The ultimate beginner's guide to brewing loose leaf tea.

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How to brew loose leaf tea for beginners

So you’ve heard all about how loose leaf tea is superior to bagged tea and you’re ready to try it out. You’re on the path to graduate from tea newbie and start your next journey as tea connoisseur. Well congratulations my friend, you’re in the right place! I’m going to teach you how to to brew loose leaf tea like an expert (hint: it’s easier than you think).

There is a lot of hearsay about how loose leaf tea is for fancy people, tea connoisseurs, or for those with a lot of time on their hands. In fact, there are a lot of myths about loose leaf tea. But these things are just not true.

There are multiple ways to prepare loose leaf tea and having multiple options can be overwhelming for many people. But the truth is, making loose leaf tea is just as easy as making bagged tea. All you need to do is figure out which one appeals to you most, and then do it (simple!).

There are essentially 5 ways to make loose leaf tea. Some are less involved than others, and some are deemed “better” than others by tea snobs. But none of them are wrong! Just remember that you get to choose which way to brew loose leaf tea that is most convenient for you.

Method one: use a tea infuser.

A tea infuser is basically a reusable tea bag. The most common ones are made of stainless steel and look like a mesh ball with a chain. There are also adorable fun shaped infusers out there like this Manatea one or these flower shaped ones. Whatever the shape, they’re usually all used in the same way:

  1. Open the infuser.

  2. Scoop tea into one side of the infuser.

  3. Close the infuser tightly.

  4. Place infuser with loose leaf tea inside into your cup or pot and then add hot your water.

  5. Follow instructions for recommended brewing temperatures and times on your tea packaging.

  6. Once your tea is done brewing, remove the infuser from your cup or pot.

Rating: 3/5 - Considering all you do is scoop your tea into this tiny reusable tea bag and then steep your tea, it’s easy. The thing that many people dislike about this technique is the clean up. Each time you brew tea you have to empty out the infuser and then clean it out. It’s simple enough, but some can’t be bothered. Using an infuser also doesn’t guarantee that plant matter won’t get into your cup. A common complaint of this method is that it doesn’t keep every single leaf or herb out of the cup or pot.

Method two: use a tea filter.

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A tea filter is essentially a tea bag, but you put your loose leaf tea inside it yourself. In my opinion, this is one of the most convenient and easiest ways to brew loose leaf tea. They’re great if you don’t have a lot of time, don’t want to deal with the mess of cleaning out an infuser, or if you’re having tea on the go/traveling. The steps to using a tea filter to brew loose leaf tea are similar to using a tea infuser:

  1. Open the tea filter at the slit near the top of the filter bag.

  2. Scoop tea into the filter.

  3. Drape the tea filter with tea inside over the side of your cup or pot and add hot water. Alternatively, you can pinch the filter near the middle of the bag, twist until all the way to the end of the bag, tie in a small knot, then add to your cup.

  4. Follow instructions for recommended brewing temperatures and times on your tea packaging.

  5. Once tea is done brewing, remove the bag from your cup or pot.

Rating: 5/5 - This method is basically as easy as buying tea already bagged, it just requires a few extra steps that take under 30 seconds once you know what you’re doing. Plus no clean up. The only drawback to brewing tea this way (as well as using a tea infuser) is if you use too much tea, it may not properly unfurl. You see, when the leaves of the tea plant and some herbs are submerged in hot water, they expand (or unfurl). If theres not enough room for them to do this, your tea may not taste as good as it could be. To avoid this, just make sure you’re leaving some room in the bag so it’s not jam packed with tea. Also, this method guarantees you won’t have any floaters leftover from your brew.

Method three: use a tea strainer.

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This method is a little more involved (time, clean up, and extra utensils) but you get optimal results. A pour over tea strainer is typically made of stainless steel and has either has a handle or rim that fits over the lip of your cup. Some even come built into a cup or teapot which makes it even more convenient. But sometimes this method requires an extra brewing vessel, so it can be a little more time consuming.

If you have a tea strainer with a handle:

  1. Scoop your loose leaf tea into a separate container (I use a glass measuring cup ) and add your hot water.

  2. Follow instructions for recommended brewing temperatures and times on your tea packaging.

  3. Once tea is done brewing, pour it through your strainer and into your cup or pot.

If you have a tea stainer without a handle that just sits in the cup or pot:

  1. Place the strainer on the mouth of your cup or pot, scoop your loose leaf tea into it, and add hot water.

  2. Follow instructions for recommended brewing temperatures and times on your tea packaging.

  3. Once tea is done brewing, remove the strainer from your cup or teapot.

Rating: 4/5 - This method is awesome because your tea will unfurl pretty well and cleaning it is a little easier than emptying & cleaning a tea infuser. But sometimes it can require extra materials which may not be your thing.

Method four: use a tea press.

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This is essentially the same thing as a coffee french press. In fact, you could totally use the french press that you have at home! It’s a glass container that has a round mesh filter inside and you press the loose tea leaves down to the bottom when you’re ready to drink your tea.

  1. Remove the lid and attached press (one piece) from the glass container.

  2. Scoop loose leaf tea into glass container and add hot water.

  3. Place lid on top of container, resting the press on the surface of the water (the handle will extend up a ways).

  4. Follow instructions for recommended brewing temperatures and times on your tea packaging.

  5. When tea is done brewing, slowly press your the handle down all the way to the bottom of the press.

Rating: 5/5 - This method is so simple but does require some clean up after. And I know a lot of coffee drinkers hate using a french press because it’s time consuming to clean. But it’s a great way to brew your tea because the tea will be able to expand and unfurl to it’s full extent, giving you optimal flavor. The only thing I don’t like about a tea press is that you can’t take the tea leaves out, which will keep brewing as long as there is water in there.

Method five: use just a teapot or cup (no fancy contraption).

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You can totally brew tea by throwing your tea directly into your teapot or cup. No one said you have to use an infuser or tea filter.

  1. Scoop loose leaf tea into your cup or pot, add hot water.

  2. Follow instructions for recommended brewing temperatures and times on your tea packaging.

Rating: 2/5 - This is easily the most simple way to brew loose leaf tea, but not the most common. Most people are turned off by the thought of drinking tea with plant matter floating around in it (which by the way is totally fine to consume and won’t harm you. And most of it will sink to the bottom, anyway). Another downside to this method (like the tea press) is that you have less control over brewing time. If you don’t want to over steep your tea, this method isn’t great because you’re not straining the tea out and it’s just sitting in there until you drink it.

PRO TIPS:

How much tea do you use? This can vary depending on the brand you’re drinking, but generally a good rule of thumb to follow is using 1 teaspoon for every 8 ounces of water. But this can vary depending the type of tea you’re making or what the brand recommends. For tea blends that have a lot of ingredients, you can use 1 heaping teaspoon or even 2 teaspoons, to make sure you get all of the ingredients in your cup and depending on how strong you like your tea. I use the perfect tea spoons to measure out my tea.

What about brewing temperatures? Again, each tea brewing temperature varies depending on what the brand recommends or the type of tea you are brewing. Here is a good general rule of thumb: 210 degrees (basically boiling) for black tea and herbal tea, 185 degrees (just below boiling) for green tea, 165 degrees for white tea. If you’re using a basic kettle to boil your water, you don’t really have control over exact temperature- and that’s ok! Honestly, I like to tell my tea customers that they can do whatever they want (freedom!) and don’t have to worry too much about sticking to strict brewing temperatures…you’re not going to ruin your tea if your water isn’t to the exact recommended brewing temperature. But some people are really dialed to water temperature because it can effect the way the tea releases it’s flavors. I have found that you don’t have to worry as much about temperature when you are brewing tea blends vs single origin tea. This is because tea blends contain both the tea plant and herbs/spices, and herbs/spices require a higher temperature when brewing for full flavor and potency. Learn even more about the tea plant here.

How long do you brew it? Similar to brewing quantities & temperatures, the amount of time you steep your tea depends on a few factors: (1) the type of tea, (2) what the brand recommends, or (3) your own personal preference. A good general rule to follow is 4-6 minutes for black tea, 3-5 minutes for green tea, 1-3 minutes for oolong tea, and 7-10 minutes for herbal tea. When I brew tea “to-go” in my shop, I brew each tea- no matter the type- for 5 minutes (unless otherwise instructed by the customer). I create tea blends and you can generally get away with steeping these longer because they contain both tea plant & herbs or spices. But I know some people who love strong effing tea, and they never take their tea infuser out of the cup. I also know people who aren’t into super strong flavors, and only steep their tea for 3 minutes, always. You’ll find what’s right for you!

Now that you’ve learned how to brew loose leaf tea, you can practice different ways of brewing and find your favorite method. Everyone is different, so method preference, water temperature, and steeping times will vary as you continue exploring tea. Feel free to share your favorite method for brewing loose leaf tea in the comments below!


Happy Brewing,

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