Holiday tea parties are nothing short of magical! Tea parties are near and dear to me because they feel like such an elegant occasion, but they are fairly simple to prepare. The china, place settings, and sweet and savory finger foods are all key elements, but a tea party is only as good as the quality of tea served! And I don’t mean the price of the tea you are serving, but the way it is prepared. TeaTime magazine included a tea-steeping guide in their latest special issue, and it is a tried-and-true how-to that I stick to every time I prepare tea. I wanted to share it with you all today along with some beautiful and inspiring images from this issue!
Always use the best water possible. If the water tastes good, so will your tea. If that is not the case, then bottled spring water is a nice alternative. Heat the water on the stove top or in an electric kettle to the desired temperature. A microwave oven is not recommended.
Heating the water to the correct temperature is arguably one of the most important factors in making a great pot of tea. Pouring boiling water on green, white, and oolong tea leaves can result in a very unpleasant brew. In general, use 170° to 195° water for these delicate tea types, and always refer to the tea purveyor’s packaging for specific instructions. Reserve boiling (212°) water for black and pu-erh teas, as well as herbal and fruit tisanes.
If the teapot you plan to use is delicate, warm it with hot tap water first to avert possible cracking. Discard this water before adding the tea leaves or tea bags.
Use the highest-quality tea you can afford, whether loose leaf or prepackaged in bags or sachets. Remember that these better teas can often be steeped more than once. When using loose-leaf tea, generally use 1 teaspoon of dry leaf per 8 ounces of water, and use an infuser basket. For a stronger infusion, add another teaspoonful or two of dry tea leaf.
As soon as the water reaches the correct temperature for the type of tea, pour it over the leaves or tea bag in the teapot, and cover the pot with a lid. Set a timer—usually 1 to 2 minutes for whites and oolongs; 2 to 3 minutes for greens; and 3 to 5 minutes for blacks, pu-erhs, and herbals. (Steeping tea longer than recommended can yield a bitter infusion.) When the timer goes off, remove the infuser basket or the tea bags from the teapot.
For best flavor, serve the tea as soon as possible. Keep the beverage warm atop a lighted warmer or under your favorite tea cozy if necessary.