Can you make tea in a coffee maker?
Technically, yes, you can make tea in a coffee maker.
Technically, you can "steam" vegetables, "boil" hot dogs, and "soft boil" eggs in a coffee maker. You can even make grilled cheese on the burner of a coffee maker if you're patient and determined enough.
A better question might be should you make tea in a coffee maker? My answer to that is an emphatic no, unh-uh, absolutely not, which leads to the best question of all:
What are some better options when a coffee maker is the only tool on hand and you really want a good cup of tea?
I mean, if you're buying loose leaf tea from Plum Deluxe, you are someone who appreciates uncommon teas with the best flavor, so let's investigate our options before we settle for coffee maker tea.
Why You Shouldn't Make Tea in a Coffee Pot
I'll give you three monosyllabic reasons you shouldn't make tea in a coffee pot: time, temp, and taste.
What it boils down to, really, is that brewing tea and brewing coffee are different procedures, so a device tailored to brew coffee isn't designed to brew tea. If you're after a great-tasting cup o' freshly brewed tea, especially a delicious fancy tea blend, the brewing process matters.
Brewing Tea vs. Brewing Coffee
Reviewing the differences between brewing tea vs. brewing coffee will explain why making tea in a coffee machine isn't a great idea.
Tea steeps. Coffee drips. Usually. We'll talk about the versatile French press in a bit.
A coffee maker heats water and releases it into the filter filled with ground coffee beans, where it passes through the grounds, and drips into the waiting pot sitting on a warm burner. The water spends little time mingling with the grounds.
That's not the same as steeping.
When steeping tea, hot water is poured over tea leaves which are then allowed to soak in the water for one to six minutes or more, depending on the kind of tea being brewed. Not all teas require the same length of steep time.
The best-tasting tea is the result of proper steeping, and coffee makers aren't designed to steep, let alone steep for varying lengths of time.
Another key to great-tasting tea is steeping leaves at the right temperature. Just as different teas require different steeping times, different teas require different water temperatures.
For instance, Queen's Blend green tea steeps in under-boiling water (175 degrees), Afternoon "High Tea" white tea steeps in just-below-boiling water, and Rainy Day Pu'erh steeps in boiling water. Thankfully, instructions on Plum Deluxe tea packets tell us what temperature each blend requires.
Unfortunately, water heated in coffee machines varies greatly, from well below boiling (165 degrees) to below boiling (boiling point is 212 degrees).
I have yet to meet a coffee maker that actually produces boiling water, including industrial coffee makers at high-end lodges. Most aim for a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, but many merely dream of that range.
It can work okay for some black and oolong teas, though, provided you're willing to put up with the taste!
Coffee makers that have been used to make coffee invariably produce coffee-flavored water. For someone who despises the taste of coffee (yep, that's me), this is the deal breaker. You can spend hours wiping nooks and crannies with a damp cloth and running vinegar and clean water through a used coffee maker and not remove the pervasive residual coffee taste.
The end result is coffee-flavored tea.
How to Brew Tea Instead
Before you resort to using that coffee maker, let's consider some alternatives, even if you're seemingly ill-equipped to make tea.
Naturally, we've talked about the best ways to brew tea in other Plum Deluxe articles. Check 'em out, because even a seasoned tea brewer may discover new advice, ideas, and tools that can add fun and adventure to the tea experience. The ritual and practice of brewing and drinking tea can be as fulfilling as the soul-stirring flavors.
Brewing loose leaf tea is easy and requires few tools, so workarounds are possible when all you've got is a coffee maker. All you need is something like a tea infuser and a vessel to hold water.
Boiling water is optional! If that boiled water tastes like coffee, it may be better to skip it.
A tea infuser holds loose tea leaves while they steep. Alternatively, loose leaves can be allowed to swim freely in a pot and then strained out as the tea is poured.
Tea infusers come as balls, tongs, and nesting strainers. There are even teapots with built-in infuser baskets, which are great for brewing multiple cups of tea at one time.
Unbleached loose leaf tea filter bags are another option for containing loose leaf teas while steeping. These are a nice, lightweight option if you're traveling. And they can be useful if you're making tea with a coffee maker.
Seriously, I'm getting to the how-to-make-tea-in-a-coffee-maker bit. But, just as seriously, there are better options!
A French press can be used to brew tea or coffee by steeping. After scooping coffee grounds or loose tea leaves into the device, pour hot water over them and steep for the desired time. Both coffee grounds and tea leaves will bloom and release their flavors.
When you're finished steeping, press the device's plunger to corral and hold the grounds or leaves at the bottom of the vessel and pour your brew into cups.
This makes perfect tea and a more robust, full-bodied coffee than drip methods, which some people find delightful, and others consider too strong.
Here, too, is the issue of using a French press that has been used to steep coffee. It's easier to clean than a coffee maker, but the coffee residue is tenacious stuff.
Cold Brewing (or Ambient-Temp Brewing) Tea
Hotels and other room-rental situations are where I most often find coffee maker-only situations. Here, I cold brew tea with bottled water or water I've brought along. Hotel tap water rarely tastes good.
Okay, I'm playing fast and loose with the word "cold." Truth is, I ambient-temperature-brew tea because unless I'm in a desert with blistering sun and broiling temperatures, I don't love cold beverages.
I scoop tea leaves into filter bags (or use pre-bagged tea) and toss the bags in a water bottle to sit for two, four, or more hours, overnight, or all day, depending on how impatient I am. I generally have multiple bottles soaking at a time, so one is always ready when I want to drink tea.
If there's sun, I place the bottle in the sun and make sun tea. In a warm, sunny climate (I'm looking at you, Namibia), you can actually make some fairly hot tea in the sun!
Otherwise, the bottle is on a table or in my backpack rather than in the fridge. The colder the water, the longer it needs to soak to get a good flavorful cup. And some teas and tea blends work better than others, so approach the cold and not-so-cold tea brewing process with a sense of adventure.
I sample to test for doneness and enjoy delicious tea anytime, anywhere.
This is what I do when camping off the grid, too, when even a coffee maker isn't an option.
Perfect Hot Tea
So cold water or ambient temp-water tea isn't your jam. You really want a yummy freshly brewed cuppa hot tea. My friend, get yourself a lightweight hotpot or travel kettle and take it with you!
Travel Kettles and Inverters
Travel kettles require electricity, so they don't work for backpacking in the Bush (unless, perhaps, you're on Gilligan's Island with the Professor), but they're a viable alternative to a coffee maker, which also requires electricity.
I've been packing a cheap, lightweight, plastic hotpot since before stainless steel travel kettles existed, and I have made delicious hot tea in hotels from Maryland to Alaska, as well as in a van, with the help of an inverter, a device that magically bridges the divide between a car battery and an outlet that can power my hotpot.
Years ago, while touring through Denali National Park, I wowed my father by pulling off the dusty gravel road to watch grizzly bears and making him a cup of hot tea to soothe his long-day, headache.
If you're serious about enjoying a good cup of tea, equip yourself to be self-sufficient. Don't put yourself in a position where a coffee maker looks tempting as a tea maker.
Know Your Power
Be aware that electric hotpots and kettles require significant juice, so some power sources, especially portable ones meant for phones, tablets, and laptops, may not be sufficient. Tea brewer, know thy kettle wattage requirements!
A portable kettle used solely to boil water has the added benefit of making great tea, great coffee (with a simple, lightweight pour-over coffee dripper), great ramen, great instant oatmeal, and so much more. (Sadly, not a great grilled cheese. Chalk one up for the coffee machine.)
How to Brew Tea in a Coffee Maker
Okay, okay. So you're committed to brewing tea in a coffee maker. You do you. I respect that, even while hounding and teasing you mercilessly, so here are some suggestions for making the best possible tea in a coffee maker.
Option 1: Use Tea Bags in the Filter Area
- Get some unbleached loose leaf tea bags.
- Fill the bags with 1 teaspoon of tea leaves per cup you want to brew, and secure the bags with staples, a pin, or string. (You can prep these at home beforehand.)
- Run clean water through the coffee maker or clean it as best you can with a damp cloth to remove coffee residue, and then place the tea bag (or bags, if you're making a full pot) in the filter area.
- Fill the reservoir with water and follow manufacturer instructions for the machine. (Or press "start" and wing it.)
- Enjoy your weak lukewarm coffee-flavored tea.
IMAGE: 07-Options for Making 1tea in a Coffee Maker
Option 2: Heat Water and Steep
- Here, too, you'll want some loose leaf tea bags filled with your selected tea, unless you have an infuser.
- Clean the coffee maker as best you can, fill the reservoir, and just heat water with nothing in the filter area.
- Put the first pot of heated water back in the reservoir and heat it again to get hotter water.
- Steep your tea leaves in the pot or in a cup for three to five minutes, or your preferred steep time.
- Enjoy warmer coffee-flavored tea.
A Useful Tip
Choose CTC teas (which is an acronym for "crush, tear, curl" and refers to one method of processing black tea leaves that results in small bits of leaves) and bagged teas made with the Camellia sinensis dust and fannings. These release their strong flavors quickly for that familiar strong "breakfast tea" brew. These may be able to mask the residual coffee flavor.
Other tea types, which require more care in brewing, won't work as well.
So, can you make tea in a coffee maker? Why, yes. Yes, you can.
See? I told you we'd get here!
You can also use a sock as a loose leaf tea bag. But do you really want to?