How To Make Tea Taste Better Without Sweetening It

I'm a huge tea lover, but I'll be the first to admit that not everyone likes tea.  A number of people want to become tea drinkers for reasons of health, but express to me that they can't seem to appreciate its taste.  Tea often naturally has a bitter taste, but there are a few simple things you can do to minimize the unpleasant qualities in a cup of tea, and increase your enjoyment.

In this article I will identify three ways you can make tea taste better: proper brewing, the selection of high-quality tea, and training yourself to become accustomed to its taste.

Proper Brewing: Steeping Time and Temperature Influences Taste

Even high-quality teas can taste outright bad if they are improperly brewed.  Brewing tea is not just as simple as pouring water over a tea bag.  Most teas will taste overly bitter and astringent (that puckery, dry feeling in your mouth that can be quite unpleasant) if they are allowed to steep too long.  The ideal steeping length varies hugely from one tea to the next, and is a matter of personal taste, but I like to use the guideline of 3 minutes for a typical black tea.

Some finely-broken teas (like what is inside most cheaper tea bags) actually taste better with even briefer steepings, as short as 1 minute, whereas whole-leaf teas, especially high-quality ones, may work well with longer steepings, like 5 minutes or more.

The steeping temperature is also important.  Many green teas taste quite foul if brewed with water that is too hot, but on the other hand, black teas often taste best when the water is as close to the boiling point as possible.  The British often warm up the teapot or mug before steeping the tea for this reason.  If your black tea is bland, or if your green tea is too bitter or sour, you would do well to check the temperature.  Let the water cool down a bit after boiling it before steeping green tea, and make sure it's as hot as possible for black.

Selecting High-quality Tea to Begin With

You can get better at brewing tea, but if you're drinking low-quality tea, it is stil going to taste pretty bad.  If you don't like a specific type of tea, you will do well to explore different brands of tea, or different offerings from those brands or companies.  If you limit yourself to the brands of tea available in a typical supermarket, you will not have access to the highest-quality premium teas.

The best teas are often available only in loose-leaf form.  In general, the highest-quality tea that you can buy will tend to be of a named variety or grade (grade is only used for black teas, labels like "orange pekoe" or "TGFOP"), and from a specific region.  Low-quality tea is usually not identified as a specific type, only as a broad category like black tea or green tea, and is typically not identified by region either as it is often a blend of teas produced in different regions.

Training Yourself to Become Accustomed to the Taste of Tea

If you are just starting to drink tea, and you want to develop an appreciation of it, one of the most important tips I can offer is to not expect yourself to instantly like tea.  Tea is naturally bitter, and the human body has a natural aversion to bitter tastes--and for good reason: in nature, most bitter things are poisonous.  But the body also has an innate mechanism to develop a liking for new tastes: as we try a little bit of a new food or drink, if we feel well after drinking it, we will gradually start to like it more and more.

Treating tea like this can allow you to develop an appreciation for it.  It is important to drink the tea unsweetened and without milk if you want to develop a liking for tea without milk or sugar.  Whenever someone has unsweetened tea, ask them if you can try a sip of it.  Pay attention to how it tastes, even if you don't like it.  Try brewing yourself a small cup of tea and sipping it...but don't expect yourself to like it or drink a whole cup.  You may find that over weeks or months, as you expose yourself to tea, you'll develop a liking of it.

Final Tips

Developing an appreciation for drinking unsweetened tea can take a bit of effort, but is worth it.  Unsweetened tea is refreshing, and you can drink as much of it as you want.  The biggest piece of advice I'd offer, besides the points above, is to experiment.  You can also find further information about tea, and specific tea reviews at RateTea, a site I am editor of.


over 9 years ago

Tea might be an acquired taste, but then all the best tastes are. Not just food and drink, but music, and many if not all other arts - the things you spend the effort to appreciate you seem to develop the strongest bond with.

I drink a lot of tea, admittedly I'm no connoisseur, and I'm not quite on the level of Tony Ben as far as quantity goes, but I do love a good cuppa.

Personally I'm happy with a good cup of Yorkshire Tea, but after reading this, I wonder if you'd turn your nose up at that? What is your favourite tea?

over 9 years ago

I have this super fancy tea making set (electronic), and I still don't drink enough tea. However, that will change as I'm doing intermittent fasting and have heard that Green Tea is great during the fasting part of it.

Great article, Alex!

over 9 years ago

I definitely agree that acquired tastes happen in nearly all aspects of life. There are so many things that I'm really into now, whether hobbies, foods, music, and the like, that it took me some time to develop an appreciation of.

I actually think Yorkshire Tea is pretty good stuff, especially when it's fresh and you brew it the way you like it best.

It's really hard for me to pick a favorite tea, but I do have a favorite tea garden: Makaibari Estate in Darjeeling, which incidentally, sells direct, but I usually get it through any number of other companies. But I love a wide variety of Chinese green teas, and oolongs from China and Taiwan as well.

If you're interested in getting into green tea for health or medicinal purposes, one tip I'd have is to stay away from the companies that sell it primarily as a health product. I have been drinking some green teas from TeaVivre, direct shipped from China, that are fantastic. I also bought some very good green teas in Chinatown, from Foojoy and Starway brands, and I also have been sampling some green teas from Arbor Teas that I like very much, although I like some of them better than others.

One thing I love about tea is how diverse it is...there are teas for people with really different tastes; it can take some time though to figure out what you enjoy most and then to locate the stuff you like! I'm a huge fan of companies that sell small samples, for this reason!

over 9 years ago

Thanks for the recommendation Alex, I will check that out.

I actually live in Japan where green tea is obviously abundant, but I don't drink enough (apart from cold green tea from vending machines, which are also in abundance here...).

Anyway, thanks for the article, it's actually given me a bit of inspiration to try out some different things.

about 9 years ago

It was an excellent piece of writing, seems very useful to me. I am a Teacoholic. However I think the best idea would be to stick with green tea, that will give you some additional lifespan.

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