Beginner’s Guide to Loose Leaf Tea

What is Tea?
Tea is one of the oldest and most popular beverages in the world. Legend has it that tea was discovered by the mythic Chinese emperor Shen Nong when tea leaves were carried by the wind into his kettle of boiling water. After tasting the potent brew, he celebrated tea as a tonic and recorded it in his encyclopedia of medicine.

Black tea, green tea, oolong, white and pu’er are all from the same Camellia Sinensis plant. The difference in taste among kinds of tea comes from where they grow, when they are picked, and how they are processed. All teas contain caffeine- even decaffeinated teas contain small amounts. It is the caffeine in tea that made it so popular in early history with many Buddhist monks drinking tea to stay awake for long meditation.

We love tea because as a single plant it demonstrates one of the widest spectrums of taste and texture, highlighting the nature of the land on which it grows and the craft that it takes to coax the best from each leaf. Drinking tea is a connection to the land, a ritual of contemplation, and one very fine taste experience.

Why drink fine loose leaf tea?
golden-fleece-4110_LARGE1. It’s cheaper. Fine loose leaf tea can be re-steeped many times. When you break it down, even high end loose leaf tea is cheaper than most tea bags by the serving.

2. It tastes way better. Tea bags have to be manufactured in big bulk runs, and then they sit for months before being consumed. Looseleaf tea can be shipped from China fresh in small batches. Plus, paper tea bags absorb tea oils, meaning you loose part of the flavor of the tea.

3. Better for the farmers and the earth. Buying hand-crafted tea supports family farms. Tea bag tea is made in bulk on plantations. Dispensing with the extra packaging of bags inside bags also lightens all of our carbon footprints.

Loose leaf tea is so easy!
Going into a tea shop full of tins and strange equipment or attending an English high tea can be intimidating. In fact, brewing tea is even easier than using a coffee machine. At its simplest: Get hot water, add leaves and enjoy! Many tea farmers in China do just that, sipping tea from a big glass with the beautiful leaves floating in the water.

Of course, many guidelines exist to help you get the best and most consistent cup each day. We suggest the following articles as staring points for your own play and experiments in what you like:

How to Make Iced Tea: Learn about how to make a good cup of iced tea, and how temperature changes a tea’s flavor
How to Brew Tea Without the Equipment: Check out this video on making Chinese-style tea at home.
How to Brew Chai at Home: Spiced Chai is a popular and relatively easy tea recipe you can recreate at home.

Want to learn even more?
So glad you asked! Our blog is full of articles on tea. Here are three particularly fun ones to get you started:

What’s the Real Deal With Caffeine in Tea? A look at many popular claims about how much caffeine tea has.

Podcast: The Origins of Tea Listen to some of the stories about how tea was discovered, as told by tea farmers in China.

How to Taste Tea Get tips on what goes into the flavor of a good cup of tea and how to best appreciate it.

Best Teas to Start
If you are new to tea, you have to start somewhere. These teas are some of our most popular, and the fresh 2014 Spring harvests are either already here or on their way: Laoshan Black, Laoshan Green, Yunnan White Jasmine, Zhu Rong Yunnan Black.