By Julia Millay Walsh
Updated December 01, 2014
Credit: © Amy Neunsinger

Messing up a cup of tea is nearly impossible—after all, it’s just dried leaves and water—but most people don’t realize how much better a cup of tea can really be if they add a pinch of thought. David Barenholtz, CEO of tea emporium American Tea Room, shares five essential elements to the perfect cup of tea. Follow these guidelines and prepare to have your mind blown.

1. The Water

“Tea is really only two ingredients—tea and water—so it’s best to start with fresh spring water. If that is not readily available, simple filtered water will suffice.”

2. The Tea

“Loose tea is always best. It allows you to both control the amount and see the quality.”

American Tea Room Earl Grey Lavender Organic Tea ($22)

3. The Amount

“With loose tea, you can control the amount of tea to make sure your brew is perfect. Green teas use less—about a level teaspoon per six ounces of water. Black tea, herbal and oolongs use more—a rounded or heaping teaspoon per six ounces of water. And yes, a cup of tea is six ounces. If your mug is larger, adjust the amount accordingly.”

Yoshio Tsujii Copper Tea Strainer ($66)

4. The Temperature

“Each tea should have a specific temperature and time of infusion, just like any other prepared food item. Green tea needs less heat, around 160° to 175°F. Black tea needs more, around 190° to 200°F, as do herbal teas and white teas. Oolongs can range. Make sure to use the temperature specific to your type of tea, otherwise the taste may be too weak or too strong, or even worse, bitter.”

I Screen You Screen Betsy Tea Towel ($18)

5. The Time

“Each tea should also have a set time to infuse: It can be anywhere from one minute to six or seven minutes. Make sure you do not over-steep or your tea can become bitter or too strong. Be sure to see if your package contains these vital details. Never extend the time to steep your tea; if you want your tea stronger or lighter, just use more or less.”

Heath Ceramics Large Modern Cup ($22)