9 August, 2015 by Simon Descoteau
The Basics of Brewing Loose Leaf Tea
We’ve probably all brewed tea at some time or other, chucking that teabag into the mug and pouring boiling water over it is almost second nature to most of us. So why does it suddenly get so complicated when we switch to loose leaf tea? It doesn’t have to, and I’ll be boiling the essence of tea brewing right down to the basics for a simple cup of loose leaf tea.
The basics of brewing loose leaf tea are as follows:
1) Put hot water over tea leaf
3) Drink tea
End of article, off you go to brew things and what not…
Joking aside, there are of course many great variables to consider when brewing tea, and I’m going to go into detail in further articles, but for the time being let’s focus on the main points.
One of the most important parts of the tea brewing process, a vessel for holding the tea leaves. There are various types of teapots, made from common glass, ceramics, to Chinese Yixing clay, in various sizes and shapes. The majority of teapots have some form of filter in the spout, and some of the fancier ones even have brewing baskets to put tea leaves in to stop bits getting into your tea. But as long as it’s a container with a lid and a pouring spout, it will definitely do the job for us.
As long as it gets water to the correct temperature, it’s done it’s job. Whether it be an overly complicated wifi enabled device that specifically boils to the correct temperature, or one you’ve got for a fiver, if it boils water, it’s what you need. Water can cool easy enough, but it’s very important that the kettle does get to 100 degrees C, or a bit higher, reliably and consistently.
When brewing tea, it is very important to use fresh water each time, ideally filtered to remove hard metals and impurities. Tea has a very subtle taste, and the brewing process makes use of oxygen to take place. Every time you boil water, some of the dissolved oxygen in water is lost and this can severely impact the taste of the tea. Those impurities we filter out don’t really help the taste all that much either.
Tea just wouldn’t be tea without tea leaves. There are various types of tea, categorised by the level of oxidation of the leaf after it has been picked, from the very mildly oxidised white, to the heavily oxidised black tea. There are even flavoured options available for the more adventurous. Different teas do require different brewing temperatures, with the more oxidised tea requiring a hotter temperature to brew, generally speaking.
The final thing you need for a good cup of tea, some time. Unlike the powdered quick brewing tea you find in teabags, loose leaf tea takes more time to brew. It’s all about surface area. The smaller the leaf, the larger the surface area available to the water for brewing, the quicker the brewing time. That said, a lot of fun to be had experimenting with brewing times, and the beauty of loose leaf tea is that most can be brewed a few times with the tea evolving with each brew.
Brewing tea can get very complicated, and proper, but it really doesn’t need to be. There’s just something relaxing and calming about drinking tea, and can be enjoyed in a very simple way. Hopefully there’s enough here to get started with experimenting with loose leaf tea. There really aren’t any hard and fast rules with tea, though there are some guidelines that may be useful for getting started. It’s all about getting hot water, tea leaves, and drinking a whole lot of the stuff!