Even for those in a life-long relationship with bagged tea, starting the loose leaf lifestyle opens up a new world. The epiphany starts with the taste buds, of course; bagged tea just won’t taste the same. Then, it leads directly to the kitchen, where the coffee pot, stovetop pot, and microwave, once partners of the bagged variety, just will no longer do. And no, this isn’t because of tea snobbery, or even that these methods are inferior in general. It’s because, despite still being tea, the loose type requires particular approach.
Loose leaf tea needs a little more TLC because the flavor and quality are different. For instance, it doesn’t really matter how you handle a fruity bag of Twinings, as it pretty much always tastes the same. On the other hand, oversteeping or “overcooking” a loose berry-tinted white can really impact the taste; just one simple misstep can transform a perfect cup to bitter and barely drinkable. Don’t let this scare you away, though! With knowledge and the right tools, it’s well worth the extra work when the first sip hits your tongue.
Check out the following accessories to make the most of your loose leaf experience. Not only will you be able to steep the perfect cup, you’ll be prepared for the proper tea experience–alone or with guests!
No tea-lover’s home is complete without a kettle. Not only does it heat water quickly, but it also keeps water hot for a good while. This makes it even faster to reheat the water to your desired temperature, and it’s particularly convenient when you want to top off your chilled tea with a little warmth. Plus, if you have a proper teapot, a kettle is a good way to heat water for steeping.
Note: Stainless steel kettles work great, but when first used, and sometimes periodically during their lifetime, they can have a metallic taste that bleeds into your water. Boiling water with lemon or white vinegar usually fixes it quick!
Each tea type is best brewed at a particular temperature. The exact temperature can vary depending on where you look, but the general ranges are about the same. For instance, black tea is best at 195 to 205 degrees and herbals at around 205 degrees, but greens and whites should reach around only 175 degrees, and certainly no more than 185 degrees. Sure, the less serious drinker may not bother with such measurements, but to get the full flavor from a tea, it’s best not to overheat it.
The easiest way to mark the temperature of tea is to grab a beverage thermometer, like those used when frothing milk for espresso. Most of these are the typical dial type, but there are also digital options. Some thermometers even have a clip on the side, which is helpful whether it’s used in a cup, pot, or kettle. You may not use it every time, but it should definitely be on your list.
Just like temperature, loose teas all have different steeping times. Although some like the bitterness of an oversteeped tea, such as a black variety, not every kind is good that way. The drink will get too bitter, or in the case of herbals, it can almost get medicine- or chemical-like. That’s where a timer comes in.
Many of the most popular are sand timers, and they often come in a set with one-minute increments, such as 3, 4, and 5. Digital timers are also popular, or even better, you can use a tea timer app with a noise alert, which is best if you’re like me and get distracted. Ultimately, the method doesn’t matter as long as loose leaf is timed correctly.
An infuser is the best way to make a single cup of tea. They are basically small tea holders that contain tiny holes through which the water filters. They also come in many different styles, whether plain stainless steel or decorative, are available for hot or cold cups, and are super easy to clean for reuse. Some hang over your cup, with a heavy chain and tag like a tea bag; others sit in the cup or hook to the edge.
Infusers are especially appealing for a couple of reasons. For one, they are environmentally friendly, being as they are reusable and do not create trash like a bag. Secondly, they filter tea better and can be less messy than some disposable tea bags. Be aware, however, that some teas contain tiny pieces that can make it through the infuser’s holes. For those instances, a disposable bag may be best.
Tea Pitcher With Infuser
When summertime hits, there’s no reason that loose leaf life has to take a dip. There are plenty of loose teas that taste wonderful cold, which means it’s time to upgrade your single-cup infuser to a big boy. There are numerous pitchers with infusers on the market today, and each allows the slow-infusion that is cold-brew tea. Plus, each pull double duty when lemon or cucumber water sounds appetizing instead.
Shopper’s note: Pay close attention to the infuser part of the pitcher. With tea, the holes in the infuser need to be tiny. Try to find a product that either has only tiny openings or comes with separate inserts for fruit and tea.
Electric Digital Kettle
For when a lazy day hits, or when exact and super quick are on the menu, a digital kettle is perfect. These electric kettles require a plug, water, and the push of a button. What could be easier? Even more importantly, they heat water to an exact temperature, which is critical when brewing a good tea. They also keep the water that set temperature for a specific amount of time, until the shut-off features activate for safety.
Who says coffee has a monopoly on lattes? Instead of ordering a fancy coffee, try a Chai tea or matcha latte instead. All that’s needed is an electric frother, which heats and foams milk–whole, 1%, almond, whatever you prefer–to kick a cuppa up a notch. Add some syrups (pumpkin and white chocolate are my favorites with Chai tea), and it’s just as good as an espresso drink that costs $5 a pop!
Once you get serious about tea, it’s time to commit: Buy a true tea set. No, not one of those you’re afraid to use in case it breaks. It doesn’t have to be anything too expensive or fancy. It also doesn’t need every tea-time item under the sun; a teapot and teacups will do.
There are plenty of chic ceramic and gorgeous cast-iron Japanese-style sets that are under $50, serve four to six people, and are perfect for a first set. True porcelain dishes would be delightful, of course, but there’s no need to rush all in. Stick to your style and your budget. Either way, you’ll be prepared for any guests that come your way.