For over 5000 years, tea has been playing a major role in the life of man. From the politics of the Boston tea party to the tea ceremonies in China and Japan, tea has kept man socially connected. But that’s not the only interesting thing about this popular beverage. Tea is known to offer a number of health benefits thanks to the presence of flavonoids that have rich antioxidant properties. But is all tea good tea? Not necessarily so. It all depends on the type of tea you buy and how you brew it. Loose leaf tea is a great example.
Tea varieties vary depending on the level of oxidation and exposure to the elements. For instance, white tea is fragrant and made from freshly plucked and dried leaves (no oxidation takes place). Green tea which has a grassy taste is made by drying the tea leaves and rolling them before drying. Oolong tea has a floral aroma and is made by bruising the leaves for partial oxidation. Black tea is bold and strong as it is prepared by rolling the leaves and giving them plenty of time to oxidize before being fried. There are also other tea varieties native to specific regions. For example, Pu-erh is only produced in China, Masala Chai is made in India, Rooibos is native to South Africa while Yerba mate can be found in the Andes.
Again, tea can be bought as loose leaf tea, in tea bags, as compressed tea, or instant tea. For tea drinkers who are particularly concerned about the use of fertilizers in the big tea estates, there is also the option to buy organic loose leaf tea.
How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea
The traditional method of preparing tea is to place loose leaf tea directly into a tea pot, pour boiled water over them and allow the infused liquid to brew for a few minutes. The loose leaf tea is then poured through a strainer and served. For a stronger brew, more loose tea leaves need to be added rather than brewing it for a longer time. Over brewing may result in a bitter unpalatable concoction.
Each type of tea has a recommended temperature and brewing time to get the best results. Teas that have little or no oxidation require a lower brewing temperature of 65-85 °C (149-185 °F) while oxidized teas require about a 100 °C (212 °F) to draw out their flavors.
Here is the step by step procedure on how to make loose leaf tea:
1. Measure 1 teaspoon loose leaf tea for 8 oz cup of tea. You can also refer to the back of your tea pack to find the suggested measure.
2. Place the tea in an infuser.
3. Place the infuser in a teacup or teapot.
4. Boil the water to the desired temperature. If you are brewing black tea or herbal tea, the water must come to a full rolling boil (212ºF). If you are brewing Oolong tea, boil the water until the first bubbles start to rise (195ºF). If you are brewing green or white tea, boil until bubbles form at the bottom of the vessel (180ºF).
5. Pour the water over the infuser.
6. Add a spoon of sugar if you want to sweeten your tea.
Loose Leaf Tea Benefits (versus Tea Bags)
The health benefits of loose leaf tea are many although studies for the most part have been inconclusive. What we can say for sure is that loose leaf tea has more flavor, aroma, and antioxidants than tea that is mass-produced in tea bags. There are a number of reasons for this.
The leaves used in tea bags are mostly the dust left behind from the broken tea leaves. Broken tea leaves have little or no essential oils and aroma left in them and release more tannins than loose leaf tea resulting in a bitter brew. Loose leaf tea can be brewed multiple times unlike tea bags which is good for brewing only one cup of tea.
When loose leaf tea is brewed, it expands and releases its full flavor and aroma. Tea bags are restrictive and crush the loose tea preventing it from releasing its flavors. Furthermore, there is the added danger of bleached tea bags releasing chemicals and toxins into the brew.
Even among loose leaf tea, it is better to go for certified organic loose leaf tea as it is free of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, which are known to cause hormone disruptions, respiratory disorders, and certain types of cancer.
Despite the benefits of drinking loose leaf tea, tea bags are more popular. That’s because loose leaf tea isn’t the most convenient to brew. After all, how many of us have the patience to measure out the loose tea, use an infuser or strainer to filter out the leaves and then dispose of the waste just to have a simple cup of tea? But despite the inconveniences, the loose leaf tea benefits far outweigh the negatives.
So the next time you’re headed to the supermarket to pick up a bag of tea, consider buying loose leaf tea preferably organic, as it offers more benefits when compared to conventional teas that are farmed using synthetic fertilizers.