How to Brew Leaf Tea

Organic tea and brewing accessories
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Making the switch from easy, convenient, portable teabags to flavorful, nuanced full-leaf tea can be daunting, even if you are aware of the quality disparity between most teabags and whole-leaf tea. With a basic understanding of how to brew whole-leaf or loose-leaf tea and an easy infusion method, the switch is easy. Here are five easy ways you can infuse tea at home, on the go, at the office and beyond.

Pre-portioned, Easy-to-infuse Teas

If you want your tea brewing to be as easy as “just add (hot) water,” you can still enjoy whole leaf tea. More and more companies are offering their full-leaf teas packaged into pyramid bags (pyramid-shaped bags) and tea pouches / ”tea socks” (basically plus-sized teabags made of cloth or paper-type materials), which allow for fuller infusions that traditional teabags. Likewise, some companies are launching lines of upscale teabags with higher grades of tea leaves than traditional teabags. They’re not whole-leaf, but they’re better than your average teabag.

Tea Balls and Tea Pouches

Tea balls are classic and easy enough to use, but they are flawed. Cheap tea balls tend to fall apart after a short period of use. Invest a little extra in a good quality tea ball, teastick, or similar tea strainer instead of the dollar store varieties.

In a similar vein, you can also make your own tea pouches or “tea socks” at home. They’re basically teabags you fill yourself, so you can select the type, flavor and quality level that’s right for you. 

Note: Don’t fill them up all the way or tie them tightly shut! It keeps the tea from unfurling as it infuses, negating much of the point of selecting whole-leaf over teabags from the grocery store.

In-cup Tea Infusers

In-cup infusers are fantastic for new tea drinkers and for less-than-convenient brewing situations (such as at the office or while traveling). There are many types of in-cup infusers on the market, but the basic principle is the same across all types:

  1. Take a cup
  2. Drop in an infuser and some tea
  3. Add hot water
  4. Steep
  5. Remove the infuser (and, thus, the leaves)
  6. Enjoy your tea

Some in-cup infusers come with a “drip tray” for the infuser to rest on after brewing. Some come with the cup itself. There are different sizes of in-cup infusers available, so make sure the size you select fits your favorite mug and has enough space to allow your tea leaves room to infuse. The best infusers are made from one or more of the following materials:

  • Finely woven non-reactive metal (such as a gold-plated metal wire)
  • Micro-perforated non-reactive metal (such as food grade stainless steel)
  • Non-leaching/BPA-free food grade plastic
  • Closely woven wood that doesn’t impact the tea’s flavor (such as traditional bamboo strainers)

Gaiwans

With a little practice, gaiwan tea infusers are an easy, portable way to drink tea anywhere, anytime. Gaiwan sets usually consist of two to four parts: a cup, a lid, a saucer (optional) and an extra cup (optional).

The easiest way to brew with a gaiwan is to add tea leaves and water, brew the tea, and then use the lid (tilted at a slight angle on top of the cup) to strain the tea as you pour it into a cup.

There’s also a more portable way to use gaiwans. You can actually drink from them, too:

  1. Use the lid to stir the leaves away from you before each sip. (This helps the leaves infuse, cools the tea and makes straining the leaves as you sip easier.)
  2. With your right hand, lift the cup, lid, and saucer.
  3. Using your left hand, hold the lid at a slight downward angle on top of the cup. (Alternately, you can skip using the saucer and just lift the cup and lid with one hand.)
  4. Sip from the cup, using the lid to strain the tea leaves.

With this method, you can also pour sips of tea into the lid to cool it down quickly or share it with others.
 

Travel Infusers/Tea Thermoses

If you’re brewing full-leaf tea from teabags, check out the Mighty Leaf Tea Top Brew Mug or just use a quality Thermos-style container. Otherwise, there are a few good options for loose-leaf tea brewing on the go. The Bodum Travel Press works like a regular French press and is also a good option.

Other infusers tend to require that you remove the leaves when you’re done brewing. If that doesn’t bother you, then one of these brewers may be for you. The best ones are made from durable, non-leaching plastics (and/or flavor neutral metals) and have lids that double as drip trays (trays for the infusing basket to rest on when you’re done brewing).