Tea bags are super convenient. Heat your water, pop your tea bag in, pull it out, blammo. Instant cuppa. The problem is, mass-produced tea bags use tea leaves that are usually hacked up (the method is called CTC – Crush, Tear, Curl) for quick production and a fast brew. This makes it convenient, but you lose a lot of the health benefits, taste, and resteepability of loose tea.
Still, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with loose tea or immediately dismiss it as a “snobby” thing. The good news is, there’s not much more to it than bagged tea.
There are two differences:
- You need some kind of filter to replace the function of your tea bag. There are plenty of steeping options.
- You need to measure out your tea. A teaspoon from your kitchen will work just fine, or you can buy a special teaspoon for your tea if you want to get fancy (I like Teavana’s Perfect Tea Spoon. It’s got a nice round shape to it that makes tea easy to scoop. And it’s four bucks, which isn’t bad for something you’ll get a lot of use out of).
Once you have a way to steep your tea and a teaspoon to measure out your tea. Usually, when you buy loose teas, you’ll get the instructions for brewing: How much to put in per cup of water, how long to let it steep for, and what temperature the water should be at. Eventually, though, you’ll get the hang of it. Here are some basic rules that will help:
- The lighter the tea, the more delicate the leaf. This means you need a lower water temperature so you don’t burn the leaf. (pics of a burnt leaf vs a nicely steeped leaf).
- White teas are going to need to be at about 175 degrees F (the point where tiny bubbles are forming at the bottom of your heating kettle). Ditto with green teas.
- Oolongs can withstand slightly higher temps. Just under boiling should be okay.
- Black teas and pu erhs can take straight up boiling water! These leaves have been processed the most so they are tough little buggars, as evidenced by their dark leaf color.
When in doubt, err on the side of water that is too cold rather than too hot. You can always resteep leaves, but if you scorch them they’re ruined for good.
As for amount, the general rule is 1 tsp/cup (8 oz) of water. If it’s a particularly fluffy tea (if the leaves are twisted or beaten flat), use a heaping teaspoon.
So. If you’re making a teapot, try to figure out how many ounces it holds. Some pots will say, or you can test it by measuring in a cup of water at a time to know how many cups your pot holds. From there you can determine just how much tea you need to add.
If you taste it after it’s steeped and it’s not strong enough, add more tea, NOT more time.
There now. You’re all set to try some loose tea. Happy sipping!