea – and remember, they are scientifically proven!

Use Filtered Water

Whether you brew in a cup or pot, you must use filtered water. The hardness and softness of the water you use affect the taste of tea. Tap water can be too soft and lack minerals, which can make tea taste a bit soapy. If the water is too hard, tea can taste “chalky” due to calcium. Filtered water removes calcium and magnesium from water, and prevents the formation of the tea scum you find on the surface of tea if you use unfiltered water.

Drink Tea From a Ceramic Cup or Mug

Do not use styrofoam or plastic cups. Styrofoam, in particular, is porous and can absorb some of the flavor compounds. Plastic can also release chemicals into your tea, affecting its taste. Researchers have also noted that the color of the cup has a psychological effect on the perceived taste of tea. Those who use red or pink cups tend to rate the tea they’re drinking as tastier, while those who use white or blue mugs report tea as tasting less so.

Choose Loose Tea Leaves

Loose tea leaves are better because they are made of whole leaves. These leaves release more flavors and antioxidants into the water, whereas teabags contain small leaf pieces from tea, called dust or fannings. Teabags are also constricted, which means the tea’s ability to expand and release compounds is limited.

Steep Your Tea for Five Minutes

If you brew your tea for less than 2 minutes, that’s barely enough time for the compounds in the leaves to fully release. But if you brew your tea for more than 5 minutes, the tea will also be releasing tannins, which can add bitterness. At 5 minutes, remove your teabag, add milk if desired, and enjoy the eighth minute. During this time, the temperature of the tea drops to 60 degrees Celsius, which is the best temperature to experience all the flavors of the tea at its peak.

So much for the science. But we all know some people will still be unconvinced. Preference and habit will still play a major role in how people perceive the state of tea. Whether or not you add milk and sugar is certainly down to personal taste. However, if you really want to make the perfect cup of tea based on science, why don’t you give the above rules a try? You might just experience tea in a whole new light!

Photo “Tea pours into white tea cup” is under an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to the photographer Chi Chen and is being posted unaltered (source)