Tea Time: How to Steep Your Best Cup Using Loose Leaf Tea
Using loose leaf tea is nothing like using a teabag. But don't let that scare you away from enjoying a great cup of tea. Here are some ways to steep your best cup of tea using loose leaf teas.
January is Hot Tea Month, and what better time to learn how to properly steep loose leaf tea than now? Most of us are used to tea bags that we toss in our mug and pour hot water over. So how different is it to brew loose leaf tea? Can you just throw the loose tea in your mug and add water?
Well sure, if you don't mind either fishing the leaves out by hand or drinking them. But there are definitely better ways of steeping your loose leaf teas.
First, let's look at the benefits of loose leaf teas over teabags. With loose leaf tea, you typically have a higher quality of tea. Bagged tea tends to use fannings and tea dust while loose leaf tea tends to be whole or partially broken leaves.
Because loose leaf tea has larger leaves, the tea is typically more flavorful as well as more aromatic. You might even be able to get more than one steep from the leaves as opposed to teabags which are single-use.
Loose leaf tea affords you more control over your steeped tea as well. Use more tea leaves for a stronger flavor or less for a milder flavor. Tea sold in loose-leaf form is also less wasteful compared to teabags for this same reason.
There are plenty of tools you can use to hold your loose leaf tea leaves when steeping. Everything from paper teabags you fill yourself to teapots with strainers, you have many options. Some options make a better tasting tea than others, but all of them are valid.
Paper tea bags, just like those you buy pre-filled, are the simplest and least expensive way you can steep loose leaf tea. Simply place a small amount of tea in the bag, close it up, and place it in your cup. Add your hot water and steep just like you would your store-bought teabags. You might notice a papery taste in your tea using this method. Be sure not to overfill your paper teabag as you won't be able to get a good steep due to the leaves expanding and water not getting to all of them.
Linen teabags are similar to paper teabags but have a couple of additional benefits. First, they won't taste like paper and second, they are able to hold more tea meaning you can have more flavor than what the paper bags can afford.
Tea ball infusers are another option and come in a variety of styles. Some are perforated, round, metal balls with chains and some have stiff handles. You can even find novelty infusers made of silicone and shaped like leaves or animals. When filling an infuser, much like the paper teabag, make sure you don't overfill it as the leaves will expand and the interior leaves won't get enough water to steep properly.
There are quite a few teapots with strainers you can find for steeping your loose leaf teas. We suggest choosing one with a removable strainer to avoid over steeping your teas. Another option is your French press. Much like brewing coffee, you can steep tea in a press pot. Once you depress the plunger, it is suggested to transfer any leftover tea to another vessel so it doesn't keep steeping.
The next thing to take into consideration is the temperature of your water. Different types of tea require different temperatures for the proper extraction of flavors. Follow these suggestions for a delicious cup of tea.
Black and herbal teas = 212°F
Oolong teas = 195°F
Green and white teas = 180°F
If you don't have a thermometer, a visual way to estimate the temperature of the water is:
212°F = rolling boil
195°F = bubbles just beginning to rise
180°F = bubbles appear on the bottom of the pot
How long the water stays in contact with the tea leaves is the next consideration when steeping tea. Remember, time does not determine strength. Too much time is likely to make your tea bitter rather than stronger. Follow these suggested steeping times for a great-tasting cup of tea.
Green and white = 2-3 minutes
Black = 3-5 minutes
Oolong = 4-7 minutes
Herbal and tisanes = 5-7 minutes
When measuring out your tea, a good rule of thumb is one teaspoon per 8 ounces of water. Larger tea leaves like white teas or herbal teas and tisanes might require a tablespoon or more while dense teas like gunpowder might require less than a teaspoon. Experiment with the amount of your tea to determine what you prefer.
Once your tea has been steeped, you can dress it in any way you see fit. Drink it as is to enjoy the unadulterated flavors. Add sweeteners like honey, sugar, agave syrup, or stevia. A little lemon can highlight the brighter flavors in some teas. Milk or non-dairy substitutes can create more caramel-like notes.
For more information on our teas check out these other blog posts: