Making Loose-Leaf Tea Easy

Reader Contribution by Dawn Combs
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It’s fair to say that I’m a bit of a tea snob. I will only drink high quality herbal teas, and I tend to avoid most tea bags. This is the curse of my career. I grow herbs, teach about them and make medicines with them. This makes me acutely aware of the quality of tea when I go to enjoy some myself.

The Importance of Loose-Leaf Tea

Tea bags seem like such a necessary convenience until you begin to understand that the quality is almost always greatly compromised. To fit into that tiny tea bag, the herb must be finely shredded or powdered. The longer an herb sits after it has been shredded, the more oxygenation occurs and the less benefit and taste actually remains when you finally decide to drink it.

Loose leaf tea tends to give you a better shot at herbs that have not been crushed or broken too much. When leaves and flowers are not hidden in a tea bag, you can easily see the color and condition of your herbs. There is no hiding.

Loose Leaf Tea Intimidation

So many people are intimidated by loose tea. They wonder how much should I use? Our new customers often ask if we sell a tea ball with our tea. We don’t, and I have a good reason why.

I don’t like tea balls. A good cup of herbal tea should use 2-3 teaspoons of herb. Have you ever noticed how little you can stuff into one of those things? To make a good tasting and highly effective tea you need your herbs to be “free range.” That’s right, they need to have the ability to wander around in your tea without a cage. Only then can the water pull everything out of the herb. If your leaves are squished together, unable to move, well … we know how bad that is for our eggs, why would it be any better for our tea?

So why not just use a strainer that sits on top of the tea? Again, the tea isn’t freely roaming through your mug. You’re just not going to get your best cup that way.

Tea Hack

For me, nothing beats a simple mason jar for making loose leaf tea. I throw in 3-4 tablespoons of tea for a quart jar, cover it with hot water and add a lid. This tea can sit for 10-20 minutes, or overnight. When I’m ready to drink, I simply pour into a cup through any number of strainers or sieves in my kitchen arsenal. No need for fancy gadgets, just simplicity at its finest.

This only works for leaves, flowers and fruits. That type of tea is made as an infusion. An infusion is the typical method of tea making: Add hot water and soak. If you have found a tea that includes bark, roots or nuts, you won’t be able to use the mason jar. This type of plant material requires a decoction, which is made by placing the herb in a saucepan, adding water and simmering for 20 minutes. The fancy equipment list still doesn’t apply. Instead of a mason jar you use a saucepan. After that first step, you still pour into your cup through the strainer of your choice.

If you have gone to the trouble of sourcing your tea from a high quality producer, keep in mind that you can usually use your “tea leaves” for at least two batches of tea before you compost them.

In this year of true winter in most parts of our country, what could be better than a good cup of tea? I’m just off to enjoy one myself. What are you drinking?