Did you know that tea is the most popular drink in the world after water? And Australia ranks 13 in the world for the highest tea consumption. It is a fast-growing industry and consumption grows each year. 2018 is even marked as the year for tea!
Tea bag vs. loose leaf
So what should you look for when shopping for a new tea?
First of all, get rid of the tea bag. Tea in commercial tea bags is of low quality and is cut to such small pieces called dust or fannings. Go ahead and have a look: cut open a tea bag and see what the tea looks like. Now compare it to whole leaf tea.
Loose Leaf Tea Tea Bag
Do you see any similarities? No? Does the one on the right look like an unidentifiable brown powder and the other one looks like dried leaves and spices?
Now, think about the flavour those two produce. Again very different from each other. If you leave your tea bag in too long does the brew become bitter? And the taste is pretty ordinary, isn’t it? No matter if you drink black, green, white or herbal, tea bags don’t do it justice.
Loose leaf tea is much more flavourful, complex and (surprise!) not bitter. This is because it hasn’t been highly processed and therefore contains many of its natural oils. Plus, since the leaves are much larger, the surface area is larger which means in a 3-minute brew time, you will have a beautiful cup of tea!
And, the leaves can even withstand second and third brews.
If you are worried about convenience, loose leaf is just as easy to brew as tea bags. All you need is an infuser basket (as well as tea and water) to put into your cup or pot. And Voila! You have a great tasting cuppa. You can even purchase empty unbleached tea bags, for those times you want to enjoy your brew on the go.
In my kitchen, I have a variety of tea brewing accessories: from mesh infusers that fit inside my tea pot for when friends join me for a cuppa to tea bags for those crazy, mornings when I need to dash out the door. As you journey through the world of tea, you will start to acquire unique tea accessories either as gifts or as a personal treat when you run across them on a shopping day.
But there's so much to choose from
Now that we have narrowed your selection down to loose leaf tea, what do you look for when buying it?
Obviously, first decide what type of tea you’re after: white, green, oolong, black or puerh tea (we won’t go into herbal tisanes now as they are not technically tea. To get geeky, tea is the beverage from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.) Other popular “teas” such as chamomile, mint, hibiscus, and jasmine are actually not teas at all, but infusions from other natural sources including herbs, flowers, fruits and more.
To help you decide on tea type, first think about what time of day you will be primarily drinking the tea. If it’s in the morning, you may want to go for a strong black tea or tea blend (such as an English Breakfast-style), due to their higher caffeine content. Green and white teas are lower in caffeine and are great in the afternoons and evenings. Oolong teas are in between green and black teas and so is their caffeine content. They are better drunk earlier in the day. But tea is a personal preference and you are welcome to drink any tea at any time of the day you wish! There are no tea police to tell you otherwise.
Once you decide on tea type, next decide whether you want to have a blend (with different ingredients such as fruits or herbs), flavoured tea (with natural or artificial flavours like Earl Grey) or go au natural. Its amazing, once you strip off any additional ingredients, to taste the beautiful characteristic flavours of each tea type.
What's the difference between black and green tea?
Within each type, you have different styles of tea, due primarily to their country of origin and type of processing. Tea, is grown in over 50 countries worldwide with China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka producing almost three quarters of tea worldwide. Each country has a unique climate and soil which is responsible for the characteristic flavours of the tea grown there. This is known as terroir and is what gives wine its unique flavours.
A large portion of black tea on the market comes from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Assam, India and Africa. These teas are generally dark, full-bodied and robust. Darjeeling, Nepalese and Chinese black teas are a bit lighter in flavour and often enjoyed on their own.
Green teas are typically either from China or Japan. Again, there are many grades and ways of processing green teas. Its worth trying the different styles to find your favourite.
White teas are a specialty as it’s harvested by hand and the harvest season is very short. Its flavour is delicate, slightly sweet and very unique.
Oolong tea is produced only in the Fujian province of China and on Taiwan’s mountainsides. Its flavour can range from light, green tea-like to rich and dark like black tea due to its different amounts of oxidation. Oolong teas are typically used in Chinese tea ceremonies and is often found in Taiwanese Bubble Tea.
Puerh tea is most well-known for its health benefits. The health benefits come from its fermentation, which instils probiotic properties and is known to aid digestion. The flavour ranges from earthy or musty, to chocolatey or woody and becomes more complex over time. Traditionally it is only produced in the Yunnan province of China.
Are you socially responsible?
The final aspect to consider when buying your tea is based on whether you are an environmentally and socially conscious consumer. This will help you to decide whether to buy organic and fairtrade teas. Just like organic fruit and vegetables, organic tea is grown without the use of chemical fertilisers and insecticides. Fairtrade tea ensures that proper working conditions are met and fair wages are paid to all workers on the tea farm.
So now you’re armed with how to select your tea, where do you
Most towns and cities have specialty tea shops or markets where you can find loose leaf teas. If there’s not one near you, you can order some online. One of the best things when learning about tea is tasting them. So go ahead and see what you like! Enjoy your tea journey!