Looking to learn the lore of loose leaf?
Staggering as you step on your steeping safari? We’ll set you right
It really isn’t difficult to get into but if you don’t have time to read all of the below just know this:
Making tea with loose leaves not only consistently yields a better tasting result, but also provides a pleasant and rewarding experience. It is definitely worth a try.
We’ll try to cover off everything you might want to know about this wholesome hobby and probably quite a lot more. Get yourself a brew of your soon to be second favourite tea and let’s learn about loose leaf.
Making the leap from bag to leaf
Have you ever had one of those cups of tea that just hits a bit harder than most? If you have, you may have wondered what exactly made it that bit better than the majority of your cups.
Maybe the teabag was steeped for just the right amount of time to the second, the water was freshly boiled and at the perfect minerality, the milk ratio was perfect, somehow you timed your first sip for it to be at optimal drinking temperature (your author's is 91 c if you’re wondering)
Perhaps most importantly, you were in the state of mind to really pay close attention to this humble expression of perfection.
If you can relate to this then you should consider trying out loose leaf tea.
Achieving that perfect cup contains variables which aren’t always easy to control but shifting to loose leaf tea leaves far less to chance.
You’ll find you’ll be drinking tea that calm your amygdala in a way that only a bloody good cup of tea can with far greater regularity.
So why bother?
As we just discussed, there are a lot of variables in making a great cup of tea and brewing loose leaf leaves less to chance.
You have more control over the strength and flavour of your tea than you can get with a bag which pretty much only allows for increments of one bag at a time.
You can adjust the amount of tea leaves you use and the steeping time to create a cup of tea that is perfectly suited to your taste in a way that bags brewing doesn’t allow.
Loose leaf is often of higher quality than teabags because it is made up of larger, more intact leaves that retain their flavour and aroma.* Teabags, on the other hand, often contain intentionally broken or fragmented leaves that release their flavour and aroma more quickly, but can result in a less complex and nuanced cup of tea.
*It goes without saying as this is our blog but Doug reads these posts and I like my job: Chanui tea is of excellent quality in both bags and leaf.
Loose leaf tea typically comes in a wider variety of flavours and blends than teabags afford. It makes sense when you think how much effort it takes to get tea into little single serve pouches. It’s also fair to assume that anyone buying fairy Dust Tea is likely to have the requisite equipment to enjoy it so why bag it?
You can also mix and match different types of tea to create your own blends or experiment with new flavours at home to frankly a ridiculous extent should you so choose.
It encourages mindfulness
Making loose leaf tea can offer a less tangible but important benefit - an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
In a world full of constant distractions, taking the time to properly pay attention to making yourself a cup of tea can be a meditative act that promotes calmness and focus.
So listen to the kettle boiling, measure out your tea leaves, heat the teapot, watch as the water takes on the colour of the tea, carefully pour your tea into the cup, maybe from a little bit higher up than you usually would imaging you are the master of an intricate tea ceremony.
Ring fencing the time to do something positive for yourself a few times per day is a good thing.
You deserve a moment’s peace and you deserve a better cup of tea.
It’s better for the environment
While any manufacturer worth their salt sells biodegradable teabags nowadays, some teabags still contain synthetic materials that don’t break down in a timely fashion and end up in landfill. With no need for teabags, loose leaf wins the day.
Further more, you can fit more tea per box when packing loose leaf meaning you can get more cups of tea per box shipped.
How to make loose leaf tea
This is quite the question and is one that you’ll have to figure out for yourself with experience. That’s not to be all gate-keeper about it as it really isn’t hard to make a good cup of tea with loose tea. The tea you brew from loose leaf is still likely to be the best cup of tea you’ve had that day regardless of your level of experience.
All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes - George Orwell
A good rule of thumb when you’re just starting out with loose leaf is one heaped teaspoon per 250 ml cup of tea you’re going to brew. Or even more simply: use a teaspoon of leaf tea where you would use one teabag.
If you want it stronger, add a little more.
Making a three cup pot of tea? Use three heaped teaspoons of tea. Worried that ‘teaspoon’ is a vague measure? Well you are right to be concerned but more on that in a moment.
The point is that when starting out, just heap one of your smaller spoons and you won’t go far wrong.
How much loose leaf tea to use per cup?
An easy to remember rule is:
One heaped teaspoon = 4 grams
One cup = 250 ml
The Chanui recommended way to brew loose leaf tea
As we’ve discussed, there are many ways to do this but here is a step by step guide to get you started. Some steps and details might seem surplus to your requirements and that is fine.
Only you can know the amount of time and effort you want to invest in this.
We also assume you have a teapot with a tea strainer for this method but if you don’t we’ll go through some alternative methods at the bottom of this section.
- Pre-heat your teapot. Pour some hot tap water into the teapot to help keep the tea warm for longer when the time comes to enjoy it.
- Heat your water. Fill your kettle with fresh, cold water and bring it to a boil. Some teas like white, yellow and oolong recommend lower temps between 83-94 c but most tea is best with boiling water (100 c).
- Measure out your tea. While the water is heating up, measure out your desired amount of loose leaf tea. We recommend one teaspoon or 4 g of tea per 250 ml cup of water, but this can vary depending on the type of tea and your personal taste. Experiment until you have it down to a science. Add the weighed tea to whatever strainer you are using, be it a basket or ball infuser.
- Add tea to teapot. Discard the water in the pot and add your loaded tea strainer to the pot.
- Pour the hot water. When the kettle has just finished boiling, pour the hot water over the tea in the teapot. Be sure to leave some room at the top of the pot to allow the tea to steep without overflowing.
- Steep the tea. Steep the tea for the time recommended by the provider and adjust depending on your personal preference. We recommend 3-4 minutes for our loose leaf varieties.
- Strain and serve. After your tea is well steeped, lift out your strainer, chuck the spent tea in the compost and pour the tea into cups. Serve immediately and enjoy!
A word on scales
If you’ve been into a fancy coffee shop, you may have seen them using precision scales to make coffee with precision.
Well they took that from tea making… probably. Use your digital scales to get the best, repeatable results. Remember 1 ml of water weighs 1 g.
If you don’t have a tea strainer
First of all don’t panic.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Hopefully you’ll be able to achieve at least one of the following to try out loose leaf tea before investing in more specialised equipment.
Use a fine mesh sieve
Simply spoon your tea into the bottom of your teapot and pour the water straight on top. Once it is steeped to your liking, strain the tea into your cup through a sieve and enjoy. Easy!
Use a coffee filter
Place the loose tea into the centre of the coffee filter, fold up the edges to make a pouch and place it in into the teapot or cup. Pour the water over the tea until it drips through into the mug. Or fill your mug with water, fold up the edges then place in the mug and steep. When done, discard the filter and enjoy.
Use a French press coffee plunger
For starters, make sure it is completely clean and free from any coffee residue or oils that could contaminate your tea. Place the tea leaves into the French press, add hot water, steep for the desired time, and press down the plunger to strain the tea. Pour into your mug and enjoy.
Just don’t strain it!
Many people don’t feel the need for such bourgeois contraptions like mesh tea strainers.
You can just pop your leaves in the bottom of a teapot, steep for the desired time then pour carefully into your tea cup. The majority of the leaves will stay at the bottom of the pot while you pour from the spout if you don’t agitate the pot too much.
Keep in mind that it will taste stronger the longer it takes you to finish the pot so get chugging.
How long does loose leaf tea keep for?
The shelf life of loose leaf tea can vary depending on the type of tea and how it is stored. In general, most types of loose leaf tea can be stored for up to 6-12 months, although some may last longer or shorter depending on the specific variety and quality.
As a dried and often fermented product, it is unlikely to go ‘bad’ but the quality of the final cup of tea will diminish as the volatile organic compounds that make up the flavour of the tea slowly release into the air.
Fun fact: The world's oldest tea leaves were found in a tomb in China and are believed to be over 2,000 years old.
How to store loose leaf tea
If possible and practical, store it in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight and sources of heat, such as stoves or ovens. Ideally, the container should be made of a non-reactive material, such as ceramic or glass, to prevent any unwanted flavours from transferring to the tea.
In reality, if you’re drinking it fairly regularly, sealing the bag it came in with a clip or a good fold then keeping it in the cupboard will be just fine.
Some types of tea, such as green tea and white tea, are more delicate and prone to oxidation than black tea. If you are spending big money on specialist teas like these, you’re better off buying smaller quantities more frequently, rather than buying in bulk and storing for an extended period of time.
Where to buy loose leaf tea
While you’re here, it would be weird not to once more direct you to our fine section of loose leaf teas. Loose leaf is what we started selling back in the day and remains a corner stone of our business.
Most supermarkets, big and small will stock at least some loose leaf black tea. So if you’re looking to try it out before making it a hobby, pop down to your nearest shop and see what they have. The standards of most own brands are fairly decent for the most part so it can be a good starting point.
For more specialist, high quality tea, here are a few we’ve tried, liked, and think give you good bang for your buck.
In New Zealand:
T Leaf T - are a fine New Zealand owned and operated company with over 150 different types of tea. Lots of weird and wonderful blends and you can buy samples which is great if you’re just getting started or want to experiment with some whacky blends.
Harney & Sons - You might have seen their teas at various specialty food stores throughout New Zealand but they have an extensive and user friendly website. We enjoyed their Paris blend while researching this article.
NEMI Teas - Based in London, NEMI Teas aims to provide employment and training opportunities to refugees in the UK and they specialise in loose leaf.
We tried their Spicy Chai in the name of research and found it was a nice side step from the traditional blends you typically find from mainstream providers.
WeAreTea - We tried their Moroccan Mint Loose Leaf Tea a while back and it was delicious. It’s a peppermint, green tea blend which provides a caffeine kick to go with the minty taste, not what you’d normally expect from a mint infusion which is usually more of an after dinner affair. Well worth a go.
Any other uses for loose leaf tea?
We get it - there might not always be time to make tea with loose leaf and if you’re a known tea lover, tea probably makes up a good 50% of all the gifts you receive. If this is the case you might have quite a bit of it knocking about. Here are a few ideas to put it to good use.
The bergamot in earl grey pairs extremely well with pulled pork. Brew up a strong 500 ml batch and add it to the pot when slow cooking a pork shoulder. Add lots of garlic, fennel and brown sugar and cook until fall-apart tender. Serve that with lemony mash and spicy apple sauce.
A strong batch of tea is great to add a bitter, toasty depth to soups and stews so give it a go next time you have a load of leftover veg to whizz up and cook down.
One recipe that has reached near-mythical status in the UK is Dame Mary Berry’s earl grey tea bread. If you’re going to go to the trouble of baking a cake with it, you might as well take the time to use loose leaf earl grey.
One of the Chanui team is a pretty keen griller and came up with a barbecue rub that utilises tea for its bitterness and earthy, nutty flavour. Use the ratios as a guide and season some chicken or halloumi with it the next time you cook outside:
4 parts green tea
1 part ground cumin
1/2 part ground pepper
3 parts fine sea salt
2 parts brown sugar
1/4 part cayenne powder
Mix them all together in a separate bowl.
To us it - slather your meat, vegetables, cheese or plant based protein with a little olive oil then season generously with the mix before grilling and enjoying.
Used tea leaves can be composted to help enrich soil and improve plant growth. Tea leaves can also be used as a natural fertiliser for plants, or as a pest repellent for certain insects. Almost all of the caffeine is spent when it is steeped so it won’t stunt the growth of your tomatoes.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of making a four week fermented tea drink, it’s well worth doing it with the best ingredients possible.
If you're interested in giving it a go yourself then head over to this post which details our experiment with kombucha. Ours turned out astonishingly well. Like a healthier version of Irn-Bru.
Give it a go!
Hopefully this has armed you with the information you need to get stuck into loose leaf tea making. If you have the time, it really is worth extending your tea break by an extra minute or two.
Go on, you deserve it.