Steeping Loose-leaf Tea–Simplified

My friend Veda came in to buy tea the other day and wanted to seriously talk to me about being more assertive in helping people feel empowered to use loose-leaf tea.  What?  I’m thinking to myself…”that’s why I do my Tea Discovery Classes… to empower people to understand what tea is”.  And then the light went on: I’m helping people discover tea, but not necessarily helping them to see the really simple and easy tools they can use at home.  In my Tea Discovery Classes I use a gaiwan to steep teas because I want to provide a full tea experience to participants, but truly, most people who take my class do not seek to buy or use a gaiwan—at least not right away.   Most people want to ease into loose-leaf tea and Veda gently told me that I can do a much better job of helping people see how simple and easy it is.

So for everyone who wants to switch to loose-leaf tea or is currently experimenting with it, but is still frustrated with their methods or tools: this blog is for you.

Buy a big infuser—one that is lidded, is fine-mesh stainless steel, and is at least three inches deep and two inches in diameter.  You can use this steeper in a teapot or a cup and your good quality loose-leaf tea will have plenty of room to expand—giving you all its wonderful flavor.  These infusers typically cost $12 to $15 depending on the brand, size and source.  You can also find unbleached tea sacs with large capacity (make-your-own teabags) that are typically compostable and convenient to pre-load for travel.  Stay away from tea balls, infusion spoons or anything else that is small capacity—they cramp the tea and sometimes leave behind an icky metallic taste.

Always use filtered water—chlorine taste will detract from your tea experience.

A stove-top kettle for heating water is just fine—you don’t need to make a huge investment in a fancier electric kettle or tea-making appliance unless you want to.  Temperature and steeping time is important with good tea.  I have refrigerator magnets with steeping times and temperatures that I give out for free to people who visit the Studio.  Briefly: white and oolong teas steep at approximately 195F for 3-4 minutes; green tea at 175-185F for 1-2 minutes; black teas and herbal infusions at 212F for 4-5 minutes; pu’erh teas at 195-212F for 45-60 seconds (depending on the style).  To bring boiling water down to 195F, pour it into another vessel first—like a Pyrex pitcher—then pour it onto the tea leaves.  To bring boiling water down to 175-185F, start with 4 cups of boiling water and add ¼ cup of room temperature water before pouring it onto your green tea.

Steep your tea with the infuser lid on—it keeps the heat in and seems to enhance the flavor of the finished product.   Depending on the brand of infuser you use, the lid often doubles as a holding tray for the infuser after use.

Enjoy your tea!  If it’s white, green, oolong or pu’erh, steep it more than once—maybe lengthening the steeping time by a minute or so with each subsequent infusion.  Everyone is individual in how strong they like their tea so play with it a bit.

The steps above are pretty simplified and there may be teas that lend themselves to variations of the time and temperature, but that is all part of the tea journey and each individual’s preferences.  Thank you Veda—I will do a much better job of empowering people with loose-leaf tea from now on.