Loose leaf tea is tea that is made by infusing… well loose leaves. This is a great way to try creating your own flavors and blends and to impress guests with something really unique.
At the same time, it can also provide a wide number of different health benefits to address specific health issues and to help you perform at your very best.
In this post, we’ll explore everything you need to know about loose leaf tea – where it comes from, how to make it and how to get the most of its excellent health benefits.
A lot of people get into coffee not only because of the drink but because of the paraphernalia, the culture and the whole practice and ritual involved. People like finding ‘their drink’, testing out different beans and generally feeling a little special by being able to shoot the breeze about their favorite brew.
Tea for the most part doesn’t tend to have quite this same reputation or appeal. To many of us, tea is something we buy in a bag form, pour hot water on and drink with a biscuit. It is functional but not as intricate or exciting.
Except that this really needn’t be the case. Tea is actually an incredibly exciting and nuanced drink in its own right and especially when you start experimenting with loose leaf blends!
As the name might have suggested already, loose leaf tea is made from the leaves of the tea itself. That means that there’s no bag and that the leaves are only somewhat broken up. It’s as though you had headed into the woods, found a leaf and dropped it into a mug of boiling water.
And in fact, in many cases, that’s exactly what it does mean!
So why loose leaf tea? What are the specific benefits?
The first and most obvious advantage of drinking loose leaf tea, is that it allows you to pick and choose precisely what you put into your tea bags. This in turn means that you can experiment with different flavor combinations and you can even drop some less obvious ingredients in there – how about pine needles for example? Nettle?
Likewise, you can choose more exotic green teas, like the amazing yerba mate green tea which Darwin himself described as the ‘perfect stimulant’. And which Tim Ferriss claims is the secret to gaining ‘genius on demand’! For those who want a little less stimulation meanwhile, picking and choosing your own tea leaves can also be a great way to make decaffeinated brews that won’t leave you bouncing off the walls.
It’s also worth noting that bagged teas often include things you’d probably rather not include. The ingredients tend not to be as fresh and they’ll often incorporate stems and seeds that lead to a bitter taste. And far from being more expensive, loose leaf teas are actually cheaper!
As if all that wasn’t enough, you also get the fun of creating your own flavors and sharing them with guests and you’ll actually be helping the environment as this type of tea is more eco-friendly!
There are all manner of things you can use to make tea. However, the main ingredients are of course… tea. And this comes in a number of colored varients, which are:
This is the type of loose leaf tea with which most readers will be most familiar. This is the tea that we call ‘builders tea’ and that the British like to drink with biscuits. It’s a good alternative to coffee as it has a slightly lower caffeine content but still enough to help you get up and going in the morning. On top of this, black tea still contains many of the antioxidant properties that make green tea so popular.
The Brits drink black tea with milk but if you’d rather go continental, you can enjoy it as they do in Eastern Europe and many other countries with a slice of lemon.
Green tea is one of the most celebrated health panaceas on the planet thanks to its excellent antioxidant content and its purported benefits for the brain. Green tea is relatively calming and although it does often contain caffeine, this is in many cases lower in quantity as compared with black tea. Green tea will normally be consumed without milk and has a somewhat ‘grassy’ taste in many cases.
White tea is a very light and ‘subtle’ teas. It has a low caffeine content and isn’t as strong as a black or green tea in terms of taste either. This is a great choice if you’re looking -to cut your caffeine down or you want to benefit from the health benefits without drinking traditional tea.
Oolong tea is a Chinese tea that is very similar to green tea with a full-bodied and sweet flavour. It’s high in antioxidants and believed to help support weight loss and mental clarity.
This is another sweeter type of tea that comes from South Africa. This is also completely-caffeine free, which is down to the fact that it’s not made from tea – but rather dried fruits, herbs and flowers. That makes it a good choice for those looking to do a caffeine detox again and its sweet flavour also makes it a superfood alternative to fruit juice.
Learn more about Rooibos Tea by clicking here.
Chai tea is very popular in India and is dark with lots of flavour. It also tends to include other aromatic herbs and spices, which can include cardamom and cloves to make to spicy and full-bodied. It’s a great one to try if you’re starting to develop your skills as a tea connoisseur and you want to try something a little different, a little more adventurous.
Like rooibos, herbal teas are made from dried fruits, herbs and flowers and that means that you can create all manner of health benefits and flavors. For example, if you’re struggling with a cold then you can try making yourself a peppermint herbal tea to soothe the problem.
You can add herbal tisanes to your own loose leaf tea blends to add additional health benefits and to subtly alter the flavors however you see fit.
Learn more about some of the different types of loose leaf tea here.
Now you know about all the different types and the many benefits of loose leaf tea, it’s time to start getting adventurous and to start making your own!
To start with, you’re going to need a few different ingredients and tools in order to get started. You’ll need:
Some things that can also help are a teaspoon, oven mitts, thermometer and a kettle or a microwave with microwave-safe cup.
First, you’re going to fill your kettle or your microwavable cups with about 12 ounces of water for a cup and a half of tea. Now boil the water!
While the water is boiling, open up your choice of tea and measure it out using a teaspoon. As a general rule, you’ll only need 1 teaspoon per 8 ounces of water but this is going to vary somewhat depending on the type of tea that you’re going to use. If you’re unsure, check the packaging or consult with the supplier and you should be able to get some advice.
If you are mixing several different leaves to create your own blend, then of course you’ll need to decide on a rough ratio yourself.
Now you’re going to take that tea and add it to a tea strainer. This will sometimes be built into your mug or a larger container and this makes for a much more convenient way to enjoy your tea. The most conventional method is to use a teapot with a built-in strainer. You then simply add the strainer to the top of the teapot, which will act like a sieve/hammock and hang into the hot water underneath.
Some types of tea should be added to pots when they aren’t quite boiling. This way, you won’t risk burning the tea which can ruin the flavour. This is one of the most important things to learn when you’re learning how to brew loose leaf tea and how to use a loose leaf tea infuser. This will allow the tea to sit deeper in the water for a more even flavour.
The next part is called ‘steeping’ and this is where you leave the tea in the loose leaf tea infuser/strainer. As you do this, the flavor will exit the leaves to infuse the water surrounding it, along with all that goodness. The amount of time that you leave the tea is going to depend on the type of loose leaf tea you’re brewing.
Oolong needs to be steeped for 5-8 minutes for example, whereas yerba mate is consumed while it continues to steep. Green tea is more fragile in general though and should normally be steeped for 2-4 minutes – longer and it will risk becoming bitter!
Note that you need to be careful when considering how to store loose leaf tea. Always keep your loose leaf tea away from air, heat and moisture. Store in a cool, dry and dark area and keep flavored teas away from pure teas (called ‘origin teas’). Use an opaque, non-plastic container to avoid toxins and damage from light and make sure you make each bag so that you don’t risk picking out the wrong bag!
Loose leaf tea requires a little more thought and care than tea bags but the rewards are more than worth it!
So now you have the know-how and the know-why… it’s time to get the know-what!
In other words, what types of tea should you start experimenting with in your own blends? It would take an awfully long time to list every single type of loose leaf tea here, so instead let’s just highlight some particularly interesting, healthy and/or tasty teas that you can start experimenting with…
Pine needle tea is a centuries old brew and if it’s a boost in vitamins you’re looking to get, then this is a great choice.
The old legend goes that pine needle tea was introduced by Native Americans to European settlers. At the time, many settlers allegedly were suffering from scurvy due to a lack of vitamin C in their diet.
Thus, the Native Americans introduced them to their pine needle tea which could treat coughs and colds by adding a good dose of the vitamin to their diet. This makes it one of the most potent organic loose leaf tea options available!
As you might expect then, this is a tea that is high in vitamin C. And that in turn means you’ll get antioxidant benefits as well as general strengthening of your immune system. Vitamin C is also great for improving energy levels though and overcoming fatigue and it can additionally help to improve the mood by elevating levels of serotonin and the sleep by boosting melatonin.
Just how much vitamin C do you get in your pine needle tea? Apparently, it’s roughly five times the amount you would get from a lemon – more than 400mg per cup. On top of that, it also contains a lot of vitamin A which is good for eyesight among other things.
This is an ideal tea to drink during the winter months to help stave off colds and a great way to get a bit of vitamin C in your diet if you don’t love eating apples and oranges!
Pu-erh is somewhat different from your traditional tea owing to the way it is prepared. Unlike the main types of tea, pu-erh goes through only a natural fermentation process prior to being gently dried. This helps to remove any astringency and give the tea its rich and deep body. At the same time though, it also produces micro-organisms that add even more impressive health benefits.
Pu-erh tea comes from Yunnan China and is named after the Pu’er city. It starts life as a raw product that is referred to simply as ‘rough’ (mao cha) and can be pressed into different shapes. After the leaves have been plucked, the drying is what creates this ‘rough’ before the roasting that prevents full oxidation.
Pu-erh is rich in polyphenols which are well known for their powerful antioxidant effects. What’s more is that they can help to speed up fat loss and even reduce stress. These are found in many green teas and this is one of the big reasons that so many people are starting to gravitate toward them.
But it’s the microbial activity that makes this tea even more interesting as a health aid. For example, the micro-organisms are thought to help encourage healthy gut flora in the stomach for improved digestion. This works similarly to consuming other naturally fermented foods.
Studies have also found that pu-erh tea can help to reduce the synthesis of fatty acids (1) this could aid fat loss but will also help to prevent high cholesterol and blood pressure. Caffeine is of course often used for increasing the metabolism and can thereby help with fat loss too.
And better yet, pu-erh also appears to be able to help reduce the accumulation of visceral fat – this being the most dangerous kind of fat that collects around the mid-section surrounding the organs. Perhaps through a combination of these effects, pu-erh is able to help lower the body mass index of those who drink it.
Additionally, pu-erh is a particularly good choice of hot drink if you’re trying to achieve a sense of steady calm (often referred to in literature as ‘vigilance’). Caffeine is well known for helping us to feel more alert and awake, which it achieves by blocking the adenosine receptors of the brain. At the same time though, this can sometimes risk making us feel jittery and anxious.
Fortunately, pu-erh also increases our production of GABA and theanine, both of which are inhibitory neurotransmitters. Theanine is found in ‘yerba mate tea’ which is a green tea that is particularly effective for putting people in a calm, focused and creative state of mind. It was once described by Charles Darwin as being ‘the perfect stimulant’ – and pu-erh should work similarly.
Only pu-erh might actually help keep you even calmer thanks to the GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) which is another inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to suppress brain activity. This is a great choice of organic loose leaf tea if you need to work late at night for example but don’t want to affect your sleep too negatively.
Not every type of loose leaf tea needs to be exotic and unheard of those. Earl Grey is likely a type of black tea that you’ve heard of before and you’ve probably had on occasion – and actually this is also a very powerful health tonic!
The best part is that it can be enjoyed very easily and affordably by buying it in the form of organic loose leaf tea bags. This means you don’t need any specialist equipment but you can start enjoying the benefits of loose leaf tea quickly and easily.
So, what does it do for you?
As mentioned, caffeine works to give the brain a kick via the suppression of adenosine. This can make us more mentally alert and is actually protective against neurodegenerative diseases in the long-term too. Earl Grey is a great source of caffeine, like others on this list.
This is great if you are on the way to work and you just need something to wake you up and help you focus. But it’s not so great when you’re on your 6th cup and the boss is breathing down your neck. Why? Because it’s a stimulant. And stimulants make us anxious.
But this is where Earl Grey comes in. Earl Grey is ideal because it is flavoured with bergamot oil. This in turn has been shown to stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain and serotonin is the ‘feel good’ hormone. Not only does this combat stress by putting us in a more positive and relaxed state of mind but it actually acts against the excitatory nature of caffeine and even makes it easier to get to sleep.
In other words? It takes the edge off. And it promotes the state of ‘focussed calm’ that is so often recommended and referred to as vigilance. If you find yourself feeling too wired at the end of the day, making the switch from English Breakfast Tea or Coffee could be a great move.
Earl Grey tea is actually good for your teeth on two counts. For starters, it’s high in catechin which is an antioxidant that is especially effective at combating oral infections At the same time, it also contains fluoride – which is the stuff that the government adds to water to try and prevent cavities and tooth decay.
But don’t get carried away and start putting Earl Grey on your toothbrush (hopefully you wouldn’t do this…). Unfortunately, almost every tea is still pretty bad when it comes to staining your teeth!
Earl Grey is particularly high in antioxidants. This makes it a great choice for helping to combat those free radicals that might otherwise damage the DNA and lead to cancer. Likewise, it can help our skin cells to stay looking healthier and younger for longer!
And now the big one – because many people enjoy Earl Grey for its weight loss benefits and this is one of the big motivations for getting involved in organic loose leaf tea in general, in fact!
On the one hand, you have your caffeine. And in fact, caffeine is fantastic for increasing the metabolism and heartrate and that way helping us to burn more calories. If you look at any ‘fat burner’ supplement, then you will always find that they contain a large amount of caffeine.
In addition to this though, the citrus extract (bergamot oil comes from a citrus fruit) is also thought to further help increase the metabolism and speed up fat loss.
Of course these are just three examples of delicious loose leaf teas and hopefully they’ve served as an example of what’s possible in terms of health benefits, flavour and more! Do some research and you can learn how to brew loose leaf tea that’s perfect for you and your guests.
There’s much more to learn once you get started too – for example, you might want to consider tea pairings for meals. Oh and consider getting yourself a loose leaf tea travel mug if you want to enjoy these delicious blends on your morning commute!