How to make loose leaf tea

If you’ve been to Stone Leaf Teahouse you’ve likely noticed that they don’t hand you a mug and a tea bag.  Tea here is as much about the preparation and experience as it is about a nice hot drink.  And if you’ve watched Stone Leaf’s owner, John Wetzel, make tea, you’ve probably witnessed the never ending transfer of water from cup to cup, the balancing act of brewing, and wondered how to replicate the results at home.

Luckily preparation can be narrowed down to a few basic steps which drastically improve the flavor of your tea.  Here is a brief summary of how to make loose leaf tea at home for the rest of us (former) Lipton tea drinkers who are seeking a better tea experience, as described by the man himself.

Tea pot, pitcher, and cup

A few notes first:

* Serving Pot:  is a ceramic, glass, or cast iron pot used to serve tea.  It usually has holes in the opening that lets tea out and keeps leaves in.  Although you can use a tea strainer (a metal contraption that functions like a mesh tea bag), John recommends using a serving pot instead so the tea leaves can open up.  Tea strainers tend to keep the leaves compact which can stilt the flavor.
* In this example, green tea is used, however the steps are similar for the majority of teas.
* You can adjust the flavor to your liking by increasing/decreasing the brew time and amount of tea used.  Too weak?  Add more tea or brew longer.  Too strong, add or brew less.

Here we go:

1. Boil water in kettle
You can use most tap waters, but beware that any chlorine or other strong flavors will carry over to the tea.  This is especially true for green tea.  Spring water is best.

Cooling the water before the 1st infusion

2. Warm serving pot and cup
Here is where we deviate from typical Western preparation.  Tea is all about temperature.  Actually, three main things determine the flavor of your tea:
a. Temperature
b. Time infused
c. Quantity of tea

Since we haven’t started brewing yet, now is the time to make sure the temperature is right.  Start by rinsing the serving pot and cup with boiled water.  This serves to warm and clean the pot.  Then let the water sit in the kettle or in a third cup to cool slightly.  For green tea, this usually takes 1-3 minutes.  Alternately, you can also pour the water into a cool pitcher or glass, which will drop the temperature by about 10 degrees Celsius.  The cooler the water, the more subtle flavors are released, such as soft floral notes. It also allows for multiple infusions.  A good rule of thumb:  for delicate teas, cool the water down more, but if you want it stronger then keep the water hotter.

Adding 1tbs per 8oz cup (for large leaf green)

3. Add tea leaves to the pot
Add to your taste– usually 1 teaspoon or so for one serving (8 oz).  For large leaf teas, use closer to a tablespoon.

4. Pour water over leaves
Fill it up!  Its ok to spill if you have a tea tray.

Pouring water over leaf

5. Let tea sit
This allows the flavor to infuse.  Many green teas grow bitter if brewed too long, so about 1 minute works well for a light first infusion.

green tea infusing

6. Pour and drink!
Believe it or not, its okay to slurp– it cools and aerates the tea so you can better appreciate its scent.

pour all the tea out of the pot to avoid bitterness

7. Re-infuse

Add water that is a little hotter than you used in your first infusion and add an extra minute to each infusion. High quality teas will give at least three good pots.

Hard, right?  Better to go to Stone Leaf and leave it to a professional.  Kidding, its fun and easy after a little practice. Enjoy!

Joanne Wetzel

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4 responses to How to make loose leaf tea

  • Douglas says:

    John, this is an excellent distillation of tea infusing 101! Nicely done.

  • jenni says:

    i have a big black/raspberry tree and wonder if i steep the leaves in regular water if i can get any health benefits, or do i have to dry them? and boil water? it’s summer so i like cold water and the flavour of the berry leaves but i do need the health benefits…thanks, i’ve been searching the web for days

  • johno says:

    Making loose leaf tea is really simple when it comes down to it. Add a scoop of loose leaf tea to your teapot or mug, add hot water, strain (or remove strainer from the vessel), and drink! You can experiment to make a pot the way you like best. Some Quick Tips:

    Stronger Tea: use more leaf (1 tbs/cup or more)
    and/or infuse the leaves longer
    Use water right of the boil

    Lighter Tea: use less leaf (about 1 tsp/cup)
    Infuse less time, perhaps try 1 min
    Cool water a bit after boil
    – either let it sit, or pour into
    the pot/mug first then add leaf

    Of course, the size of the teapot matters as well. if it’s quite large, you can increase steeping times. If it’s small, decrease steeping times, then you can re-infuse the tea for more than one pot!

    Enjoy!
    John

  • Sam says:

    I adore tea (especially if it’s accompanied by a good game of chess) and especially loose leaf teas. But, every now and again there’s nothing more refreshing than a sweetened ice Tazo tea. At least they have sachets of tea so it’s a little closer to loose leaf tea.

    Very interesting post, and lovely pictures as well!

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