​What’s the best temperature for tea or coffee?

By Bob Fear

​What’s the best temperature for tea or coffee?

If you’re serious about your daily brew, then you might not want to add boiling water to your tea or coffee. 

Not all leaves and beans are created equal, and different types prefer different degrees. So what’s the perfect temperature for your favourite cuppa?

The Brits love a hot drink

Our taste buds are triggered by hot temperatures. And there’s nothing quite like a decent fresh brew to set them to work. But routinely pouring boiling water over any old type of tea or coffee may be depriving your highly sensitive taste buds of the true treat they deserve. 

If you tend to splash out on top notch leaves and beans, then you definitely should know the correct temperature to brew them at, which might be different to the correct temperature to drink them at. Either way, if your water’s too hot, you could be ruining the flavour. 

So here’s our guide to getting the best temperature for your tea or coffee.

Oxidation & over extraction

Let’s get the science bit out of the way. 

When tea leaves are baked, rolled, or cut, they are exposed to oxygen. The longer they are exposed, the darker the leaves turn. Hence black tea is fully oxidised, whereas white tea is barely oxidised.

At the lighter end of this scale are your delicate green teas. In the middle are your oolongs, while rooibos and herbal tea sit alongside the black stuff.

Why is this important? 

Every different type of tea has an ideal temperature at which it should be brewed, according to its level of oxidation because hot water releases all the lovely flavour of your tea. A more oxidized tea will benefit from being brewed at a higher temperature, but adding boiling water to tea that’s hardly oxidised will make it taste bitter.

The same goes for coffee grounds. Adding water that’s too hot will extract the flavour and aroma of your coffee much too quickly, leaving it bitter. So if you’re a coffee lover not averse to spending £165 on a kilo of kopi luwak, then you’ll do anything to avoid the evils of over extraction.

Brewing temp vs drinking temp

Proper connoisseurs will tell you that it’s better to only bring the water up to the right temperature for brewing rather than letting it boil then waiting for it to cool. 

Most of the dissolved oxygen in water escapes when it’s boiled, and less oxygen in your brew means less flavour. Re-boiling the water in your kettle is therefore considered a double crime.

The right brewing temperature for tea and coffee will be too hot to drink. So, unless you want to burn your mouth and throat, you should practice restraint until your tea dips to a soothing 60℃ (which it should reach after about six minutes or so from when you started to brew). 

If you’re seeking to sample the rounded, sweet or bitter notes of a quality coffee, then a discerning sip at 70-80℃ should suit. If a bright, sharp, acidic sensation is more your cup, then wait until it dips to around 50-60℃.

Whatever you do, never ever reheat your drink in the microwave. This kills off all the fresh flavours you’ve been trying so hard to preserve. Serious types will get the drinking temperature right by having a thermometer to hand.

Perfect beverage temperatures*

Herbal tea (brew for 5-10 minutes) 
Rooibos tea (brew for 5-7 minutes)

Black tea (brew for 2-3 minutes)

Ground coffee (brew in a cafetière for 3-4 minutes)

Pu-erh tea (brew for 2-4 minutes)

Oolong tea (brew for 2-3 minutes)

Instant coffee (according to Nescafé)

Green tea (brew for 1-3 minutes)

*All of these are highly debatable. Ask three different tea or coffee experts about brewing times and temperatures and you’ll get eight different answers. We’ve rounded up according to the most common answers. We did this after a good strong cup of coffee, brewed at exactly 96℃.

How to get the perfect water temperature

Your poor old kettle probably can’t cope with all of those different demands but, if you want to get the best out of your beverage, there is a solution. Yes, you could try switching your kettle off before it boils, but how do you effortlessly achieve the exact 88℃ for your favourite oolong without all the faffing around with a thermometer?

To avoid all the hassle, guess work and criminal re-boiling you could simply place your trust in a home water system that respects your wishes and heats your water up to whatever temperature you desire. We can even point you in the direction of such a system that’ll let you save up to 50 different temperatures, which should satisfy even the most conscientious of connoisseurs...

Bob Fear joined Virgin back in 2007 as part of the Global Brand Team looking after virgin.com. Prior to that he was producing content for Jamie Oliver and the BBC.

Since going freelance he’s helped out a few businesses more local to him in the South West, including The Eden Project. But he’s never strayed far from the Virgin family and keeps his writing hand in.



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