So you’ve decided to make the switch from bagged to loose leaf tea. Great! Now what? With so many options, becoming a loose tea aficionado may seem intimidating. Don’t worry – with a little know-how and a few good tools, you’ll be brewing and enjoying your loose leaf tea in no time.
The first step is finding the tea leaves to brew. You may have noticed that they’re not as prevalent as packages of pre-bagged teas, but you’ll be surprised how easily you can get your hands on loose tea leaves if you look for them. You can start with a look around your area for an independent tea shop. Finding a local shop is great because you’ll be able to get information, guidance, and brewing tips from the owner. You’ll also be supporting a local business and contributing to your local economy. If you can’t find an independent tea shop in your area, make a trip to the nearest shopping mall. As the popularity of whole, less-processed foods has grown, so has the demand for loose tea. Tea shops are popping up in malls all over the country. If your mall doesn’t have a tea shop (yet), and you can’t find an independent shop in your area, there’s one easy and convenient option – the Internet. A quick search will reveal countless suppliers, across the country and the globe, offering countless varieties for you to try.
Once you’ve found your tea supplier, your next step will be picking out the type of tea you want to try. Most teas come from the same plant, and are categorized by the processing (usually a combination of wilting or steaming and oxidization) needed to arrive at the finished product. White teas are the least processed and the lightest in color and flavor. Black teas, the traditional alternative to morning coffee, are darker, bolder, and have higher amounts of caffeine than other teas. Green teas have a pleasant, light but distinctive flavor that pairs well with many fruit flavors. Oolong teas, which you’ve probably had if you’ve ever ordered tea in a Chinese restaurant, have a bold and unique flavor and are known for their weight-loss properties. Unlike conventional teas, herbal, rooibos, and maté varieties are made from a combination of dried herbs, fruits, and flowers. These blends come from plants around the world and have flavors as diverse as their origins. Their light, fruity flavors (and the fact that they’re caffeine-free) attract many tea enthusiasts to the herbal family.
Loose teas give you the freedom of buying small quantities. You can sample many types and varieties, without committing to a whole box of a tea you might not prefer. Most tea shops have samples brewed; many are even happy to brew up a special taste of something you’re curious to try. Ask your tea vendor how to store your favorite tea to best preserve its flavor (usually an airtight container), and you’ll be ready to brew!