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  • Writer's pictureTea Para Ti

Should You Add Water or Tea First? It Depends.

Pouring tea from a stainless steel kettle into a mug, then adding the tea

We all have our own preferences when it comes to brewing tea: some people like to pour the hot water first, then add the tea bag, while others do the opposite: adding the teabag to the mug first, then pouring the hot water over it. If you're a regular tea drinker, this is likely something you do automatically, and would probably find it hard to change your routine. Unless, of course, you're a tea expert, in which you may change the order depending on what the tea type calls for.

So, let's answer the question once and for all: should you put the water in first and then add the tea bag, or add the tea bag first and then pour in the water? And, is there really a major difference that it would be worth changing your own method of tea brewing?

Let's find out!

The Science of Tea Brewing

Adding pre-brewed tea into two glass mugs on a table

Brewing the perfect cup of tea is not just about following a set of rules; it's also about understanding the scientific principles that underlie the process. Sure, brewing tea is an art, but it's also a science.

Whether it's black, green, herbal, or any other variety, is a complex beverage with a myriad of chemical compounds that contribute to its flavor, aroma, overall quality, as well as the unique benefits you can get from the tea. When you're deciding whether to add water or tea first, you're essentially engaging with the intricate chemistry of tea brewing.

Method 1: Water First, Then Tea

The traditional method of adding hot water to your teapot or cup before placing the tea bag in is a practice favored by many. Here's why:

  • Even temperature distribution: Adding hot water first ensures that the temperature of the water is consistent throughout the brewing process. This allows for a more uniform extraction of flavor from the tea leaves.

  • Prevents oversteeping: Placing the tea bag in hot water immediately can lead to oversteeping, resulting in a bitter and astringent brew. By adding water first, you have better control over the steeping time.

  • Preserves fragrance: Adding water first allows the aroma of the tea to bloom gradually, creating a more aromatic and pleasant experience.

Method 2: Tea First, Then Water

On the other hand, some tea drinkers prefer to add the tea bag to the cup before pouring hot water. Here are the reasons behind this approach:

  • Quick steep: Placing the tea bag in the cup first allows you the tea to start steeping right away. For those who don't like it oversteeped or like to remove the tea bag from their mug as quickly as possible, adding the tea bag first might make this a bit of a quicker recipe.

  • Direct flavor infusion: Similar to what's mentioned above, a tea bag can begin infusing flavor immediately when placed in the cup. This can result in a slightly different taste profile, with some finding it more preferable to the palate.

  • Convenience: For some, adding the tea bag first is just more convenient. And, for people with shaky hands or a clumsy trait, putting the tea bag first may help prevent a burn!

The Correct Order for Different Tea Types

A glass tea kettle next to a ceramic cup filled with tea leaves to showcase water or tea first, different methods for brewing tea

A lot of choosing whether or not to put the tea first or water first depends on preference, but in reality, the way it should be done is dictated by the type of tea you're brewing, as well as whether or not the tea is a tea bag or looseleaf tea. It also depends on the types of tea tools you're using as well as anything else you may be adding tea to spruce it up.

Check out this brief guide about different teas to know which order is best.

Matcha Tea: Water First

Matcha tea is a unique and vibrant green tea that's traditionally prepared by adding hot water first. This approach ensures that the hot water evenly mixes with the finely ground matcha powder. It prevents clumps from forming and allows for a smoother, frothy consistency. This method is necessary if you want to achieve the characteristic creamy texture and intense umami flavor of matcha.

Green Tea: Tea First

When it comes to traditional green teas like Sencha or Gyokuro, it's recommended to add the tea leaves first and then gently pour hot water onto them. This method is favored because it helps preserve the delicate flavors and aroma of the tea. By adding the leaves first, you can control the infusion process, allowing the tea to unfurl gradually and release its nuanced flavors.

Herbal Tea: Tea First

Herbal teas, such as chamomile, lavender, or herbal tea blends, often contain larger, loose ingredients like flower petals, leaves, or other botanicals. In this case, adding the tea to the cup first is advantageous. It ensures that these ingredients have enough room to expand and fully infuse the water, resulting in a more flavorful and aromatic brew. Adding hot water afterward allows for an effective extraction of the herbal essence.

Black Tea: Water First

For black teas, such as English Breakfast or Earl Grey, it's generally recommended to pour hot water into the teapot or cup before adding the tea. This approach helps in preventing oversteeping, which can lead to a bitter and astringent taste, which black tea already has to some extent. By controlling the water temperature and steeping time, you can enjoy the robust and malty flavors of black tea without the risk of bitterness.

Oolong Tea: Water First

Similar to black tea, oolong tea benefits from adding hot water first. This practice allows for better control over the steeping time and flavor extraction. Oolong teas vary widely in flavor, and this method ensures that you can tailor the infusion to your taste, whether you prefer a more delicate or robust oolong taste.

Water or Tea First? Questions to Consider

A glass tea kettle with many different ingredients including cherries, being poured into a mug

Should You Add the Water or Tea First Method With an Infuser?

Adding the water first ensures that the temperature is optimal for extracting the essence of the tea or herbs, leading to a more satisfying and nuanced flavor profile in your brewed tea. In order to achieve the best infusion, it's generally recommended to add water first when using an infuser for making tea. Starting with hot water in your cup or teapot helps create an ideal environment for extracting flavors from the tea leaves or herbs.

Once the water is at the desired temperature, place the tea leaves or herbs into the infuser and then submerge it into the hot water. This allows the flavors to infuse gradually as the tea brews, resulting in a well-balanced and flavorful cup of tea.

Adding the water first ensures that the temperature is optimal for extracting the essence of the tea or herbs, leading to a more satisfying and nuanced flavor profile in your brewed tea.

What About Spices and Sweeteners?

When it comes to certain tea recipes calling for spices and sweeteners, it might seem unrelated to the tea-making process. But truthfully, it's tied to how you start brewing the tea initially—whether you add water or tea first.

Typically, the sequence involves adding these ingredients to the infuser, which as we know from the question above, means this is the water-first method.

After loading the infuser with herbs, spices, and any solid sweeteners like sugar cubes or cinnamon sticks. Then, submerge it into the hot water, letting the flavors slowly infuse. After the tea has steeped sufficiently, remove the infuser holding the herbs and spices. Then, adjust the sweetness by adding liquid sweeteners like honey directly into the brewed tea.

Can You Boil Water On the Stove With Tea Already Added?

It's generally recommended not to boil tea leaves or tea bags directly in water on the stove. Boiling tea leaves for an extended period or at high temperatures can result in a bitter and over-extracted taste.

For the best flavor and quality in your tea, it's advisable to heat the water separately and then pour it over the tea leaves or tea bags. This allows the water to reach the ideal temperature for brewing without causing the tea to become too bitter or astringent.

Boiling water separately and then steeping the tea in the hot water—either in a cup or teapot—is the way to go. By doing it this way, you're allowing the tea leaves or bags to infuse properly and release their flavors without being exposed to excessively high temperatures for an extended time.

The Verdict: Will You Choose Water or Tea First?

A glass mug kettle with infuser for green tea

When it comes to using tea bags, the choice of whether to put water in first or add the tea bag first comes down to personal preference. Both methods can yield a delicious cup of tea, but they may produce slightly different flavor profiles and strengths.

But, for certain tea types, looseleaf teas, herbal teas, or more complex recipes, it may be worth using the recommended method in order to get the best brew possible.

What will you pick?

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