Why I Prefer Loose Leaf Tea

An unknown Chinese tea exporter sent a tiny silk bag containing a sample of tea leaves to the New York coffee merchant Thomas Sullivan. Perhaps unsure of just how to prepare tea, the sample tea leaves AND bag was mistakenly added directly to a pot of boiling water. It may well have been this “error” that gave Sullivan the idea to become a coffee AND tea merchant, I am not sure. But history does show that in 1904 Sullivan began using a patented teabag commercially. I am sure the Chinese exporter was proud to find a new market for his tea in America and I would guess as he described his new customers “style” of enjoying tea, to his experienced tea drinking friends and colleagues they enjoyed a good laugh! Soon a Chinese inventor invented the tea shredder making placing tea dust into a bag easy!

Today walking down the isles of any supermarket, reading the most recent news on natural remedies and cures, or picking up any life-style/personal enrichment magazine and you are likely to see the word TEA. Tea as the saying goes is HOT!
I feel fortunate to be living in a time when such awareness about this ancient miracle plant is being presented to us on almost a daily basis. Of course we are speaking about the camellia sinensis, the plant from which all types of tea is crafted. We also see many interesting recipes or ideas on how to use tea to enhance the flavor of some foods or drinks, increase health, beauty, peace of mind and overall wellness. Unfortunately in many cases they still explain how to add tea by using teabags. Of course the benefits of a teabag is the ease of use, however I think for the most part they fall short in delivering the BEST tea has to offer.

  • First there are many more choices to select from including organically grown teas allowing for wider variety of flavors and aromas.

    It is believed that over 5,000 different teas exist in the world today. All tea comes from a single type of plant, the camellia sinensis just as all wine comes from a vitis vinifera. Within each of these plant families there are several varieties. The specific variety, the environment, weather and of course the winemaker or tea master all play a role in making each pleasure different. Each country has its own nuances and just as the differences in a wine from France, Italy or California are easily recognized, soon you will know if your tea is from Japan, China, Taiwan, India or beyond. Experience and celebrate the differences within the world via a cup of tea.

  • By selecting loose leaf you have the additional option of actually adding some of the plant to your daily food intake.

    Scientific and medical research tells us drinking tea may improve our health. But it goes further to say some of the beneficial components in tea are not water soluble and so ingesting the leaf may provide even greater benefits. Some of the actual leaf in teas such as Matcha (ceremonial tea) or Sencha (Japanese green tea) slips into your cup. But did you know in Japan it is common to eat the very fine fresh Shincha (first harvest Sencha) or Gyokuro (shaded green tea) leaves, after enjoying the brew. Simply add a little dressing and eat the brewed leaf like a small salad or add them to a stir fry or rice dish. I have eaten brewed tea leaves several ways they are delicious and full of vitamin A vitamin E and protein!

  • The beauty of watching the “dance” as the leaves open, uncurl or simply float can be compelling with meditative benefits.

  • Oolong as we often spell it or Wu long perhaps more correct is rapidly growing in popularity and perhaps the most beautiful tea to watch. Within the Wu long style you will find a wide range of tea from very green and delicate to very dark somewhat earthy. Oolong tea comes from Taiwan and the Southern Fujian Province of China. They are very large leaves that are hand rolled after fermentation, creating tiny tight pebbles. As you brew the “dance” they perform can be mesmerizing. An elder in China told me it is Wu long tea that makes women even more beautiful as it keeps off the extra pounds. I enjoy all styles of Wu long and will often brew them in glass rather than the traditional Yixing style teapots just so I can watch the performance!

  • Good quality loose leaf can be re-infused several times.

    The most important thing to remember when brewing tea is to brew only what you can serve into your cup or serving pot at one time. Steep your tea and then pour ALL of the liquor off the leaves into your cup or serving pot. This practice allows you to then re-infuse your leaf with more hot water over and over again. Brewing tea in this way is also the trick to keeping your green teas from turning bitter or your black teas from becoming burnt tasting. Most high quality loose leaf teas can be re-infused 5 or 6 times with some Puerh or Oolongs giving up to 10-12 infusions from a single serving, making the actual cost per serving of premium loose leaf teas very inexpensive.

  • The cost of lose leaf is often significantly less than teabags.

    When you look at a box of teabags in your grocery store it is common to see several priced from $3.00 to $8.00 with 15 or 20 teabags enclosed. So we might think 20 or 40 cents a bag, however if we look carefully we see only 1.1oz to 1.6oz of total weight making these “inexpensive” boxes averaging $40.00 to $90.00 a pound! Tea packaged in the stylish sachets often in excess of $150.00 per pound. The fact is teabags require more packaging than loose leaf and as we all know that has a cost both financial and on our environment.

  • Once you have brewed and enjoyed your tea try some of these practices from Asia to extract even more benefit from your leaves.
  • In the kitchen:
    Place a small dish of used leaves in the refrigerator to keep it smelling fresh.
    Wipe cutting boards, frying pans or cooking utensils with used leaves to clean. Rubbing used leaves between your hands will remove onion odor from your skin and also gives your hands a nice soft feel.

    My husband uses our old tea leaves to clean his wok after stir frying vegetables. This cleans and eliminates the oil. Detergents will clean it, but also removes the wok’s time honored “seasoning”. Lucky I am indeed to have him as my chef and one with soft hands as a result of rubbing the leaves.

    Prevent Rust:
    The tannin contained in green tea reacts with irons and forms a film on the surface. By wiping iron kettles or iron pans with used tea leaves the worry of rust is gone!

    Clean your home:
    Spread well drained used leaves on hard surface floors and then simply sweep clean. It is common to see Chinese restaurants using this trick to clean oils from the kitchen floor. Place used leaves in a tightly tied clean rag and use to polish your wood furniture. The luster will amaze you.

    Keep shoes fresh and odor free:
    Tea’s anti-bacterial affects makes it a perfect choice for your shoes. Dry leaves by roasting in a pan, then wrap them in a piece of gauze to tuck into an old clean sock. Place the very dry leaves in your shoe closet or right into gym shoes for extra smelly relief.

    Great in the garden too:
    Of course we can compost with tea leaves, but did you know adding leaves at the base of your roses helps with pesky pests? Your acid loving plants will bloom even longer with a nice big pile of used leaves worked into the soil around them.

    Brewing loose leaf tea is very easy once you know just a few simple tricks and the benefits compared to using a teabag are many.

    I believe the benefit and value of tea ALL tea is simply amazing! I can think of no other single plant that has contributed so positively to mankind for as long or in as many ways. Weather you are consuming tea for the numerous health benefits, eating tea for new and different experiences or using tea to enrich your spiritual practices I encourage you to consider forgoing the ease of teabags in favor of the wide world of loose.