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Connoisseur Chronicles

Alex

Food blogger based in Cambridge, UK. Passionate about trying out recipes from all over the world, tasting drinks of all sorts and dining out in England and beyond. Read More

Loose Leaf Tea Demystified

As a full-blown coffee addict, I did not bother too much about trying out different teas in the past – a simple teabag of a Breakfast blend would do. While these are convenient and the standard in many cafés and restaurants, the world of tea has much more to offer. Some tea samples from premium tea specialists Leaf Bar made me familiar with more styles and appreciate the beauty of loose leaves. The taste is so much better than what you get from many tea bags – and it is eco-friendly, too. The following points summarise what I have learned on my tea discovery. Key message: Don’t be afraid of loose leaf teas! The preparation is quick, easy, and rewarding if done in the right way.

Leaf Bar Tea Packs

[Disclaimer: I received four complimentary tea samples from Leaf Bar, but no other compensation. All views are my own.]
 

1. Use suitable glassware

Depending on the type of tea, you should choose the right cups and pots to infuse and drink it. Some teas can be brewed in a cup or glass directly, others may perform better in a ceramic one. The tea leaves can just stay in there while drinking and more hot water can be added for further infusions. This works well for Tie Guan Yin, an Oolong of rolled leaves that I have tried as a green and a roasted version – both utterly delicious, with the green one delivering aromatic floral notes and the roasted one more nuttiness and a warming feel.

Tie Guan Yin Floral Leaf Bar

Other teas, like most green teas, should be removed from the water, before releasing too many tannins, which would cause a rather unpleasant and bitter taste. You can either use a small teapot or an Asian Gaiwan, a small bowl with a lid and a little gap between lid and bowl to pour the tea once finished infusing.
 

2. Get the water temperature right

Different teas require different water temperatures to get the best results. Using piping hot boiling water is usually not the best idea, as it will overheat some teas and spoil the taste. Refer to the preparation details for the recommended temperature. If you do not have a thermometer, wait for some time after boiling – about one minute to get to 90°C and four to five minutes to get to 80°C. Green tea, which comes straight from the plant and is processed without oxidation, tends to be more temperature-sensitive than others.

Taiping Houkui Leaf Bar

Here you see Taiping Houkui, a pan-fried green tea with long leaves that are pressed between two meshes while baking it briefly. The water temperature should not be above 80°C for this, so you will either have to wait for the water to cool down or even put an ice cube into the glass before pouring hot water, avoiding pouring on the leaves directly. Following this, you will get a wonderfully light, subtle, and uplifting green tea.
 

3. Let it flow

Rather than using paper tea bags or infuser balls (I binned mine!), just let the tea unfold in the water directly. Unlike dusty tea, that is often used in supermarket tea bags, good quality loose leaf tea comes with intact leaves that are big and heavy. They usually just sink to the bottom of the cup and will not disturb your drinking experience. Putting these leaves into a bag risks them being damaged and not unfolding their full aroma.
 

4. Keep an eye on the infusion time

As explained earlier, not all tea leaves should stay in your cup while drinking. Check the infusion time for each tea individually and set an alarm to be reminded to pour the tea into another container. I found the pictured Chinese teacup very handy: you can take off the lid after the infusion time and use it as a cup to drink from – a combined teapot and cup!

Phoenix Classic Oolong Leaf Bar

I had a Phoenix Oolong in it that only needs 30 seconds for the first infusion and slightly longer for the following infusions. It can be used for up to five infusions, so can get you through your whole day. A very complex tea, with toasty and peachy notes – one of my new favourites!

 

5. Buy good quality tea

There is loose leaf tea of good quality in the supermarket, but finding a specialised local shop makes things much easier. They can guide you through the wide range of teas, find the right one for your personal taste and give you useful background information about the origin and preparation of the teas.

In Cambridge, Leaf Bar is an excellent place to stock up on tea from Asia. I really enjoyed the samples from the shop: Taiping Houkui, a very special Green Tea, and three different Oolongs – a classic and a floral Tie Guan Yin and a Phoenix Oolong, all pictured below.

Leaf Bar Chinese Teas

The shop is run by a real expert: Kristine Smith used to work for Tea Smith in London before she made connections to local farmers in China and founded Leaf Bar in 2015. It is her mission to make high-quality teas more popular, putting a focus on transparent, ethical, and eco-friendly production. While the Leaf Bar online shop provides a lot of information already (and UK-wide delivery!), Kristine goes the extra mile to provide you with detailed preparation steps. She even offers tea tasting events in non-Covid times. I would love to attend one soon.
 
I hope this helps you to enjoy loose leaf tea as much as I do. Feel free to share more tips and recommendations in the comments!

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