Advice for Those New to Loose-Leaf Tea
Introduction - The League of Extraordinary Tea Drinkers
Joining the ranks of the league of loose-leaf tea drinkers may seem like a daunting task for some. With wide variety and complex flavors and aromas, selecting the teas that may be right for you can be a formidable yet joyous conundrum. One may feel like an awestruck child in a candy shop filled with wondrous delights. From tea type to tea region, from teaware to brewing techniques, there are several topics to consider when first starting out. With that being said, making the leap from bagged teas to loose-leaf does not have to be complicated. We at Yezi believe that the basics of selecting and brewing loose-leaf tea are easy to understand and follow. Thus, we would like to invite you down the rabbit hole and into the wonderland that is the world of loose-leaf tea. We assure you that, unlike Alice, you won't get lost.
Getting Started - Easy Peasy!
The initial question that most newcomers ask is: “What loose-leaf tea should I buy first?” Whatever your tea background is, when it comes to starting your journey with loose-leaf, there is nothing wrong with being a timid tiger or an adventurous aardwolf. Let’s address you timid tigers out there first.
If you would like to start slowly and meander into the world of loose-leaf tea, we would suggest learning about the bagged teas that you enjoy. The most important thing to discover is what the base of your favored tea bag is. For example, many English Breakfast tea bags are made from Qimen and a blend of other black teas. For green tea bags, the second most popular tea bag in the States, the base is usually a blend of green teas from the Zhejiang province in China. Once you have discovered what straight teas are used in your tea bags, you can go about getting small amounts of those straight loose-leaf teas to sample. You will be thrilled to find that the loose-leaf teas that you sample will be more complex, more nuanced, and less astringent than the tea bags that they are used in.
For our adventurous aardwolves, we suggest taking note of what flavors and qualities you like about your favorite tea bags. From smooth and floral Jin Xuan to vegetal Long Jing, from earthy and mellow Qizi to sweet and fruity Yi Fu Chun, you will find that loose-leaf teas have innumerable flavors. And though not incalculable, different loose-leaf teas have different beneficial chemical compounds (a.k.a. health properties) that are often sought after by many a bagged tea drinker. These properties include: antioxidants, amino acids, caffeine, and a lovely four bedroom Colonial. We will discuss both flavors and health properties at length and provide a helpful interactive guide later on.
For both our timid tigers and adventurous aardwolves, we suggest purchasing small amounts (1-2oz or less) of loose-leaf tea before purchasing larger amounts (larger than 2 oz). It may not seem like a lot upon reading the quantity, but 2 oz of tea is quite a fair amount when trying out new teas.
Purchasing small amounts of a large variety of teas is highly recommended over purchasing large amounts of a small variety of teas. If you find that you do not enjoy a certain tea, be sure to gift it to another tea lover and try, try, try again! It may take some time and experimenting to discover which loose-leaf teas you like, so do not get discouraged. Think of the trial and error as an adventure through mysterious and intriguing new lands and cultures.
To make the adventure a bit smoother, we suggest learning about the flavors that straight loose-leaf teas have. On your thrilling journey into loose-leaf land, you will meet a host of complex characters (teas) each with different personalities and traits. Just like a hero's faithful sidekick, the teas that become your faithful confidants along the way will have to prove themselves to you with their characteristics and qualities.
Tea Characteristics - Walking through a Loose-leaf Wonderland
When starting off in the world of loose-leaf tea, an important step to eventually take is understanding what it is you like about tea in the first place. Is it the health properties, the flavors, the aroma, or the calming sense of well-being? Do you enjoy robust smokiness, smooth sweetness, or perhaps you enjoy mellow hardiness? Are teas with floral flavors your cup of choice, or perhaps those that are earthy? Or maybe, just maybe, you are a coffee drinker, looking to give up the bean in favor of something healthier with a similar coffee kick? Whatever your preferences are, rest assured that there is a tea out there for you!
Let’s talk about you caffeine seekers first.
Contrary to the popular myth, for the most part, different types of tea do not contain vastly different amounts of caffeine. Mostly, what dictates how much caffeine is in your cup of tea, is how long the tea is steeped for and the age of the leaf before it was picked. Generally speaking, the higher the leaf was growing on the tea plant and the longer a tea is steeped, the more caffeine the resulting cup of tea will have when compared to others. The caffeine level, however, will not amount to the same that would be found in the average cup of coffee. With that said, if you are looking for a tea to energize you, there are many teas that have such robust qualities that they can energize you similarly to the way coffee does. Some of those teas include: Yi Fu Chun, Jin Jun Mei, and Qing Pin. Additionally, many oolong teas and black teas will have a similar effect.
Caffeine is just one of the many compounds that teas possess. Flavonals, a simple antioxidant, and Theanine, an amino acid, are also found in teas. If you are looking for complex antioxidants like Theaflavins and Thearubigins, then look no further than red teas and higher oxidized oolong teas. Searching for Catechins, another simple antioxidant? Then green, white, and oolong teas are the teas for you. Lastly, though not a characteristic based solely on a specific chemical compound, for those of you looking for a tea to help with digestion, pu-erh is a perfect after meal treat.
Finally, let’s talk about what is arguably the most exciting aspect of tea: flavor!
Peach, orchid, smoke, caramel, tangerine, cinnamon, almond, sugarcane, camphor, seaweed. A list of random delicious nouns? Nope, all of these are different flavors that pure loose-leaf teas can have.
If you are looking for teas that are light and sweet and contain notes of fruit or nuts, try white teas. For teas that contain vegetal, floral, and sweet notes, green teas are the ones for you. For earthy and mellow teas with sweet, caramel, and fruity notes, pu-erh teas will be your trusted companions. Oolong teas will gladly join you on your teadventure if you are looking for teas with notes of fruit, flowers, honey, and camphor. And lastly, red teas may be for you, if you are searching for teas that have notes that run the gamut from smoky to floral to sweet to chocolaty. With all of these varying characteristics, it's easy to see why tea has been the inspiration for poetry, art, and celebration for over a thousand years.
If you still don't know exactly where to start, why not try the "Custom to a Tea" Selector? This interactive page will help narrow down which teas may be right for you based on your preferences. Both timid tigers and adventurous aardwolves may find the Selector useful in their decision making!
Brewing - Nurturing the Not-So-Mad Scientist Within
Once you have chosen your teas, it is time to brew them! Contrary to popular rumor, brewing loose-leaf tea need not be costly or difficult! In fact, it is very easy to brew loose-leaf tea without the use of any specialty tea equipment. Here’s what you will need:
- A small strainer
- Two cups that can withstand hot temperatures (Cup A and Cup B)
- Something to heat water up in (It can even be a pot on the stove!)
- Loose-leaf tea
Now, let’s make some tea! For this example, we will be making a fictional black tea, let’s say it’s a Jin Jun Mei.
- Add water to the water heater and bring to a boil.
- Add the appropriate amount of tea leaves for 1 cup of water into Cup A
- Pour 1 cup of water into Cup A
- Let the tea steep for the appropriate time
- Place the strainer on top of Cup B
- When tea is done steeping, pour the tea from Cup A into Cup B through the strainer
- Remove strainer and enjoy.
For our adventurous aardwolves, there is another simple method to preparing loose-leaf tea. This method, unlike the one above, requires tea equipment. Don’t worry, the item it requires is easily sourced in many places; a small teapot. Here’s what you will need, aardwolves:
- A small tea pot
- A small strainer
- A cup
- Something to heat water up in
- Loose-leaf tea
For this setup, you follow the same instructions as the one for our timid tigers, but, you replace Cup A with the small tea pot.
We would like to note that you can also use a gaiwan instead of a teapot. Gaiwans, though not as widely available across the States as teapots, are a great and simple brewing vessel for loose-leaf teas. To find out how to use a gaiwan, we recommend taking a look at our How to Brew Chinese Tea video!
With the two methods detailed above, it's easy to see that you don't need to fret over how to brew loose-leaf tea for the first time. The process can be nearly as simple as brewing bagged tea, and the reward for taking a small amount of extra time will be a complex, aromatic, and flavorful cup of tea.
Final Words - Welcome Aboard
Getting into the world of loose-leaf tea opens up a host of opportunities for budding tea lovers. We believe that the most important thing to understand when starting this adventure is to understand what it is you like about tea or think you like about tea. From there, choosing the teas that you think you will like is a fun experiment and adventure in and of itself. Be sure to keep in mind that brewing loose-leaf tea doesn't need to be complicated or costly.
If you are unsure of where to start, try our Yezi’s “Always a Winner” Tea Slot Machine as often as you like. If you would like some suggestions, others adventurers love our Silver Needle, Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, and Jasmine Tea Pearls, the most, and we suggest them for their easy to brew nature and their wonderful complex flavors.
Remember, this is an adventure, a journey of a lifetime, filled with flavor, character, experience, culture, and community. So never give up, and never surrender. We here at Yezi can be counted on as your comrades and are here for all your loose-leaf adventuring needs. Thus, without further ado, welcome to the league of extraordinary tea-drinkers. We hope you enjoy the voyage.