My hubby and I started drinking tea a few winters ago while trying to cut down on sugar and pop, and it’s been a huge hit in the house ever since.
Unfortunately it did take some trial and error to figure out the best ways to buy and brew a variety of loose leaf teas. So here is what you need to know about getting into loose leaf tea without breaking the bank, or winding up with a bunch of tea you hate (I swear I didn’t just throw out three tins of two-year-old tea that had only a couple of cups used…)
Depending on where you live getting tea is probably pretty easy. Most cities, at least in Canada, have several tea shops to choose from. If you’re not sure if there is one in your area, Google is your friend. If you’re not the “go out and shop” type, there are also plenty of online options. However, I caution against ordering online if you’re just getting into tea, as the smell and taste of some teas do not live up to their ingredient list. For online shops I use David’s Tea and have heard amazing things about Mountain Rose Herbs.
At the Tea Shop
[related_post align=”right”]So you’ve found your local tea shop and you decide it’s time to visit them in person. Great! Most shops are set up with a long counter, behind which are rows and rows of large tea canisters. Wander up and have a look. If you see something that looks interesting, just flag down a sales person and they’ll bring over the canister for you to look at and smell. If you like it they’ll ask you how much you’d like, and this is where it gets a little confusing.
Most places I’ve shopped list their price for 50 grams and offer the tea in 50 or 100 gram bags or tins. That can be a lot of tea to drink, especially if you’ve never tried that flavor before. I suggest getting a few different teas in 25 gram amounts. That ends up being enough tea for 6+ cups and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve wasted money if you don’t like that flavor.
While at the tea shop, it’s also probably a good idea to pick up a strainer or tea bag sleeves. The type you pick up is completely personal, there are tons of cute ones available as well as ones big enough to steep entire pots of tea. I love the giant mug and strainer set I picked up at David’s Tea because the stainless steel doesn’t stain as easily as many of the mesh strainers, and I forget to empty my strainers frequently.
I also keep a box of tea bag sleeves around for serving tea to guests or tossing into my travel mug when I go to school. I’ve found that travel tea tumblers are quite expensive and my plain travel mug works just fine with the disposable tea bag sleeve.
Every tea is different in how it steeps. Thankfully most tea shops include directions on each individual package. You can even get tea timers and kettles that heat water to specific temperature if you’re a true connoisseur. I however am not, most of my teas steep until they look like tea with water that has been left for a minute after boiling. That part is really trial and error for me and I’ve had a few cups of tea over the years that are bitter from being steeped too long. When that happens I note the type of tea and double-check the instructions, usually it’s a black tea that I’ve let steep too long, by cutting back on the steeping time it’s usually great. A cellphone timer or kitchen timer works just as well as a $20 electronic timer in my mind.
A good rule of thumb for most teas I’ve found is about a tablespoon full of loose leaf tea per standard size mug/cup. For larger cups increase the volume of tea, not the steeping time or water temperature.
White Tea: 180F/80C — 1 tablespoon — 1-3 minutes
Green Tea: 180F/80C — 1 teaspoon — 2-3 minutes
Black Tea: 206F/93C — 1 teaspoon — 3-5 minutes
Oolong Tea: 185F/85C — 1 tablespoon — 3-5 minutes
Herbal Teas: 206F/93C — 1 tablespoon — 5-7 minutes
Once your timer goes off or you’re happy with how your tea looks/tastes drain the strainer over your full cup and set aside on a small plate/bowl and enjoy!