Why Does My Tea Taste Bitter? Here’s How to Fix It

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Introduction: Why Does My Tea Taste Bitter?

Tea, when brewed correctly, should be smooth and delightful to the tastebuds. If you find that your tea tastes bitter, more than likely it is related to an error in your brewing method. The good news is that these problems are simple to correct. There are several factors to consider if you are wondering, “why does my tea taste bitter?” We will discuss them in detail in this post.

Tea Culture and Health Benefits

Tea is one of the oldest documented beverages that is consumed globally. This popular beverage is rooted in cultural practices, religion, and is often associated with slowing down and enjoying the finer moments in life. Tea is often illustrated as a beverage of choice for entertaining guests, enjoying a good conversation with a friend, getting in touch with nature, healing, and relaxing with a good book. Tea also has several health benefits, including cancer prevention, reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

What Does Tea Taste Like?

First, Let’s discuss what the different types of tea taste like. There are four main types of tea: white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and black tea. Each of these tea varieties comes from the leaves of the tea plant, also known as camellia sinensis. Although each variety comes from the same plant, they differ in the way that they are processed. 

Green and white teas are allowed very minimal oxidation and fermentation, which preserves their natural flavors. Green tea taste can be described as grassy, bright, and delicate. White tea is similarly delicate but has less of a grassy taste and slightly more fruity and floral. 

In contrast, oolong tea and black tea are more fermented and take on stronger flavors. These teas have a deep flavor profile that takes on more rich and earthy flavors like leather and chocolate. Because of these strong flavors, black and oolong teas pair well with milk.  

There is a glass mug containing black tea with milk. In the background there is a small jar with loose leaf tea, a sugar jar, and a green plant.

What Causes Bitterness in Tea?

All tea has the potential to take on a bitter taste due to certain chemical compounds present in the tea plant. However, tea should not taste excessively bitter. The main reason a cup of tea tastes bitter is due to improper brewing. 

Although there have been several chemicals, incuding caffeine, identified by researchers that contribute to bitterness in tea, catechins are the primary culprit. Certain brewing conditions increase the release of these compounds.  

Steep Time

The most likely reason for bitter tea is that the tea was steeped for too long. It is common practice for tea drinkers to leave a tea bag in the cup for the entire time that they drink their tea, but this is a huge mistake. Herbal teas tend to be more forgiving if you leave the tea bag in, but you cannot do this with any true teas (black, oolong, green, or white tea). 

There are very few teas that should be steeped beyond 5 minutes. If you are brewing a cup of tea, make sure to set a timer so you don’t forget to remove the tea bag. Once that 5 minutes is up, remove the tea bag and prepare your tea to your liking. You will notice a huge difference if you follow this one rule of brewing tea. 

Type of Water

Research has shown that the type of water used to brew tea can have a noticeable impact on the taste and quality of tea. Water that contains higher amounts of minerals, such as mineral water, increases the extraction of catechins from tea. This results in tea that has a more bitter and astringent taste. Therefore, the best water for brewing tea should have a low mineral content. The mineral content of tap water varies regionally but if you desire, you can use filtered water, which can remove some of the minerals from tap water. 

Water Temperature

The water temperature at which you brew your tea is hugely important to prevent it from developing a bitter flavor. This is especially important for green and white tea. Many people just boil water and steep any type of tea in this ultra hot water. Unfortunately, if you are using a more delicate tea such as green or white tea, you will end up with a cup that doesn’t taste very good. Certain teas, such as black tea and oolong tea typically require boiling water, but green and white tea need to be steeped at lower temperatures. If you steep these delicate teas with boiling water, your tea will taste quite bitter. 

You can also steep your tea by cold brewing the tea leaves. This process brews tea in room temperature or cold water for a longer brewing time. Much like making cold brew coffee, this can be a tricky process to perfect due to the variable steeping times used to make the tea. Even tea that is brewed in cooler water can over-steep and produce bad tasting tea. 

Amount of Tea

If you use too much tea for the amount of water, you will end up with a very strong cup of tea that can be unpleasant and bitter. 

The good news is that if you are using a tea bag, the preparation is simple. You need only use one teabag per 8 oz cup of water. 

Things get a bit more complicated if you are using loose leaf tea. In general, you want to use about 1 teaspoon of loose leaf per 8 oz cup of tea. While this is a good rule of thumb, you will need to make some adjustments based on the type of tea you use. This is usually due to the fact that some types of tea have a greater volume per weight. For example, matcha is a very finely ground green tea powder. For an 8-oz cup, you will only want to use 1/4 teaspoon. On the other hand, some teas, especially white teas, are much less dense and will require more tea for one cup of water. 

There are four small piles of loose tea leaves in a horizontal row on a white background. Beneath each pile is a label describing each tea pile. From left to right there is "white tea," "green tea", "oolong", and "black tea."

Type of Tea

True teas, which include black tea, oolong, green, and white tea, are prone to becoming bitter when brewed incorrectly. Herbal teas, such as rooibos or chamomile tea, typically do not become bitter if over-steeped. 

Additionally, certain tea varieties have higher compounds that cause bitterness. For example, Japanese green teas contain more catechins than other tea types and are therefore naturally more bitter.

Tea Quality

Let’s be honest, just like coffee and chocolate, there are some varieties of tea that are better than others. If you are buying low quality tea bags, your tea might just not taste good, no matter how well you steep it. If you struggle to find a good tea, try opting for a loose leaf tea blend. These teas are usually better quality and result in a much better tea-drinking experience. You can find some of the finest teas at local specialty tea shops. They offer varieties of loose leaf teas that cannot be found in a regular grocery store. These stores are usually owned by tea lovers with a vast knowledge of the different tea varieties. They can usually point you to a higher quality tea that will delight your taste buds. 

Tea Freshness

If your tea is old or stored improperly, it will be more likely to have a bad taste. For best results, store your tea in an airtight container and place it somewhere that is dry and protected from light. 

How to Make Green Tea Taste Less Bitter

It is critical that you make adjustments to your brewing process based on the type of tea you have. Green tea in particular is a bit finicky so it’s a good thing to know the basics of its preparation.

 Green tea should be brewed at a lower temperature than oolong or black tea (i.e. not at boiling temperatures). The ideal temperature for green tea is 165oF. Most green teas require a 3-5 minute brew time. Having the correct steeping time is very important so make sure you set a timer. Steeping your tea for too long results in the release of too much tannin into your cup, and it will taste bitter. 

It is best to use a thermometer to ensure you have the right temperature for your tea. You can even buy an electric tea kettle that has built in temperature settings for different tea types. 

Use 1 teaspoon of tea per 8-oz cup of water. 

If you use green tea bags, make sure you remove them when the timer is up. If you use loose tea, use a tea strainer basket rather than a tea ball to steep the loose leaves. Tea baskets work better because they are larger and allow the green tea leaves to expand and fully make contact with the water. 

How to Fix Bitter Tea

There is a glass mug in the center of the image that contains green tea with lemon slices. On the left of the image there is a white bowl that contains lemon slices. The bottom left corner of the image has a small succulent plant and a small jar containing loose leaf tea and a tea spoon.

If you accidentally steeped your tea incorrectly and now have a bitter cup of tea in your hands, there are several ways you can make it taste better. 

  1. Remake it: Sometimes, the best way to fix a cup of bitter tea is to remake it. You can always repurpose the tea to avoid waste (see below). 
  2. Turn it into iced tea: Iced tea is a great way to use bitter tea, because the ice will naturally dilute the tea, which can make it taste less bitter. Iced tea is also often served with lemon, which will help to neutralize the bitterness from the tea. 
  3. Make tea ice cubes: Pour the tea into an ice cube tray and use a few in your iced tea. This keeps your tea from tasting too dilute as the ice melts. 
  4. Add sugar: Adding sugar reduces the bitterness from both catechins and tannins. Add a small teaspoon to your cup of tea and you will likely notice an improvement in the taste of your tea.
  5. Add lemon juice: the acidity from the lemon can offset some of the bitterness in tea. Do not drop the whole lemon slice in your tea though. Although this does look attractive, the lemon peel tastes bitter and can worsen the bitterness of your tea.
  6. Add milk: Adding milk and sugar can really mellow out the bitterness from the tea and still result in a delicious cup of tea. 
  7. Dilute with water: If your tea is very strong and bitter, you can simply dilute it with more hot water. 

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