Four Myths About Loose Leaf Tea…

The internet is littered with myths about loose leaf tea. We often hear these excuses from brands and conglomerates that are vested in the business of teabags. These myths are designed to convince people to stay away from the benefits of real tea.

It’s no surprise that people have a hard time separating fact from fiction. With so much misinformation about loose leaf tea circulating around the internet, how is anyone supposed to know what’s real and what isn’t?

First, a deep breath.

We are setting out to debunk the most common myths perpetuated around loose leaf tea:

We hear this all too often, that loose leaf tea is intimidating and fussy. That it needs special tea ware and special skills. And yes, some loose leaf tea could do well with a practised hand. Some indeed benefit from having accessories like a gaiwan or a porcelain pot. However, this is not true of all loose leaf tea.

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A kettle is all you need to enjoy a good cup of loose-leaf tea.

There are two factors that really influence the outcome of the tea once you’ve bought it: water temperature and steeping time. And that, you will admit, is easy enough to control with everyday utensils lying around the kitchen.

Hot water helps to extract the flavours from the dry tea leaves for you to enjoy. But when the water is too hot, it will scald the tea leaves and the brew will be bitter and astringent. Just like very hot milk burns coffee and you get a bitter brew. As long as you have the water at the right temperature, you should have a great cup of tea.

The amount of time you steep the tea is also important. A longer steeping time extracts more of the plant compounds and caffeine, which makes the tea bitter or lacking in the intended flavour. So the steeping time should be adjusted to ones liking.

When you have a good quality loose leaf tea, brew it in any vessel you have. A great start to making a most enjoyable cup of tea, is in beginning the process — knowing how hot the water and how long a steep should be, will follow.

So how do you control the temperature and steeping time? Below is a handy guide:

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Loose-leaf tea steeping guide.

Myth 2: Loose leaf tea is expensive

Yes, there’s very expensive loose leaf tea but equally, plenty that can become an everyday choice. Tea straddles two worlds: of commodity and craftsmanship, and depending on what you choose, the costs will vary.

Commodity tea is mass-produced, for volume rather than craft. Price is a key factor in how it’s made, blended and packed. It’s rarely from a single tea garden. In fact, when we went to a blender’s factory many years ago, we saw that the tea he was buying from our single-origin estate in Assam, was one of 53 other teas from other estates that went into making the final product that was packed, branded and sold!

Branded teabags you find in supermarkets, contain the dust and fanning which are low grades that comes from tea production. This makes for the cheapest cup of tea.

Whole leaf tea, on the other hand, occupies a large spectrum in itself.

At one end is the premium, hand-plucked, handmade, crafted tea that can cost a pretty penny. Just like a unique wine from a single origin region commands a premium, artisanal teas, command the right price. Connoisseurs seek them, and the tea makers also make them in very small volumes. It’s never mass-produced.

But there is a whole leaf tea to suit every kind of tea drinker.

At Rujani, you can get an artisanal single estate tea for as low as 50 cents to a dollar a cup.

Granted, a popular supermarket brand of black tea would just be around 5 cents a teabag.

For the difference of a few more cents, you get a quality tea produced at origin, single estate, and one that can — and should — be used for at least two steepings, which brings the value up even further.

The teabag on the other hand is of indeterminate source, lacking in flavour what it offers in strength, and comes with a much higher carbon footprint — at least 10 times more than the loose leaf tea as one research showed [1].

While the teabag may be unadventurous to some people, its convenience means it is here to stay. However, most tea is still consumed in loose leaf form, but several markets rely on the teabag. For example, 96% of UK tea is bagged. The number is similar for North America and Europe, but half that number in Asia. [2]

In Australia, an estimated 25 billion tea bags are consumed each year, which roughly translates to over 168,000 tons of waste. 

Gourmet tea bags that contain loose leaf tea are available, by producers and tea retailers. The costs here are comparative with loose leaf tea. There is also a price difference between buying direct from the source, to choosing a supermarket brand. Packaging, branding and retail costs all add up to a significant percentage of the selling price of teabags. When buying loose leaf tea from non supermarket brands, it is mostly the product that you pay for.

In a nutshell, you can get a great cup of tea using loose leaf tea, for as little as 50 cents to a dollar a cup, which while costs more than a teabag, it is not out of reach for everyday use.

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Re-steep your tea at least two to three times to discover the real flavour profiles of loose leaf.

Myth 3: Loose leaf tea is only for tea enthusiasts and connoisseurs

Let’s face it, there’s a reason why tea enthusiasts seek out loose leaf tea.

It opens a whole world of flavours, origins, tea estates, varieties, and styles of tea making and tea drinking. This sheer choice is what holds appeal to tea lovers. Loose leaf tea, in its un-blended form, is about the flavours that it produces. It has nowhere to hide, unlike say, a flavoured blend where a mediocre tea can be compensated for by the flavouring used. Add to that the impact of inorganic flavours used in such blends.

A good loose leaf tea embodies the best of its terroir, the cultivar and the skill of the tea maker.

In a world that’s moving more and more towards transparency in the food supply chain, in fair prices and fair wages, in responsible farming, loose leaf tea has the answers to many of these questions, and is increasingly a better choice.

This shift will make single estate loose leaf tea more and more affordable and accessible. Why should you choose it? It’s a much better tea for a marginally higher cost.

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Everyday cuppa.

Myth 4: Loose leaf tea takes too long to make

It’s a fact that mass-produced tea bags will infuse in seconds and give you a very quick cuppa.

Teabags are made with the small dust and fanning grades, those fine particles that are the residue from tea production, that steep very quickly. Growing up in India, one of the tea bag adverts on the telly was a jingle that went something like “dip — dip — dip, add the sugar, and the milk, and it’s ready to sip” — so quick and easy for sure.

Loose leaf tea will take a little longer, typically 3–5 minutes for black tea, and less for a green or white loose leaf tea.

It’s a fallacy that loose leaf tea has to be time-consuming. It’s probably a perspective that comes from the ideas of eastern tea ceremonies or tea rituals. While these ceremonies are experiential and greatly rewarding, they are not essential to enjoying loose leaf tea, per se, for your everyday cuppa.

At the same time, many loose leaf tea drinkers view their tea time, as a time to step away from the demands of a busy day. The tea paraphernalia, the gathering of their tea ware, the making of the tea all contributes to re-centering oneself, to the moment when the tea is ready and one is able to savour it without distraction.

It’s what makes tea a beverage that induces calm because when you stop to inhale the aroma and enjoy the flavours, you bring your senses to the present. It’s a moment of pause in your day. We find that loose leaf tea drinkers seek it, and that’s what makes tea time one of slowing down; it’s not about how long loose leaf tea takes to make. That’s 5 minutes tops.

Enjoy your cuppa!

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Reference:

[1] http://www.avnir.org/documentation/bdd/sg/doublet-2010-LCA-Darjeeling-tea-1.0.pdf   http://greenproductscorner.blogspot.com/2010/09/teas-carbon-footprint-explored.html?m=1
[2] https://www.sgs.com/en/news/2020/01/the-hidden-plastic-in-teabags https://worldteanews.com/tea-industry-news-and-features/tea-bags-staid-stable

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