Campus Tea Time

By Christine Banks


Back to class

It's back to campus time for college students. How do you feed your tea addiction if you're living in a dorm?

First, you have to heat the water. How you accomplish this will depend on your dorm's rules and whether it has a kitchen available. Many schools have rules against small appliances other than mini-fridges and microwaves in rooms. This can be for a variety of reasons. The building's wiring sometimes determines what can or cannot be used. My own dorm was rather dated, and the wiring in the rooms couldn't handle appliances; I couldn't use a hair dryer in my room without the circuit breaker needing to be reset. Hopefully your dorm is outfitted with 21st century electricity! At other schools, it's purely a safety rule since they can't check that every appliance has an automatic shutoff and students' lives are more important than convenience. Therefore, check the rules so you don't get in trouble. Don't say we didn't warn you!

What are your options? You're probably allowed to have an electric kettle if a coffeemaker is on the acceptable list (we suggest a variable temperature one with auto-shutoff for convenience and safety). Even if you can't use it in your room, you can generally use it in common areas like kitchens. Some schools will only allow a hot pot – yes, you can heat water in this too, and there are cheap ones to be found this time of year. In a pinch, you can microwave water, but it can make the tea taste flat and there's no real temperature control – not ideal (see this TeaMuse article). If electric appliances are flat out banned, then hopefully there is a kitchen area you can use. Get a tea kettle and heat the water just like grandma did – on the stove. We suggest getting a thermometer if you're going to be brewing anything besides black tea and herbals, but you can try to estimate the temperature based on these guidelines from the interweb:

180° F = bubbles begin to form on the bottom of the pot
195° F = the first bubbles begin to rise
212° F = full rolling boil

At this point, you should hopefully have water at the appropriate temperature for your intended tea leaves. The next question is what to brew your tea in. It needs to be something to give the leaves enough space to unfurl properly, but you also don't want it to be something that will take up a lot of space in your room. You can use a standard mug and infuser, or a contraption like an ingenuiTEA and a mug. Both are convenient because you can use them for multiple steeps. A larger teapot in your dorm room is probably overkill unless you're looking to drink a lot of it in one sitting or share your tea (in which case I totally would have been your friend in college). Trust me, you'll spend a lot of time out of your room.

Another alternative is a loose tea travel mug so you can have tea in your room or take it with you. There are many brands and types (just google travel tea infuser mug) but I am partial to the Libre glass/poly tea mug because you don't have to find a place to put the infuser after you're done steeping. There are similar options out there, so take a look and see what will work best for you.

But maybe you're feeling lazy, or just want something simpler when you're on the go. If you're looking for the convenience of teabags, make sure you get ones that have loose leaf tea in them and provide space for the leaves as they brew up (most are pyramid sachets). There's no excuse for drinking bad tea from teabags!

Wait a minute – what if you weren't able to use any of the options for heating the water to start with? There's always cold brew. Cold brewing teas brings out a different flavor profile in the tea, but it's often lighter and smoother than a hot brew because different compounds are extracted from the leaves. Many people use it for teas they didn't love hot, or found too bitter. In a clean mug (or pitcher), put 1.5 times the amount of tea you'd use for a hot brew. Put it in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours (black teas will take a few hours longer), then strain and enjoy! Just note that herbals aren't recommended for this method; they don't undergo heat processing as regular teas do, so they could still harbor bacteria that would otherwise have been killed by boiling water.

As you can see, there are many ways to make your tea when you're living in a dorm. Enjoy a cup in your room or on your way to class, and start your semester off on the right foot!