Why does tea taste better in a china cup and how do you make the perfect brew?

Why does tea taste better in a china cup and how do you make the perfect brew?

Does the type of vessel change the taste of your tea?

We all have our preferred way of making tea, from the brand we choose to what we add to it. For many, the tea experience goes even further, with the cup being crucial to the final taste and then, at the pinnacle of tea drinking rituals, are those that will only drink it from a china cup. Is that just a placebo effect or does a china cup really change the overall taste of our tea?

A brief definition

Whatever type of tea you drink it all comes from the leaves of a Camellia sinensis

plant. The many varieties of tea usually fall into one of five main categories: black, green, white, oolong and Pu-erh tea. What most people refer to as tea is black tea.

How to make the perfect cup or tea

Anyone that drinks tea is an expert, at least in deciding how they like their own tea, but some people may take the dedication one step further. So what do tea experts and scientists say makes a good cup or tea?


Most experts would recommend using soft water rather than hard water when making tea. Some even recommend filtering it first, to remove any unnecessary minerals that might interfere with the taste of the tea. The calcium in hard water can react with some of the flavour compounds in tea, forming a scummy layer on top.

The oxygen content of the water is also important to the final taste of the tea. Scientists recommend refilling the kettle with fresh cold water every time, rather than re-boiling the water. It is also important not to over-boil the water as again, this reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in it. When brewing black tea it is recommended to bring the water to the boil and then switch it off and pour. Other teas may need the boiled water to sit and cool before being added to the tea.


Tea contains different compounds that can contribute to the flavour of the final cup of tea. Different types of tea have different flavour compounds but how long we leave the tea brew also makes a difference. Too long and we get more of the larger compounds (like tannins) dissolving in the water. Although these are good for the overall flavour, they can give the tea a bitter taste if present in too great a quantity. Leave the tea brew for too short a time and far fewer flavour compounds have time to dissolve in the water, resulting in a flavourless tea. It is usually recommended that black tea is left brew for at least three minutes, ideally five.

For many teabag users (like myself) there is the tendency to try to speed things up with dipping and squeezing. This may lead to a darker tea but has little effect on the final flavour.

What about the cup?

Styrofoam cups may have become a convenient, tea-holding staple but they absorb the flavour molecules, reducing the overall flavour of the tea. There are many other alternatives of course, from glass to pottery. The ideal teacup should have a smooth surface and be impervious. This stops tannins in the tea from binding to the cup instead of dissolving in the water. That’s where the china cup comes in. It’s smooth, glazed surfaces don’t bind the tannins, leaving the flavour of the tea untouched. So science is telling us what our grannies already knew, tea really does tastes better in a china cup.

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