“This tea is really good!”—slightly surprised, pleasantly—was what I most often heard when handing out samples at a local market. “Teabags?” would generally follow.
No, teabags will never give the full-bodied flavor and multiple nuances of a loose leaf tea. To truly get every bit of flavor (and gorgeous full color) from a tea leaf, it must fully unfold and be able to circulate as it steeps. The tiny broken bits of tea leaf (fannings or dust) in a commercial teabag fall short.
When we use loose leaf tea, we often have pretty large pieces of (or complete) tea leaves. We can especially see this with those teas that have been minimally processed—after brewing, unfurl a wet leaf and you will see that it is indeed most or all of a leaf!
To allow for the optimal unfolding of the leaves, we don’t want to constrict them. When using a tea ball or other enclosed infuser, or when making our own loose leaf tea bag with a paper filter, we want to use a large enough one to allow maximum leaf expansion. These brewing techniques work best with teas that have been processed either by the crush-tear-curl (CTC) or the orthodox methods because the tea leaf pieces are already small and will easily fit into the tea ball without breaking. Plus, you can get the correct amount of tea into the tea ball without needing to use one that is so large that it takes up too much space in the teacup or teapot.
However, for green, oolong, white, or tippy (those that contain more leaf buds, or tips) black teas, it is best to use something that allows plenty of room for the larger leaves to fully unfurl and move about.
For a teapot whose spout has a “web” to keep the leaves in the teapot as the tea is poured out, simply put the tea loose into the teapot.
Other teapots are designed with removable strainers/infusers/brewing baskets that hold the tea leaves, yet are roomy enough for the leaves to open up. Variations of these open infusers also work well in a large mug. In travel tea mugs or thermoses, try putting the leaves under (rather than in) the filter basket.
Or just measure your tea into a liquid measuring cup or beaker, add the hot water, and then pour the brewed tea through a brewing filter, or even a kitchen strainer, and into your teacup. Easy!
So if you want to brew the best possible tea, consider how to best allow for leaf expansion. To help you out, TeaHaus carries a complete line of brewing supplies—even compiling a very handy Brew Kit Box that includes a tea measuring spoon (its deep bowl makes it easy to measure out bulky teas), glass liquid measuring cup, timer, and reusable Finum brewing basket. I highly recommend the tea measuring spoon and the Finum brewing basket! The basket, with its fine mesh, works great for tiny slivers of rooibos tea as well.
And when you make tea, you too can say, with no surprise: “This tea is really good!”