Your guide to steeping tea

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Your guide to steeping tea

Stop dunking your teabag in a mug like a brute. Instead, embrace the current mindfulness trend and perform your own tea ceremony – proper pot and loose-leaf teas, mandatory

How to steep tea

Prevent a mouthful of tea leaves. The first prize? A glass infuser tea pot. A tea mesh ball is a close second. At a push, you can use a coffee plunger. Yes, really!

Left to right: glass infuser teapot; a tea mesh ball, and a coffee plunger.


The longest fermented of all true teas (see “Did you know”, below), black tea can vary in flavour from strong and earthy to light and fragrant.

How to infuse black tea: Infuse in 95°C water (the temperature drops about 5 degrees per minute after you’ve boiled the kettle) for 3 to 5 minutes.
Why? Fully oxidised, black tea leaves can be fermented for up to a week, says Mingwei Tsai, tea master at Nigiro in Cape Town. Given their robustness, their flavour survives boiling water, which is why it’s the preferred tea to use in masala chai.


This minimally fermented tea – named after the silvery white hairs on young tea leaves and buds – has a pleasant, mild flavour.

How to infuse white tea: Slightly less delicate than green tea, it should be steeped for about 2 to 3 minutes in 80°C water.
Why? White tea is made from the downy buds and newly unfurled leaves of the tea plant, which are immediately dried without any other processing, resulting in a similarly fragile tea that will scald and turn bitter when coming into contact with boiling water.


A traditional Chinese tea, oolong falls between lightly fermented green and fully fermented black tea. It has a pure, sweet, aromatic taste that lingers.

How to oolong tea: Allow the tea to infuse in 85°C water for 2 to 3 minutes.
Why? Oolong tea is semi-oxidised, meaning it’s fermented for between two and four days – midway between green and black tea. It’s also slightly hardier than green and white tea, which means it needs a longer steeping time.


Very lightly fermented, you want to emphasise this tea’s delicate, grassy notes, not obliterate them with scalding water. Boil the kettle, let the water cool for five minutes to 75°C, then steep the leaves for no longer than 2 minutes.

How to infuse green tea: Boil the kettle, let the water cool for five minutes to 75°C, then steep the leaves for no longer than 2 minutes.
Why? “Pouring boiling water on green tea will destroy its flavour,” says Mingwei. “In the East, serving green tea with boiling water is considered disrespectful.” This is because green tea leaves are picked at the youngest stage of the Camelia sinensis plant and experience minimal fermentation, if at all, so the leaves are extremely delicate.


“True tea” is an umbrella description for all teas derived from the Camellia sinensis leaf. Any other leaves, fruit, flowers or roots used to make a brew are classified as a herbal tea.

Have you ever cooked with tea? It’s a thing! Try one of these tea recipes now.

Annette Klinger Article by: Annette Klinger

Woolworths TASTE’s features writer maintains that almost any dish can be improved with butter and cream. She’s a stickler for comfort food, especially German treats that remind her of her late grandmother, such as pork schnitzel with sauerkraut and spätzlen. She is a voracious reader of food magazines and recipe books, and instinctively switches over to the cooking channel whenever she checks into a hotel or guesthouse.

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