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I make tea by submerging a tea-bag in a ceramic mug, covering the mug for about 5 minutes, and then removing the tea bag.

My question is: Is it advantageous to cover the mug during the steeping process, or should I leave the mug uncovered while it is steeping?

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5 minutes is way too long. Use more tea leaves if you have too, but after a minute or two you will get so much tannins out of the leave is will go bitter. Not many people like that bitter taste, hence the popularity of adding a splash of milk, as it reduces the bitterness –  TFD Feb 23 at 22:39
    
Can you clarify your question? Advantageous in what way? Flavor? Heat retention? Steeping time? –  wootcat Feb 24 at 1:11

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

This seems like a case where a very simple A/B comparison will give you the answer for your own personal preference. Just use two identical mugs and do everything else the same except cover one and not the other. If you really want to make it official, put a mark on the bottom of one mug and then have someone else randomize them while you look away. (p.s. not sure why this question is getting negative votes, it seems fine to me).

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I'm sure the downvotes are because this is a trick question, as there is no proper way to steep bag tea in any drinking or serving vessel. Fannings... blech!!! (BTdubs, my tongue's in my cheek here.) :-) –  Cold Oatmeal Jan 13 '11 at 21:43
    
It turns out there is really no difference for me. Thanks for the comments. –  caseyamcl Feb 24 at 15:09
    
Your randomized trial doesn't work. The uncovered mug will be cooler, so I'm pretty sure it'll be obvious which was which. –  David Richerby yesterday
    
@DavidRicherby I guess you are right in terms of knowing which is which, but if you are just trying to establish your own preference, temperature is part of that preference. –  Michael at Herbivoracious yesterday

Covering the mug may help insulate the tea/water, keeping it hotter. If you believe that a more consistent temperature produces a better cuppa, then covering would help (though how much is debatable). I'll leave it to someone else to provide arguments about the ideal steeping time and temperature.

Someone might also make a case that covering the mug keeps aromas trapped in too, but I doubt that does anything to improve the tea flavor, and your concentrated aromas are going to escape as soon as you take the cover off anyway.

So I'd say the insulation/heat conservation argument is where it's at.

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I've had tea cool off quickly enough for this to matter (camping, or when I'm trying not to turn on the heater in my apartment). Even if it steeps all right, it's no fun to have your tea cold before you can drink it all. –  Jefromi Jan 13 '11 at 22:19

Given that tea is 'properly' made in teapots, which always have lids that are put in place after the addition of water, I'd say you are wise to cover your mug. Insulation is probably the only advantage though, as bikeboy says.

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Tea is better brewed in a cup. Test it yourself. Heat loss and aeration from pouring from tea pot do not add to flavour. Use an insulated tea cup (like a travel mug) –  TFD Feb 23 at 22:35

I think this is purely one for personal preference. Try it and see.

If you have access to ISO (or I guess BSI or Indian national standards) there is an ISO standard for brewing tea for taste tests, which is moderately interesting.

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ISO standard is not for pleasure of drinking, just for taste comparison. Not recommended for actual use! –  TFD Feb 23 at 22:36
    
@TFD It's for use by merchants who are ultimately going to sell their goods to consumers who want to drink tea for pleasure. I see absolutely no reason why the industry would adopt and promote a standard which produces an experience substantially worse than methods used in the home. –  Marcin Feb 23 at 22:53

I had a very fussy colleague train me in making him tea in a mug. It takes nowhere near 5 minutes.

  • Put the teabag in the mug while the kettle is boiling
  • Use the hottest water you can; it should go into the mug immediately after boiling
  • Fill the mug almost to the brim; when you remove the teabag it will make room for milk
  • It doesn't take long to get the best of the flavour out. 20 seconds or so; long enough to get the milk from the fridge and find a teaspoon.
  • Fish the bag out with a teaspoon; maybe give it a squeeze against the inside wall of the mug
  • add sugar (if wanted) then milk (if wanted)

With this method, the tea is still piping hot when it's ready.

If you prefer tea that's been steeped for ages, of course I won't stop you :). Please don't do it if you're making tea for me though!

You would steep for longer in a teapot, but that's because one normal teabag is enough for at least two mugs of tea -- unless you've bought special one-cup teabags, such as you get in hotel rooms.

This applies to ordinary tea and Earl Grey -- things could be different for fruit teas and green tea.

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Not all teas should be brewed near boiling -- black tea, yes, but it's too hot for oolong, white or green teas . (although, white or green teas in tea bags? there's something even more wrong with that) –  Joe Jan 14 '11 at 13:04
    
You should never brew anything at above 95°C –  TFD Feb 23 at 22:37
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Why not? The rooibos tea I have here says to brew it with still boiling water. It also has to brew for 5 to 6 minutes. Black, green, white, yellow or oolong tea is not all there is to the tea world :) –  Anpan Feb 24 at 16:44

I think covering it only keeps it a little warmer and does nothing to change the flavor (that I've noticed), but in regards to the above comment about using boiling water to make your tea, I must, wholeheartedly, disagree. Black Tea should be brewed at 200°F and Green Tea at anywhere from 170°F-180°F (Although I prefer it at 190°F). I don't know of any tea that should be boiled unless you prefer your tea quite bitter.

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You should never brew anything at above 95°C –  TFD Feb 23 at 22:36

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