Four oval shaped bowls, each containing a different type of looseleaf tea

A Potpourri Of Brewing Advice

Michele Lillie

When we talk to customers about starting to drink tea or switching from tea bags to quality loose-leaf tea, we often hear that they think it is too much of a hassle. Plopping a tea bag into a cup and pouring hot water over it is undoubtedly simple, but what you gain in terms of convenience, you lose in terms of flavor and quality of the brew. That, combined with the fact that brewing loose-leaf tea can be almost as simple, we hope is enough to convince you to give loose-leaf tea a try. In this post, we want to answer some of the most frequent questions we get about the brewing process.

Woman with white tshirt and blue  sweater sitting in a chair savoring a cup of tea

How to brew loose leaf without an infuser

There are several ways to brew loose-leaf tea, and not all require an infuser. 

 

Open brewing

  • The simplest way to brew is to just put the appropriate amount of tea into your cup or pot, pour over water at the proper temperature, and brew for the recommended time. Use a small strainer to filter out the leaves and drink. 

  • The pros of this method are that it allows the loose-leaf tea the most room to open, expand, and release its goodness.

  • The con is that if you do not strain out the leaves at the end of the brewing time, they will continue to brew and could lead to an overly strong and bitter cup of tea.

 

Disposable tea bags

  • Instead of an infuser, you may place your tea in disposable tea bags, brew, remove the bag and enjoy.

White cup and saucer with strainer over it and a white teapot pouring tea through it catching the tea and the amber liquid is in the cup

What is the best loose-leaf tea infuser?

Although it is not necessary, we recommend checking out tea infusers when you are ready to get into brewing loose-leaf tea. There are so many options out there.

Tea “Spoons” or “Balls”

 

This is what people new to loose-leaf tea tend to gravitate to. They may have a place, but their use is limited. Loose-leaf tea needs to open up and unfurl in the water to release its flavor. They cannot do this if the tea leaves are restricted in space. Most spoons and balls are relatively small although you can buy larger ones. If this is how you want to go, ensure there is room so the tea has space to expand. This means the average ball or spoon may be suitable for a small cup but not a larger mug or pot. 

Silver mesh tea ball lying on top of a pile of brown tea leaves

Disposable tea bags

 

These might be a good choice for traveling or taking to work as they are convenient. Just as with tea balls, make sure you are ensuring that you use a size that is appropriate for your cup or pot. 

In-cup or -pot infusers or filters. These come in different sizes, materials, and styles. Which you choose mainly a matter of personal choice. Here are some considerations.

  • Proper size – the infuser must fit inside your cup/pot and be deep enough that the water level is above the tea level.

  • Material – most are going to be made of stainless steel, either wholly or partially. Even if the handles are plastic, the mesh will probably be stainless steel. Others are made totally of silicone, some of which collapse for travel. Ceramic is another possible material, but these generally come with a matching mug.

  • Size of holes – the smaller the holes, the better. Infusers with larger holes might allow tea leaf debris to leak into your cup or pot.

  • Lid/Coaster – It is nice to have a lid that goes over the infuser during brewing, which can then be used as a coaster for your wet infuser. It is an excellent addition to your tea brewing accessories.

A black mesh tea infuser with lid hovering above it and  two small piles of tea to the right of it

French Press – this is another option that allows you to brew your tea and then depress the handle to compress the tea leaves at the bottom to prevent over-brewing. These also work well and come in various sizes.

What is the best way to brew a loose-leaf tea in a single cup?

 

Brewing loose-leaf tea in a cup is no different than brewing it in a pot. Whether you use an infuser, a disposable tea bag or even brew loose in the cup is up to you as long as you follow the recommendations on:

  • Amount of tea to use for the size of the cup.

  • Brewing time.

  • Removing leaves after brewing

How much loose-leaf tea should be used, and is there such a thing as too much?

  • The general rule of thumb for measuring loose-leaf tea is one teaspoon for every six ounces of water. That is an excellent place to start for many loose-leaf teas of average leaf size. There are some cautions about this recommendation.

  • If the tea leaves are very large, much less tea will fit in a teaspoon compared to average-sized teas. You will need to use more of this type of tea.

  • Most quality loose-leaf teas are not very small-leafed, but you may want to use less if your selection is very small.

  • Experiment with using more or less tea to suit your taste. If you do not use enough, your brew will be weak. If you use too much, it can become bitter.

  • If you like to drink different kinds of tea with differing leaf sizes, you might want to consider a scale. The recommended weight is 2.5 to 3 grams of tea for every six ounces of water. Your average kitchen food scale probably doesn’t weigh in such small increments. Other scales do, though. They are often called jeweler’s scales or pocket scales.

Why does tea go bitter when left sitting for too long after brewing?

  • Depending on the type of tea, the recommended brewing time is between 30 seconds to four minutes. As mentioned above, the liquid can become bitter if the tea leaves sit in the water too long. This happens because of compounds called tannins. 

  • Tannins are compounds found naturally in nature. They are found in tea and (among other sources) grapes, wine, cranberries, coffee, cacao, and rhubarb. They impart astringency and bitterness to these food sources.

  • Since tannins are found naturally in tea, there is no way to eliminate them. Over-brewing tea does lead to more tannins being released into the liquid. Thus, the tea becomes bitter. This can be prevented by removing the tea leaves from the water after the recommended brewing time.

 

What about a tea leaf determines how many steeps you can get out of it?

  • One concern we hear from customers is that loose-leaf tea costs significantly more than tea bags. That is true if you are only looking at the package price. However, did you know you can re-steep your loose-leaf tea, which lowers the cost per cup?

  • Any kind of quality loose-leaf tea can be rebrewed. Black, oolong and Japanese green teas are especially well-suited to multiple steeps, but you may rebrew any “real” tea. Fruit infusions and herbal tisanes do not do well with multiple steeps.

  • Typical tea bags should not be rebrewed as, after the first brew, there is not much flavor left, and the tannins can make it bitter.

  • When you rebrew, not only are you being frugal, but you are also experiencing different aspects of the tea as the flavor often changes with multiple steepings.

  • Have fun with rebrewing. There are no absolutes, but here are a few different recommendations.

    • Brew the 2nd time just as the 1st brew. After that, you may want to increase the brewing time slightly.

    • Some like to add a small amount of fresh tea to the brewed leaves.

    • If you are brewing a tea that requires cooler water, such as green tea, try increasing the water temperature for subsequent brews.

  • To prevent mold from developing, rebrew within a few hours. If you wish to keep your tea leaves longer, the recommendation is to dry out the tea leaves.

  • There is no magic number for number of steeps you can get with quality loose-leaf tea. The tea will eventually lose flavor. At that point, it is time to put the leaves in the compost or try some ways to recycle tea leaves discussed in this Post.

These are just some of the questions we get about loose-leaf tea and how to brew it. Please let us know if you have other questions or want further clarification. We would love to guide you through this beautiful journey of learning to enjoy and savor loose-leaf tea.

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