One of the first existential crises’ newbie tea enthusiasts face is the precipe of the loose-leaf crossover. There you are, standing on the edge looking down at an abyss of infused confusion. Gone are the safety nets of tea bags and string from boxes- instead, you are faced with an open-ended wonderment.
So you’ve come home with a bag or tin of loose leaf tea. Now what? Don’t despair – there are actually a lot of ways to make your tea. Each method has its pros and cons, some serving a more specific use than others. Infusers are perfect for the office while a heat-friendly steeping pot is great for company. Possibilities are, as they say, endless! Well, sort of.
Let It All Hang Loose
Take a cue from the 60’s and embrace your wild side. For a lot of tea enthusiasts, this is considered one of, if not the best way to brew for the best body and flavor. The idea is to let the tea float loose in your pot (stove-top or a tea-pot with a built-in strainer), no strings attached (literally), allowing the leaves maximum room to unfold and brew.
Pros – great for large quantities in one go, allegedly offers great taste.
Cons – can burn delicate teas if you’re not diligent, can get messy (clogs spouts on teapots easily).
Method: Stovetop – fill your pot with water, and scoop in tea based on desired strength (standard 1tsp per cup / 8 oz). Turn on the burner to the lowest heat setting and let the water heat very slowly. For delicate teas (white, green) use a standard kitchen thermometer to make sure the water doesn’t get past the highest recommended brew point for that tea. For heartier teas, let the water come to a soft boil. Turn the stove off, remove from heat, and let the tea cool to a manable temperature.
Use a strainer to transfer the tea to a serving pot or pitcher.
Works Best With: Heavy, hearty teas (black, rooibos, pu’erh, oolong, and herbal infusions) that don’t burn easily.
Additional Tips: I use this method sometimes during the summers, when I want to brew large quantities (gallon+) of tea to chill and use as iced tea to drink or when I’m having a lot of people over for tea. Otherwise I tend to not favor it.
Hands down, if you’re going to be delving into the world of loose-leaf tea, you need one of these – sometimes more! If there is one product I would personally push everyone to have, it’s an infuser. It’s the most versatile, mobile, and simplest method for brewing loose leaf and has very little drawback. They are generally made to sit comfortably in most mugs. They also come in fun forms – robots and floating ducks and sinking ships!
Pros: easy to use, portable, personalizable.
Cons: Usually only large enough to brew by the cup. Needs a scoop of some sort. Compact space doesn’t allow for maximum leaf expansion.
Method: Fill the infuser with desired amount of tea (standard is 1 tbs per cup of water). Heat your water to a boil and allow it to reach the desired temperature based on your tea instructions.
Works Best With: All teas
Additional Tips: Be wary of the hole size of the infusers. Some have larger holes which allow finer tea leaves to drift into the tea. It’s always a good idea to have two, one fine and one broad for steeping, but if you had to choose one over the other, go with a finer mesh.
A fun alternative to a standard infuser is an infuser wand. It carries all the general pros of a standard mug infuser with the added bonus of being its own scoop!
A steeper is an awesome item that allows you to brew tea in a confined, limited space but still allow the leaves room to expand. Most are designed with a pressure plate on the bottom which will drain the tea into your cup. It’s less portable and takes a little more maintenance than infusers but will allow for a better brew / more than just one cup of tea.
Pros: Larger sizes brew more than one cup of tea at a time, easy to use, allows leaf expansion.
Cons: Require more cleanup, not portable, take up more space, fine leaves sometimes get caught in the mechanics.
Method: Boil water. Measure out tea, pour water into steeper. At proper temperature, add leaves and steep as directed.
Works Best With: Most teas
Steeping pots work basically just like steepers with the added function of keeping your tea warmer for longer and being larger for multiple cups. Steeping pots come in two main varieties – some have large-holed filters on the inside of the spout to allow you to pour your tea without getting leaves in your cup. Others have infuser baskets that are removeable. You can brew your tea in the pot itself or pour already-made tea into your pot for warmth and serving.
Ceramic and cast iron pots hold and handle heat really well on their own. Iron and glass steeping pots can usually be kept over a small flame (via -tea-warmers and candle) to keep the tea warm as well.
Pots, warmers, and trivets (think coasters for hot pots) all come in a variety of materials, styles, and colors and are one of the ways tea drinkers can personalize their experiences.
Pros: Great for groups, long-term drinking, and aroma.
Cons: Lots of clean-up, take up space, long steeping times.
A french press is normally used to brew coffee but it functionally works for tea as well. If you’re a minimalist or on a budget, it’s a totally decent method of brewing tea. The major downside to french press is there is no easy / quick way to remove the leaves from the water to prevent over-steeping save for removing all the water completely – totally valid if you plan on using a steeping pot to serve and are only using the press to brew. It allows for a larger quantity of tea, depending on the size
Pros: Minimalist, multi-purpose, good for larger quanities
Cons: Oversteeping can happen, messy clean-up, probably not fire-friendly
You may ask “Why use a bag if we’re buying loose leaf tea?” This may seem almost backwards but it’s commonly assumed that pre-bagged teas are lower quality than loose. And lets face it – bags have a very traditional and simple appeal. They are a great alternative to the above methods for situations where you don’t want an involved clean-up. At work, for instance, or on the go. When you’re done steeping, just toss the bag and you’re done!
Pros: Disposable, compact
Cons: One-time use, less room for leaves, more waste
As tea consumption becomes more popular, so does the desire for cool and fun wares. Many companies make mugs, tumblers, and pitchers that come with infusers designed to work well with that specific product. They seem almost unnecessary and extra but have their uses.
A tumbler is normally made to be good at keeping tea hot while on the go – pros is it’s pretty compact and travel-friendly. Cons, easy to over-steep your tea if you have a long commute so only use if you like your tea strong and with hearty blends.
Pitchers likewise are great ways to brew larger amounts of tea or tea that’s meant to be chilled while steeping (iced tea, yum!), or cold-brewed teas.
And steeping mugs are more a fun extra to have around the house or at work.