Loose-leaf tea is widely believed to produce the freshest, fullest flavoured tea but is often left aside in favour of teabags or seen as a treat, but using loose leaf tea is not as much effort as most people would believe. As long as you have the right teapot, and follow a few simple rules you can enjoy your favourite loose-leaf teas as often as teabags.
Brewing the Perfect Loose Leaf tea
The amount of tea you add to the pot is crucial, as it is the amount of tea you add to the pot not the steeping time that determines the strength of the tea. Different varieties vary greatly in strength so if you buy pre-packaged tea check the brewing instructions on the pack, or if you buy loose tea leaves try and ask the seller for their advice.
The pot should be warm before adding the tea leaves. The easiest way to warm the pot is to fill it with freshly boiled water and empty it just before making a new pot of tea. Although the water used for the tea should be freshly boiled, it is best to leave the water to cool slightly before adding it to the pot to avoid scorching the tea leaves and reducing the impact of the flavour.
Choosing the Right Teapot
Traditional Chinese and Japanese teapots were made of treated cast iron and could be used to boil water too. There are still many of these traditional style teapots made today, but check that they can be used on a burner as some are treated with chemicals to add patterns and designs. You will find they are smaller than a traditional English teapot, as they were used for only one or two people so if you are a family of tea drinkers, you may prefer to buy a pair.
Glass Teapots are very attractive, especially when brewing green or fruit tea, as you can watch the delicate infusing process, whilst stainless steel teapots are considered both practical and elegant and are often used in cafés and restaurants.
Porcelain and pot teapots are usually larger and come in a wide variety of patterns and designs making them perfect for families of tea-drinkers. They can be shaped to represent things like houses or animals or decorated with anything from the classic blue and white Chinese ‘Willow’ pattern to comical anecdotes and they are common collectibles.
When buying a teapot to use with loose-leaf tea, you also need to ensure that you can strain the leaves. There are three types of strainer that you may come across when shopping for teaware:
Integrated spout tea strainer. The best and most traditional tea pots feature a small mesh within the spout of the teapot. Leaves are allowed to circulate freely around the pot, but remain within the pot when the tea is poured. The full capacity of this teapot can be used, and all the water added can be poured and drank.
Removable strainer. These teapots feature a device which holds the tea in the water, almost like a makeshift tea-bag. Sometimes these come in the form of a cradle which sits on the top of the teapot with a basket reaching down into the pot. The water is poured over the leaves, and the leaves continue to infuse the water until the water level is lower than the basket reaches. Often this leaves an amount of water at the bottom that may not be as well infused.
Separate Strainers. Many teapots are now designed for teabags and do not come with a strainer. Several different types of strainers can therefore be used instead. Tea-balls can be filled with leaves and used in the pot or straight in the cup and float on the surface of the water. Other, similar strainers are attached to a chain which is left outside the pot and come in a range of shapes – great for gifts. Be careful though as these can sometimes cause the teapot lid not to sit flush to the pot. You can also use small tea-sieves which sit on the top of a cup, catching the leaves as you pour the tea. These leaves need not be wasted, just put them back in the teapot.
Alternatives to Teapots
There are alternatives to the traditional teapot including modern electrical tea-makers. These technical looking gadgets usually work like an all-in-one teapot and strainer. With a touch of the button the tea maker gradually infuses boiled water with the tea, which is held loosely in a basket. The basket either moves within the water or slowly drips infused tea into the pot, similar to the process of a filter coffee machine. These machines look very fancy and are great to impress guests, as the resulting tea is always perfectly brewed with little effort from you.
For examples of teapots, straining tools and other teaware available to buy online, visit the Barnitts Home and Garden website.