Tea IQ is a series that explores how to be a smarter tea drinker. Today, Lizzie from Bedford Cottage Tea House (who is a tea and baking aficionado and also studied abroad in Oxford with me) shares some tea brewing wisdom.
Hello, think fruitful readers! This is Lizzie from Bedford Cottage Tea House, a blog dedicated to tea and tea parties. Today I am going to talk about some of the basics of brewing tea. Although there are a myriad of teas and tea ingredients out there, there are only a few ways to brew it. Essentially all tea breaks down into two primary categories: bagged or loose leaf.
First let’s talk about bags. Tea bags have been around since the early 20th century, when they were hand sewn from silks and other fabrics. Most of the tea bags you will find on the market today are made from paper, plant starches, or recyclable plastic. While I personally prefer to stay away from the plastic ones, there are pros and cons to each type.
Paper bags are the most common and the cheapest to make. The quality of these bags, however, wildly differs. The tea inside is usually cut very small and can be rather dusty in appearance and taste. The benefit is that you can usually do a quick steep and always end up with a consistent cup. I have heard that some of these bags use glue that contains gluten in the sealing process, so be sure to look for heat-sealed bags. Another thing to consider is the shape of the bag. The flat round or square bags are convenient, but they do not allow much space for the tea to expand. The traditional flat-bottomed tea bag is the best of the paper styles, as it will unfold and expand in the water, allowing for maximum flavor extraction.
The plant starch bags are my favourite style of tea bag for a few reasons. They tend to be made in a more forgiving shape, generally a loose pyramid. This allows for bigger pieces of tea and better water circulation. These bags can fit a larger variety of ingredients in a more whole state, which improves the flavor and allows for a greater subtlety in taste. They do benefit from a longer steep, and each bag will be ever so slightly different in flavor, although few people would notice. Knowing these bags are biodegradable is a plus for me, as I hate the idea of the plastic bags sitting in the landfill but personally dislike most paper bags.
If you do choose tea bags as your primary brewing method, I recommend using a large mug. The bag will benefit from being bobbed a bit, as this will help shift the contents for an even brew. I also like performing what I call the “green tea rinse,” for bagged teas of primarily green and white. Pour a smidge of water onto your tea bag, just enough to soak it through, bob it a few times, then discard. This will remove a lot of the harsher flavours that can develop when more delicate teas are cut fine.
Loose Leaf Tea
Now let’s delve into the world of loose leaf. I switched to using primarily loose leaf tea around 7 years ago and haven’t looked back since. Loose leaf tea can be green, white, black, herbal, or a mix. Essentially it just means any tea that is not pre-measured and ready to steep. Think whole dried chamomile flowers; long, skinny, white tea leaves; green tea scented with jasmine rolled into pearls; black tea with whole pink peppercorns and dried strawberry pieces; the list is endless. Most flavoured teas that you find in bags have to use oils and flavorings to achieve their desired combination, but that is not the case with loose leaf.