Loose leaf tea, and, by extension, whole leaf tea, are varieties of tea that use a more complete form of tea leaf in their brewing process. Unlike “normal” tea from teabags, which use a finely granulated form of tea, loose leaf tea uses larger leaves with a reduced total surface area.
This is appealing to many tea drinkers, because the brewing process for loose leaf tea helps preserve its intense flavors, leading to a finished cup of tea that is tastier and more pleasing to serious tea aficionados.
Thanks to the advent of many traditional (and modern) techniques, there are several ways in which anyone interested in making their own loose leaf tea can go about getting it done, so read on to learn how to make loose leaf tea.
Obtaining Loose Leaf Tea
The first step is getting some loose-leaf tea to brew. This is the easiest step in the process, as you’ll just need to head to one of the multitude of fancy tea shops that sell loose tea in abundance to track down what you need.
Alternatively, you could try purchasing your tea online from various dealers that specialize. Some will even help you develop custom blends that incorporate a common tea base (like black or green tea) and mix it with additional flavors to achieve the desired end taste. The options are vast, so be sure to check them all out and compare to find one that fits your personal tastes.
The Brewing Process: How To Make Loose Leaf Tea
Once you’ve obtained the loose-leaf tea of your choosing, you’re ready to start brewing. There are several options for getting this done, some old-fashioned, and others high-tech.
Throw the Leaves in The Cup (Or Pot)
This is one of the oldest methods for making loose leaf tea. The method is simple enough, add some leaves to a cup, heat up some water, then pour the water over the loose leaves and let them steep. If you want to get ritualistic about it, you can follow the Republic Of Tea’s recommendations on the matter.
They suggest using filtered water and only boiling the water if you aren’t using white or green tea. In those cases, you should use water that is warm but shy of boiling to avoid ruining the flavor of the tea. They also recommend covering the tea and water in a pot to maximize the flavoring process:
- White Tea: 2-3 minutes
- Green Tea: 2-4 minutes
- Oolong Tea: 5-7 minutes
- Black Tea: 3-5 minutes
- Red Tea: 5-7 minutes
In general, you should use one teaspoon of tea leaves for every six ounces of water. After you’ve steeped the tea thoroughly, you can remove the leaves using a tea strainer. These are simple metal devices that can separate the tea from the leaves as you pour liquid through them, and are fine enough to catch even smaller leaves.
If you’d like to get a more precise idea of how to boil water for different tea varieties, The Tea Spot has an excellent chart on specific temperatures, along with information about why certain teas taste better at different temperatures. For instance, white and green tea’s flavors are better at lower temperatures because:
“With a less oxidized tea, the lower steeping temperature allows for a complex and full flavored brew. Green and white teas are delicate, like fresh garden produce. If you put boiling water on them, the finished cup will seem like overcooked vegetables rather than an elegant sweet, vibrant beverage.”
With black tea, they explain that:
“The more oxidized a tea is, the more stable. Hotter water is required to bring out the desired tannins from the tea leaves. If the water is not hot enough, the tea might taste weak and lacking in depth.”
They go on to remind that personal preferences do play a large role in how you’ll enjoy your tea. They also provide a few additional tips you can follow to optimize your experience, such as using a ceramic vessel for the tea instead of a metallic one and following the proportion guides as closely as possible.
Use A Tea Infuser
If you don’t feel like straining tea leaves from your finished product, you could instead use a small device called a tea infuser to make the process a bit cleaner. It’s a mesh or metal container that holds the tea leaves in place as they steep, functioning much like a tea bag. Instead of holding tiny tea fannings, though, these devices are made to house the leaves and come in a variety of simple and creative shapes.
Plain spherical and cylindrical infusers are considered the norm, but you can find infusers shaped just about any way that you’d like. These types of tea infusers are well-regarded because they are compact and don’t allow the tea leaves to expand, which might adversely affect the flavor of your finished cup.
You might instead try tea infuser stick, which works on a similar idea. The tea stick is a tube that you can insert tea leaves into, with infusion holes at one end. You can mix it around in a cup of hot water to turn it into flavorful tea after a few minutes time. Some users find them more difficult to use than simple tea balls, but others value their stylish appearance and the ease with which they can pack them for travel.
Metallic balls and sticks aren’t the only options, mind you, there are also cloth tea bags that can accommodate tea leaves, made from cotton or hemp. They’re difficult to clean, but can be used multiple times, just like tea balls and sticks, and are preferable for those that feel the metallic options might taint the taste of the tea ever so slightly.
Alternatively, you could use a tea mug strainer. Also known as a tea infuser basket, this device can slip inside a mug or teapot while holding the tea leaves in place. Pour in your hot water, then watch your tea steep. They are more spacious than tea balls, which provides a slightly different flavor for the tea, and come in different material options, such as metal mesh, plastic, bamboo, and ceramics.
Like these mug strainers is a French Press designed for tea leaves. You may have seen such devices used to make coffee before, and the idea is similar when brewing tea. The tea leaves float around in the hot water for a time, infusing it with their flavor. Then, at the end of the process, you can use the built-in plunger to press the tea leaves to the bottom of the pot, separating them from the mixture.
Use A Tea Machine
If you’d rather go for a more high-tech option when brewing your tea, you could try a tea infuser machine. Much like the tea mug strainer, you add tea leaves to a container that is suspended within the water. Instead of heating the water separately, though, the tea machine can heat the water for you.
With a few button presses, you can heat the water to the optimal temperature and watch it as it becomes infused with all of your preferred tea flavorings. There are simple options, like the Breville or Chefman Electric “Precision Kettle,” but the rapid rise of tea as a popular drink has also led to companies producing more elegant tea machines.
The Teforia is one example, described as a “Tea Brewing Robot for The Home.” It uses machine automation to optimize the tea brewing process and create what should, in theory, be the best possible cup of tea based on the mixture of leaves that you input. According to TechCrunch:
“It works by selecting about a handful of loose tea and popping it into an infusion chamber, pouring in the desired amount of water for your cup, and then clicking a button on the Teforia companion iOS or Android app to get the process going.”
Some Teforia machines can run well over the $1,000 mark, so they’re reserved for the most serious tea enthusiasts. Teforia might be worth it for some, though, as the device even has the capability to update itself based on cutting edge tea knowledge. From the L.A. Times:
“The Teforia is Wi-Fi enabled and downloads lab-tested tea recipes, allowing it to modulate the flavor, aroma, caffeine and anti-oxidant levels of each cup by changing steep time, water temperature and aeration. Water passes through the vacuum-sealed infuser, which is made of hand-blown borosilicate glass, sloshing the tea leaves around before releasing the brew into a bulbous carafe.”
If you’re less about the ritual and more about getting the most flavorful cup of tea possible, the Teforia and similar devices might be your best bet for getting exactly what you want.
Tea is serious business. So much so, that loose leaf tea varieties have become a favorite among hardcore tea enthusiasts looking to brew the perfect cup with superior flavor. Obtaining loose leaf tea is a fairly simple process, with many vendors providing multiple varieties based on all the standard tea varieties.
When it comes to brewing, options are equally diverse. You can keep it simple and just brew the tea with the leaves still in your cup, or go high-end and get a capable machine to work out all the specifics and create your perfect cup of tea.
Important to remember is that it’s all a matter of personal taste, and in the end, there’s no “wrong” way to brew your tea the way you want. If you’d like to learn more, you can start by learning more about the French Press, and it’s unique role in the loose leaf process, courtesy of this tutorial from Instructables.