One of the best things about tea is it can be enjoyed in just about a million ways. Everyone has their own taste preferences and their own style of brewing. As long as you personally like it, it’s all good. But for anyone who cares a bit more about the flavor of their tea and wants to drink a consistent brew... the microwave is not. your. friend.
What are the reasons for not microwaving tea?
MICROWAVING WATER TO STEEP YOUR TEA LEAVES IS A SUREFIRE WAY TO PREVENT FULL EXTRACTION
Ideal water temperature varies between tea types. You shouldn’t be brewing an oolong tea or a black tea at the same temperature range as a green or white tea when it comes to loose leaf.
Water that’s too hot or too cold can cause a number of things like bitterness, excess astringency, or under extraction which means lack of flavor. Other times, it’s just downright unpleasant to be drinking something that burns or cold.
Check out the table at the bottom of this article for temperatures by tea type.
YOUR TEA LEAVES WON’T CONSISTENTLY PRODUCE THE SAME FLAVOR.
Sure, sometimes the differences in flavor consistency don’t seem that big to you. My response is if you’re going to spend money on quality leaves to enjoy, why not make it the best it can be with close to zero effort?
Microwaves heat at different levels due to the range in wattage. Wattage ranges from anywhere <500 watts to 1,000 watts. That’s the difference between barely being able to cook anything to having an oven. Heating up water at the office, your home, that random friend’s home will not be the same even if you heat for the same amount of time.
YOU MAY CAUSE AN EXPLOSION AND GET BURNED. LITERALLY.
An explosion from heated water that looks fine on the outside but really isn’t is called superheating.
This happens when the water heats so hot and fast that bubbles can’t form in time. The water then isn’t able to release heat fast enough without those bubbles. Pressure increases until the entire operation backfires and the water explodes.
Sounds dangerous, right? That’s because it is!
Even then, some common responses to this effect:
Isn’t this reaction rare?
It’s not a common occurrence and the likelihood of superheating actually happening tends to be higher if you heat for longer periods of time. But it’s still a risk worth considering when you could potentially seriously burn yourself and have a mess to clean up?
Aren’t there online tips to avoid this?
There are. But what’s your goal here? Making the most of your tea and getting the best darn flavor you can with relative ease or settling for subpar results? It might not be too big of a difference with cheap tea but if you’re planning on brewing anything a little better or want your tea to taste consistently good or flavorful every time you make it, then the microwave won’t help you there.
THE SIMPLE SOLUTION: BOIL YOUR WATER
Staying away from the microwave holds true for everything from the average tea bag to any loose leaf tea. Whether you microwave the water first and drop in your tea, or microwave water and tea together, the results won’t get you to an ideal cup of tea. So what to do?
Boil your water. It’ll ensure your temperature is consistent. Factors like elevation affect the exact boiling temperature of water depending on where you live. But you got nothing to worry about if you grab a thermometer like I mentioned above.
What do you use to boil water?
1. Electric kettles. Electric kettles are relatively inexpensive these days. Most have auto shut off so you don’t have to worry about boiling hot water spilling everywhere. Some even have built in thermometers so you don’t need to buy an extra thermometer if you don’t want to. Just plug it and forget it.
Bonavita BV3825 Variable Temperature Gooseneck Kettle - $44; temperature control allows you to not only measure, but hold a constant temperature but goosenecks are limiting for pour control when it comes to speed and force.
Amazon Basics Stainless Steel Electric Kettle - $21; average review: 2,475 reviews; 4.5 stars. Affordable and straightforward so it gets the job done but there's no temperature control and the plastic window might be concerning for some people.
Kamjove V-60 - $60; this isn't a common brand or model among the general population. It's more specialized for gong fu brewing but doesn't eliminate the usefulness. Pour control via the wider spout with narrower end for faster or slower water streams, which is an important part of brewing gong fu style. The drawback is no temperature control.
2. A stovetop. Gas stove? Electric stove? Pot or kettle? Doesn’t matter. Just add water and turn on the stove. The only real drawback is you slower boil time and having to keep an eye on the water.
THE ENHANCED, SIMPLE SOLUTION: INVEST IN A THERMOMETER AND BOIL YOUR WATER
Invest in a thermometer and use the right temperatures. A thermometer is an all around win because it’s not only limited to brewing tea.
If you don’t have a thermometer or don’t care to measure temperature, you can rely on time. Here’s an outline of both temperature and general steep times:
An electric kettle can seem costly upfront, but the benefits of auto shut off and both temperature and pour control more than make up for the cost in the long run. Especially when you can use it for other things like coffee or as a cooking hack when boiling water is needed.
My personal take on all this is microwaves take away from the tea drinking experience. We don't always have time to make things perfect, but boiling water isn't much of an added step for only a few extra minutes in wait time. If that's the trade off for a better aromatic and tasting experience, it's completely worthy when you are opting for something more than a tea bag.