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Back in college I wan’t the most “sophisticated” person. I lived in a dorm that had a TV, two beds, my roommate’s giant hamster poster (that is a story within itself) and a microwave.

I also ate very basic foods and, by that, I mean I ate whatever was cheapest. So, like most college kids, I ate Ramen all the time. Each meal costs about $0.30 and it takes about 3 minutes to make. At the time it was a no brainer.

But when I look back, Ramen is pretty tricky when you don’t have a kettle or stove. At first I would just pour really hot water into the bowl and let it sit for about 10 minutes. I wan’t too bright back then so as you can imagine, this did not work at all. The noodles came out stiff as a board and quite disgusting.

The next time I made Ramen I popped the water and noodles in the microwave and let it cook for a few minutes. This worked like a charm. The reason it worked is the water actually boiled when I put it in the microwave. The problem I had with the hot water method was that the water needed to be boiling. It is the only way that the Ramen Noodles would actually cook.

Black tea is the same way. If you don’t use water that is hot enough, then you will never get it to taste right no matter how long you steep it for.

The flavors lie in flavanoids

Black tea has certain chemical compounds, or flavanoids, that green and white teas do not have. These compounds are not released unless the water temperature is near boiling.

It is these flavanoids that give black tea its unique flavor

Scientists actually made a black tea beverage in a lab without using any tea at all. They combined 15 amino acids, 14 flavonol-glycosides, 8 flavan-3-ols, 5 theaflavins, 5 organic acids, 3 sugars and caffeine in their “natural” concentrations.

And the chemical concoction actually tasted the same as regular black tea

A lot of those flavanoids that the chemists used to make the black tea cannot be extracted at temperatures below boiling. Similar to the Ramen, no matter what you do it will not taste right.

But why doesn’t green tea need boiling water?

That is a complicated question. However, in the most basic sense it is because green tea is not fermented as long as black tea. It is in this fermentation process that black tea produces these extra flavanoids that need the boiling water to extract.

Summary

While this has been a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo, the key to remember is that black tea will not taste right unless you use boiling water. While it won’t turn out crunchy and disgusting like undercooked Ramen, it will lack the flavor and astringency that make it such a great beverage.

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3 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Quite so, though I’ve found that some of the tippier, more delicate black teas do better at 208F rather than 212F.Green teas are a lot trickier, and boiling water can kill them. But some green teas can work with very hot (200F or so) water if they are steeped for a super-short period of time. I’ve been able to get some interesting flavors out of green teas using this method, though it doesn’t always work.

  2. That is a very good point about tippy teas at 208. I actually like my Darjeeling’s around 200F. I’ve actually never successfully tried to steep a green tea at boiling for a short amount of time. I need to try it now. How long do you steep the teas for?

  3. I don’t actually steep them at boiling, 195F-200F is more like it. I’d try an initial steep at 15 seconds. I advise using a basket infuser that can be removed quickly from the water.

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