On the blog today, founder of Grey’s Teas, Richard Grey, discusses the benefits of loose leaf teas: why they taste better, how to prepare them and how they give tea drinkers more choice.
Grey’s Teas is an online tea vendor based in Warwickshire, UK. It sells over 100 loose leaf teas.
Why buy loose leaf tea?
Loose leaf teas are the best. We explain why this is.
Loose leaf tea simply creates the best flavour tea infusion. This is because the large leaf grades of tea can be used. These cannot be used in teabags because the leaf is too big to place in a bag. Furthermore, teabags are created for quick brewing. Flavour components which infuse easily are quickly released into the liquor. If more time was given these components, such as tannins, would become unpleasantly strong.
So, if loose leaf teas are generally bigger leaf, why is this good?
Large leaf teas have a smaller surface area compared to the volume of the leaf. This necessitates a longer brewing time. This longer brewing time is good as some other flavour components need this length of time to properly infuse. Once they have done so, you are left with a fuller, more balanced flavour. Even green teas need a couple of minutes.
Teabags get tea drinkers into bad habits!
Not all tea should be prepared the same way. Remember all need freshly boiled water but try Darjeeling teas just off the boil and for green teas you should wait a couple of minutes so that the water has cooled to around 80 degrees C. Similarly oolong teas should be made with cooled water. White teas definitely so. The reason is that these teas can become astringent when boiling water is just thrown on them as is so often done with teabags.
What about these new infusion bags?
Silky infusion bags, either nylon or bio-degradable cellulose, are better as they allow a larger leaf to be used than is possible with standard teabags which can perforate when larger leaf is used. Infusion bags tend to use a smallish leaf however to keep the tea cost down and to satisfy the market for teas that do not take too long to brew. These infusion bags are expensive, as you have probably already noticed, so loose leaf does offer the best value.
What are the problems with loose leaf tea?
Loose leaf tea, using good quality grades, does take longer to brew. Hopefully though, if you value the best flavour in your tea you are prepared to be a little patient! Loose leaf tea does need a teapot to catch the leaf. Many modern teapots do not have a cage (a series of holes at the base of the spout) for this purpose as they are designed for teabags and are made more cheaply as one-piece. The best solution is to buy a glass teapot with a removable stainless steel or glass infuser. This stops fine particles and can be removed once the tea has brewed sufficiently. Furthermore, you can see the depth of colour of your infusion so you know when it is ready to pour.
Do you need a teapot for loose leaf tea?
Teapots need not be large but frequently give you enough tea for two cups. They do not however need to be filled completely. Teapots are best as they are enclosed and this has been shown to noticeably improve the flavour of the tea. You can however use infusers such as tea-tongs which are convenient for one cup. An alternative to a teapot is a gaiwan. These traditional Chinese vessels comprise a cup and lid with saucer. The leaf does however remain in the liquor.
Loose leaf tea gives you more choice.
Many good quality tea are produced and sold in relatively small quantities so they cannot be economically bagged and packaged for retail sale. Indeed, many may not be sold via supermarkets and self-service retailers at all and may be packed to order, especially in markets where this is still the traditional means of buying tea such as in China itself. Buying tea loose therefore gives you, as a consumer, much more choice. It also gives you the opportunity to better appreciate the visual appeal of hand-made teas.
Explore the world of single-origin teas
Teas grown in individual tea gardens, demonstrating the taste and aroma characteristics of these gardens is possible when buying your tea loose. This particularly applies to gardens in Sri Lanka (Ceylon teas), Darjeeling, Assam and Japanese teas. Whilst teas produced in China are not designated by garden there are many different grades of traditional teas produced in certain areas and these can be explored when bought loose.
In summary, be patient, be careful and get yourself a decent teapot. You can then appreciate buying teas and better enjoy drinking them. The value can be remarkable. Explore!