A lot of people get into coffee not only because of the drink but because of the paraphernalia, the culture and the whole practice and ritual involved. People like finding ‘their drink’, testing out different beans and generally feeling a little special by being able to shoot the breeze about their favorite brew.
Tea for the most part doesn’t tend to have quite this same reputation or appeal. To many of us, tea is something we buy in a bag form, pour hot water on and drink with a biscuit. It is functional but not as intricate or exciting.
Except that this really needn’t be the case. Tea is actually an incredibly exciting and nuanced drink in its own right and especially when you start experimenting with loose leaf blends!
As the name might have suggested already, loose leaf tea is made from the leaves of the tea itself. That means that there’s no bag and that the leaves are only somewhat broken up. It’s as though you had headed into the woods, found a leaf and dropped it into a mug of boiling water.
And in fact, in many cases, that’s exactly what it does mean!
So why loose leaf tea? What are the specific benefits?
The first and most obvious advantage of drinking loose leaf tea, is that it allows you to pick and choose precisely what you put into your tea bags. This in turn means that you can experiment with different flavor combinations and you can even drop some less obvious ingredients in there – how about pine needles for example? Nettle?
Likewise, you can choose more exotic green teas, like the amazing yerba mate green tea which Darwin himself described as the ‘perfect stimulant’. And which Tim Ferriss claims is the secret to gaining ‘genius on demand’! For those who want a little less stimulation meanwhile, picking and choosing your own tea leaves can also be a great way to make decaffeinated brews that won’t leave you bouncing off the walls.
It’s also worth noting that bagged teas often include things you’d probably rather not include. The ingredients tend not to be as fresh and they’ll often incorporate stems and seeds that lead to a bitter taste. And far from being more expensive, loose leaf teas are actually cheaper!
As if all that wasn’t enough, you also get the fun of creating your own flavors and sharing them with guests and you’ll actually be helping the environment as this type of tea is more eco-friendly!
Suk-Yi is the founder Caffeine Trifecta, an online retailer specializing in the finer things in life – tea, coffee and chocolate! We asked for her expert opinion on all the reasons why you should be brewing loose leaf tea, and abandon tea bags.
1. Loose leaf tea is of higher quality
"Most bagged teas available from the supermarket are mass produced and made using dust ad fannings – the tiny bits of tea left over from the production of loose leaf tea."
2. Loose leaf tea is fresher
"Mass-produced tea bags are generally filled with tea leaves from different locations, and has usually travelled great distances before it reached supermarket shelves, making it less fresh."
3. Loose leaf tea tastes better
Mass-produced bagged tea has been blended for standardization and as such, you won’t experience the difference in taste and aroma between types of leaves and locations. For a more refined tea experience, or if you’re looking for something that just tastes better, fresher and more wholesome, brew loose leaf tea.
“Tea bags have a consistent but one-dimensional taste (bold and astringent) and limited flavour expression,” says Suk-Yi. “Due to the undiscerning power of machine harvesting, bagged teas may include stems and seeds that can make the tea bitter.”
4. Loose leaf tea is more diverse
“There is more to tea than black tea or green tea. Types of tea such as oolong, white tea, yellow tea, and fermented tea are diverse, and each is a reflection of its cultivars, climate, geography and production.”
5. Loose leaf tea is better for the environment
"Most tea bags are not compostable, and of those that are, very few people make the effort to compost them. Loose leaf tea reduce the amount of packaging you’re using and can be directly thrown onto the compost heap."
6. Loose leaf tea is good for your health
Tea has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which can contribute to your overall wellness. The primary chemicals responsible for the health claims of green tea, called catechins, are found in the highest concentrations in fresh leaves.
How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea
To start with, you’re going to need a few different ingredients and tools in order to get started. You’ll need:
- A Tea Pot
- Tea Cups
- A Tea Strainer
- A Loose Leaf Tea Infuser
- Some things that can also help are a teaspoon, oven mitts, thermometer and a kettle or a microwave with microwave-safe cup.
First, you’re going to fill your kettle or your microwavable cups with about 12 ounces of water for a cup and a half of tea. Now boil the water!
While the water is boiling, open up your choice of tea and measure it out using a teaspoon. As a general rule, you’ll only need 1 teaspoon per 8 ounces of water but this is going to vary somewhat depending on the type of tea that you’re going to use. If you’re unsure, check the packaging or consult with the supplier and you should be able to get some advice.
If you are mixing several different leaves to create your own blend, then of course you’ll need to decide on a rough ratio yourself.
Now you’re going to take that tea and add it to a tea strainer. This will sometimes be built into your mug or a larger container and this makes for a much more convenient way to enjoy your tea. The most conventional method is to use a teapot with a built-in strainer. You then simply add the strainer to the top of the teapot, which will act like a sieve/hammock and hang into the hot water underneath.
Some types of tea should be added to pots when they aren’t quite boiling. This way, you won’t risk burning the tea which can ruin the flavour. This is one of the most important things to learn when you’re learning how to brew loose leaf tea and how to use a loose leaf tea infuser. This will allow the tea to sit deeper in the water for a more even flavour.
The next part is called ‘steeping’ and this is where you leave the tea in the loose leaf tea infuser/strainer. As you do this, the flavor will exit the leaves to infuse the water surrounding it, along with all that goodness. The amount of time that you leave the tea is going to depend on the type of loose leaf tea you’re brewing.