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There are a few reasons why you would want your tea to be stronger. Maybe the taste is just too faint for you to properly enjoy the tea? Or you simply need more caffeine out of the cup of tea you drink in the morning.
Either way, there are a few principles, tips and tricks you can apply to your tea making to get stronger tea. The goal of this post is to give you a much better understanding of how the strength of your tea is influenced by various factors.
SHORT ANSWER – How You Should Be Making A Strong Cup Of Tea
Strong tea can be achieved by increasing the amount of tea leaves, increasing the temperature or increasing the steeping time. There are downsides to the changed brewing parameters that include bitterness primarily. Highly oxidized and roasted teas are most suitable for strong tea.
This answer is not at all specific and does not help to understand the impact of each change you could make. The following steps will help you understand exactly what you can do to yield yourself a strong cup of tea that actually tastes good.
The most important utensil to make strong tea is a teapot (or mug) with thick walls. Such brewing vessels retain heat much better and can be found in various forms and colors on amazon:
1. Choosing The Right Type Of Tea
If you desire a strong cup of tea, you should avoid green tea. Green tea tends to get bitter with high temperatures, long steeping times and with high amounts of leaves.
Teas that are suitable for strong tea are determined by the likeliness to get bitter. Black tea, white tea, and cooked Pu Erh tea are good options. For white tea, silver needle would be least bitter.
Generally, the best option for a strong and intense tea is highly oxidized and roasted oolong tea. The roasting process is what yields a tea that does not get bitter as quickly. All roasted oolong teas can work for strong tea, just as roasted black teas will work.
Lighter and greener oolong teas normally do not get bitter, but will not yield the intense flavors that you may desire. Darker and heavily roasted oolong teas will rarely get bitter at all and are best suited for any experiments with harsh brewing techniques.
2. There Is An Upper Limit For The Strength Of Tea
No matter what type of tea you choose, you need to keep in mind that there is an upper limit to the strength of the resulting tea. The water you use can only have a limited amount of flavor compounds and caffeine dissolved into it.
Once the maximum capacity is reached, nothing further will dissolve into your tea. It does not matter how long you wait for that to happen. The tea will simply be unable to become stronger.
3. High Water Temperature Can Cause Bitterness
There is one way to increase the amount of flavor and caffeine that the water can dissolve. With higher water temperatures, the solubility of compounds will rise.
This means that boiling water will be able to make much stronger tea when compared to cold brew. There is a reason not to use high-temperature water to make most teas, though.
Green tea, yellow tea, white tea, raw Pu Erh tea, some black teas, and less roasted oolong teas can get bitter with higher water temperatures.
To find out whether your tea will get bitter, just try oversteeping the tea with boiling water and have a quick taste. If the infusion is very bitter, you will most likely not be able to get a good strong tea out of that specific tea.
If you want your tea to have a maximum of caffeine, this might not be bad though. Caffeine has a bitter taste and can be very unpleasant in high concentrations. If you want more caffeine, you will need to live with bitterness to some extent.
4. Avoid Cooling Water When Brewing Strong Tea
So higher water temperatures allow for more flavor to be dissolved and cooler water yields less intense tea. Once you have chosen a good type of tea to use and poured boiling water on it, what more do you need to keep in mind?
The water temperature will fall over time. Depending on the teapot, cup or other brewing vessels you use, this may happen quickly. Generally, you would want thick walls for your teapot to make stronger tea.
Porcelain, glass and thin ceramics do not hold the heat for long enough. You want the temperature to be high and somewhat constant at that level. If the water cools off, the maximum flavor and caffeine you get in your tea will be lower.
The best materials to use here would be thick ceramics, clay teapots or an iron teapot with thick walls. Additionally, the rounder and larger your teapot is, the slower will it be to lose heat.
Essentially, the factors that are important for the choice here are the surface area compared to the volume. More volume per surface are is what you want for good heat retention.
The other factor is the wall thickness. Clay and ceramics contain many small air bubbles and insulate the tea and allow it to keep the heat. Glass and porcelain are not good insulators and also normally thinner.
5. Longer Steeping Time Without Bitterness
The first thing you would naturally try to get strong tea is to extend the steeping time. Leaving the tea for five minutes, ten minutes or even half an hour will yield a tea that is most likely bitter, but not pleasant.
Bitterness will be inevitable with these long steeping times if you do not choose a type of tea as explained earlier. You would be best off with a well roasted and highly oxidized oolong or black tea for this.
To look at this another way, consider which teas you would use to make cold brew tea. Cold brewing tea requires the tea to not get bitter and does naturally work for the making of strong tea, too.
6. Strong Tea By Doubling The Amount Of Leaves
The most important favor to the intensity of your tea is the amount of tea leaves you use. If you have tried Gong Fu Cha, the traditional Chinese way of making tea, you have worked with high leaf-to-water ratios.
Adding more tea leaves to the water will allow for more flavor to dissolve into the water. More importantly, the increased amount of leaves will speed up this process significantly.
While bitter compounds can be quite slow to dissolve, most flavor compounds that are desired in tea are not. By choosing to use more tea leaves, you can avoid bitter tea while extracting the most possible flavor.
The same applies if you want to know how to make strong tea with teabags. Adding one or two additional teabags will allow for more flavor to dissolve in less time.
Just remember that you need to lower the time you let your tea steep with high leaf-to-water ratios. If you put 5 teaspoons of tea leaves into a cup of hot water for 5 minutes, you will not enjoy the tea. At all.
I highly recommend trying a method close to the traditional Chinese tea ceremony if you want to get a strong cup of tea. No other tea making process will give you more control over the brewing parameters and the resulting tea strength.
7. Whole Leaf Tea Will Not Get Bitter As Quickly
By choosing loose leaf with intact leaves, the bitter compounds will not be able to dissolve into the water as quickly. Bitter compounds need time and higher water temperatures to dissolve.
When bitter compounds are trapped inside whole tea leaves, they will take much longer time to dissolve into the water. For this reason, whole loose leaf tea will yield less bitter tea.
You will still be able to get a flavorful and strong cup of tea if you adjust the temperature and steeping time accordingly.
8. Strong Herbal Teas Are Much More Forgiving
Most herbal teas do not contain near as many bitter compounds as tea does. If you want to make an extremely strong brew and are not dead-set on Camellia Sinensis (the plant tea is made from), you could make a strong herbal tea.
Herbal tea generally does not contain caffeine. With some herbal teas produced in the same factories as regular tea, minimal amounts of caffeine may get into the herbal tea, though.
If you are looking for a strong dose of caffeine, herbal tea is not the right choice for you. But for a strong taste, herbal teas do have the advantage of being much more forgiving than any tea could ever be. This all comes down to taste preference and what you are looking for, really.
9. Do Not Add Milk Or Sugar Before Brewing The Tea
If you add additives to the water, you will already have some compounds dissolved. Milk contains many compounds that will directly compete with the flavor compounds and the caffeine that you want to extract from the tea.
If you want your tea to turn out the strongest, you need to add milk and sugar after you have finished the brewing completely and removed the leaves. It is possible that your tea becomes opaque because the water could not hold all compounds while the temperature fell.
If you are interested in trying something completely different, you can try to brew your tea without water by using milk only. This does not yield the strongest tea possible, but I have gotten pretty good results that I shared in this post here.
10. Do Not Let The Tea Just Sit In The Water
While the tea is steeping, the concentrations of flavor and caffeine will be much higher close to the tea leaves, but far lower further out in the water. This is something that slows the steeping process and will yield a weaker tea.
If you want strong tea and you want to make it quickly, you should stir your tea in some form. By stirring the tea while brewing, you will have fresh water reaching the tea leaves to extract more flavor.
With the tea leaves, strainer or tea bag sitting completely still in the water, the steeping time needs to be increased. This will then again be more likely to yield a bitter tea.
Do not rely on the diffusion of the flavor from the water at the tea leaves out to the walls of your teapot. You do not need to stir the tea vigorously while brewing, but you need to keep the water in motion from the start.
11. Maximum Exposure Of Tea To Water
This trick involves more of the same arguments that the last one did. You need to expose the tea leaves to the water and ideally to the water with the lowest flavor and caffeine concentration.
tea strainers and teapots that have very small slits between the majority of the water and the tea leaves will allow only for slow infusions. The water will not have much space to move and as a byproduct take much longer to extract the maximum amount of flavor.
You want to use tea strainers with as many holes as possible. Teapots that allow for straining while pouring are perfect. This type of teapot does allow for a maximum of water movement and exposure of the tea leaves to the hot water.
For quick and strong infusions, the material of a tea bag is fine, too. With tea bags, you will need to regularly move the tea bag up and down, though. The water can not move as easily into and out of the bag as one might think.
You will have noticed the darker color of the water coming out of a tea bag when you squeeze it after the infusion, right? This is due to the water not moving freely and quickly through the bag material.
12. Broken Tea Leaves Yield Stronger Flavor
Broken tea leaves have a natural advantage over whole tea leaves when considering the speed of the infusion. Broken tea leaves have much more surface area than whole leaf tea has.
This is why most tea bags contain broken tea leaves that are specifically made with crush-tear-curl (CTC) methods to yield these smaller pieces. With the higher surface area, the tea will infuse faster and the manufacturer needs to put less tea leaves into each bag.
Traditional English tea blends such as English Breakfast and Earl Grey are commonly sold as broken tea leaves. There is a major downside to the broken tea leaves, though.
Broken tea leaves allow for the bitter compounds such as catechins, tannins, polyphenols, and caffeine to dissolve into the water much faster. These can easily ruin your tea if you want a strong one.
I do not recommend using broken tea leaves for the making of a strong cup of tea. The outcome is always better with whole leaf tea and properly adjusted brewing parameters. Choose a highly oxidized and well-roasted oolong tea and experiment a bit.
13. Strong Tea By Reduction
This method does require a whole lot of effort compared to anything else you might have tried. If you remove some water from the finished tea, the tea will naturally be stronger. For this to work, you need to place the tea on low heat for quite some time.
I have tested this in a frying pan on low heat and the tea was much stronger at first and then slowly turned into sirup before it got solid. This remaining is sometimes sold as instant tea in China and can be redissolved in water!
14. Why Your Should Not Steep Your Tea Overnight
Tea that has been left to steep overnight will be the strongest it can be. After this much time, no more flavor will be able to dissolve into the water and the tea will be unable to be any stronger.
But keep in mind that the temperature will have dropped to room temperature after a few hours, which will essentially get you a weaker tea anyway.
Furthermore, there are some risks to drinking tea that has been left out overnight. If you want to read more about the hazards involved with day-old tea, you can have a look at my post on day-old tea.
15. Remember The Equilibrium Between Tea And Leaves
After all these tips and tricks you need to remember that there is a maximum for how strong your tea can get. There is an equilibrium between the concentrations of compounds in the tea leaves and the flavor and caffeine already in the water.
You may dissolve a bit more with higher water temperatures and higher amounts of tea leaves, but in the end, there will always be that maximum concentration of the flavor compounds you can extract.
There’s a lot more to learn about tea! If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. You can check its current price on Amazon here.