The Dos And Don’ts Of Drinking Tea

By Melanie Lee - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Even though tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world, there is still much to know when it comes to drinking the brew right.


We approached two Chinese tea experts – Ms Beljean Ong, who has been running tea classes at her 10-year-old Time of Tea shop, and Mr Derek Chew, an avid tea enthusiast who runs an online tea business, Peony Tea Solutions – and asked their advice on the best way to drink tea.


We also invited Mr Clement Ng, a Chinese physician and Vice Principal of the Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, to share his views.


The art of drinking tea




Drink tea when it’s warm.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles, tea is a ‘cooling’ drink, and should not be drunk when it’s cool or iced. “Too many ‘cooling’ liquids affect digestion,” says Ms Ong. Mr Ng agrees and adds that the stomach needs to be “kept warm” so that it is able to digest food properly.


Rinse your teapot and teacup with hot water before brewing your tea.
This simple procedure helps to disinfect your tea utensils and also keeps the temperature of the brew constant, which in turn helps to retain the tea’s flavour.


Store tea in opaque and airtight containers
Sunlight oxidises the tea and it loses its original flavour, while moisture causes mould to grow. This is especially true in Singapore’s climate which is prone to high humility levels and strong sunlight.


Try premium quality, whole leaf teas, un-blended and without added flavours.
While flavoured or blended teas are all the rage now, the true tea aficionado appreciates the tea’s natural taste and aroma. “You would be surprised at the variety of tastes available, and if you’ve got a good tea, you’ll be amazed by the depth of flavour. You won’t even need to add sugar or milk,” Ms Ong says.


Be adventurous with your tea.
Even if you’ve had a bad experience with a particular type of tea, don’t be too quick to rule it out. “For example, there are many grades of Tie Guan Yin (Oolong tea from Fujian, China) and just because you might have tried a mediocre one, it doesn’t mean that every variety of Tie Guan Yin tea is not to your liking,” Derek advises.




Burn your tea.
While tea should be drunk hot, it is possible to end up with a bitter brew by boiling your tea at too high of a temperature. Generally, the lighter types of tea, such as white or green, should be brewed at no higher than 70-80 °C. These teas burn more easily because they are less processed. More processed varieties like Oolong or black tea, can be brewed at a high 95°C, close to the temperature of boiling water.


Steep tea leaves for too long.
The process of steeping refers to soaking the tea leaves in hot water to release its flavour and nutrients but it is possible to steep tea leaves for too long. “At the end of the day, you must remember that tea comes from a plant, and when you are steeping tea leaves in hot water, you are ‘cooking’ them. To get the best flavour and nutrients out of your tea, it cannot be ‘overcooked’!” Ms Ong says, adding that over steeping can lead to a more bitter-tasting tea.


A general guideline to the steeping times for various teas:


Tea Type Steeping Time
White tea 1-3 mins
Green tea 2-3 mins
Oolong 3-5 mins
Black tea 3-5 mins


Re-boil water.
This may cause your tea to taste flat. “When you re-boil water, you are removing oxygen inside the water, which actually helps to release the full flavour of the tea,” Mr Chew explains.


Handle tea leaves with your bare hands.
“Your hands emit grease that affects the taste of the tea and how well it stores in the long run. Always use a spoon,” says Mr Chew.


Drink Too Much Tea
Though news reports tout the health benefits of tea because it aids in lowering bad cholesterol, reducing stress levels and improving fat metabolism, TCM experts like Mr Ng recommend moderation because of teas’ inherent ‘cooling’ properties, especially for people with stomach ulcers or who have a weak constitution. “Everyone’s tea threshold is subjective, so just listen to your body. If you are getting bad insomnia from drinking tea or you’re a lady and are experiencing painful period cramps, then you might consider limiting your tea intake,” he says.