Loose leaf tea might not be top of the charts yet, but it has been steadily gaining popularity as people learn more about the advantages of this seemingly superior option.
The fine tea in traditional tea bags, you see, is usually a kind of “tea dust,” highly granulated particles from broken down tea leaves. The result is a reduction in quality of the tea, and a final product that is deprived of its essential oils tastes more bitter and is not nearly as fragrant.
In short, tea blends that contain whole tea leaves as opposed to inferior tea dust will taste better, so it’s no shock more people are interested in learning how to acquire loose tea and make their own.
Read on to learn how to make your own tea.
How To Make Your Own Tea
For some time, there was significant resistance to the idea of people making their own tea or using anything other than standard tea bags. The common misconceptions were that loose tea was too costly, that it was too difficult to grow or brew, that it took too long to procure. None of this could be further from the truth.
While you are going to pay more for loose leaf tea, it’s not much more than the difference between a fancy teabag variety and some bottom-shelf grocery store tea. Loose leaf tea can potentially be messy, but if you’re tidy, it’s no messier than trying to scoop coffee into a coffee maker.
As for it taking to long or requiring lots of extra equipment to use, this is another falsehood. You could use special tea infusers if you want, or you could just steep some leaves in water and call it a day. Your call.
Let’s go over what makes for good loose leaf tea, how you can acquire your own, and some basic information about how to prepare it.
What Ingredients Make For Great Loose Leaf Tea?
One of the great things about tea is that you can make it from almost anything. The list of possible ingredients is long, and you can blend different ingredients together to create different flavor profiles.
Normally, you’ll want to start by choosing a “tea base.” This is the standard tea variety that you will then enhance with other flavors. Good choices for tea bases include Black Tea, Green Tea, White Tea, Oolong Tea, and Rooibos tea.
Once you have your base picked out, you’ll want to add complementary flavors to expand the flavor profile. This is the part where you can get very creative. All manner of herbs, fruits, and flowers can come together to create a taste that is brand new. It’s unfeasible to go over every possible combination, but Blend Bee has a great flavor guide to help get you started.
Some interesting things to note that they bring up are that shavings of fruit added to tea will not taste overwhelmingly fruity in the final blend if you’re using a natural method and that some flower varieties will give your tea a fruitier flavor than fruits themselves.
Another important point is that while you can use services like this one, or Design A Tea, or any of the others out there to obtain your own loose leaf tea blends, there are some people who would much rather go all-natural and start growing their own tea from scratch all on their own. This is another distinct possibility.
How To Grow A Tea Garden
To make your tea from start to finish, you’ll need to create your own tea garden from which to procure the loose tea leaves. Keep in mind that the process is going to be slightly different for true tea from the Camellia Sinensis plant than it will be for herbal tea that comes from various other plants.
For herbal varieties, you just need to grow your particular herb in a pot, dry them out (or don’t), then choose how you want to brew them. Popular herbs for tea include lavender, peppermint, chamomile, jasmine, bergamot, rose hips, and lemon verbena. You can use just about any culinary herb to create an herbal tea variety, though.
For true tea, you’ll need to acquire a Camilla Sinensis plant. You can acquire a clipping from an existing tea plant, buy a baby plant from a local nursery, or get some seeds to plant. Remember, this plant requires a large, warm environment to grow properly. If you live in warmer regions, you might be able to grow your tea plant outside without issue. In colder zones, consider moving indoors or to a greenhouse for maximum growth.
If you’re growing from seeds, remember the plant will take about four weeks to germinate. You must cover the seeds lightly with soil and keep it damp and warm. You should also keep in mind that it will take about three years for plants grown from seeds to produce enough leaves for you to make any tea. If you are using a transplant, wait about a year indoors before moving it to the outside and taking leaves for your tea.
Regardless of whether you’re taking a transplant or growing your seeds, you’ll want to keep the right pH balance on your soil. Tea plants prefer slightly acidic soil, and prefer soft water. You can fertilize sparingly during the summer. Provided you keep the environment warm enough, your tea plant should grow as expected. Prune them every few years to keep them from getting out of control. Tea plants are hearty, and with care, they’ll last you 50 to 100 years.
Once your tea plant is producing viable leaves, you’ll need to pluck them to make your tea. You should do this in the spring, targeting the newest growths, the flushes, for your harvest. Next is to create the tea of your choosing. White, Green, Black, and Oolong tea come from the same source, but the process used to create them is what makes them different.
For Black tea, you just need to roll the leaves and buds up until they turn dark. Then you spread them out in a cool place and let them dry out for a few days. Store them away; then you have your black tea.
Green tea requires yo to spread the leaves out in a shaded area for a few hours, then roast them for a few minutes afterward. Let them bake for about 20 minutes at 250 degrees; then you can store them for future use. White tea follows the same process as green tea, but uses only the buds and not the leaves.
As for Oolong tea, you let the leaves rest in the sun first for about an hour, then move them to the shade for about ten hours. Dry them in the oven like green tea, and store the leaves away. If you wish, you can then combine these base tea leaves with other ingredients to create new flavors, as we mentioned earlier.
Brewing: Teabag Or No Teabag
When preparing to brew your tea, you’ve got another critical choice you’ll need to make: teabag or no teabag. For some, the whole point of using loose leaf tea is to do away with the teabag. By using the whole leaf directly in the tea, you can reduce the surface area of the tea when brewing it, reducing the possibility that the oils and aromas that make the tea flavorful will evaporate. This is why loose leaf tea is considered higher quality than traditional tea dust.
It is not simply a choice between stuffing whole leaves in the cup or grinding them up to create a tea dust to dip. There is a middle ground you can go with, either by using loose teabags to fit in whole leaves or loose leaves, or going with metal tea balls which achieve a similar effect. You may have seen these specialized teabags before, as they are commonly referred to as “tea pyramids” and “tea socks.”
Either way, the process for brewing remains largely the same. Boil some water, pour the water into a cup or bowl, then steep the leaves until the tea is strong. You can add your choice of sugar or honey afterward, and then enjoy your mixture. There are some specialized tools for brewing the tea faster you can use if you choose, but, when working with your homemade blends, you might just want to stick with the traditional method.
Tea is a drink created from the leaves of the Camilla Sinensis plant that has been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. Though highly granulated tea bags have dominated for many years, some people are starting to convert to using whole tea leaves or loose-leaf tea to create their blends.
Loose leaf tea has less surface area, and results in higher quality, more flavorful tea when brewed properly. Most tea blends use a tea base that comes from a variety of the Camilla Sinensis and is enhanced with flavors from fruits, herbs, and flowers.
You can obtain these ingredients from third parties, or grow your own tea in a tea garden if you prefer. If you’d like to learn more, check out Teatulia’s Tea 101 page to get yourself up to speed.