High quality loose leaf tea is the key to unlocking a whole new world of flavour. Not only is it good for tea lovers searching for the perfect cup of tea, it is the most socially and environmentally responsible way to drink tea. We think that makes loose leaf tea a win-win-win for drinkers, producers and the planet, which is why we’re keen to help you find and enjoy it. Whether you’re interested in black teas, green teas or other tea types, here is our guide to choosing quality loose leaf tea. (Hint: the crucial thing to remember is that the best loose leaf teas are crafted using only whole, single garden leaves.)
Benefits of quality loose leaf tea
Loose leaf tea has a number of benefits over tea bags. First of all, producing it requires less processing and, importantly, less packaging, so loose tea is better for the environment. Tea bags have traditionally been sealed using plastic, which makes them tricky to dispose of safely. Some tea businesses, including JING, have replaced the older oil-based plastic in their tea bags with a plant-based alternative called PLA . If it is thrown away correctly, PLA is significantly better for the environment, but it is still not perfect. Sometimes tea bags are convenient (when travelling, for example) but at all other times we prefer to drink loose leaf tea, which uses no plastic at all.
There is a second related benefit here. Because loose tea requires less packaging, it costs less to manufacture. That cost saving is often passed onto the consumer, so you will tend to find that, per serving, loose leaf tea offers better value for money than tea bags. In effect, you’re paying for the tea, not the packaging.
There’s something else it’s important to mention here. Loose tea sounds like it’ll take longer to make and be messy to clean up. As more people are starting to realise, that doesn’t have to be the case. As well as offering tasting notes, all of our loose teas come with simple-to-follow instructions covering the essential amounts of tea, water and steep time. With loose tea, you are also in complete control: if you want to tweak the amount of tea you use for a stronger or lighter infusion, it’s much easier to do that with loose leaves than with tea bags. To highlight all of this, we’ve even made a video.
What is quality loose leaf tea?
Loose leaf is the best format in which to enjoy premium teas, including the world’s finest single garden teas. These unique teas wow the senses by expressing the individuality of the people, culture and natural resources that made them. They are quite different from mass-produced blended teas that are created for consistency not character. The flavour of a single garden tea is simply the flavour of the tea garden it comes from – carefully cultivated by a tea master.
Because the leaves of single garden teas can be big and tea bags can be small, you cannot always find these teas in bags. So if you open yourself up to loose leaf tea, you are opening yourself up to an exciting, great tasting range of teas you simply cannot access any other way.
To find out whether your tea is high quality, there are five things to look for…
1. Leaf size
Tea is often graded by leaf size. For the highest quality, look for a whole-leaf grade. The broken leaves – or ‘dust’ – you tend to find in blended mass-market teas have lost their oils and aroma. Their smaller surface area means they also release more bitter-tasting tannins. Instead, the best loose leaf teas are made up only of whole leaves, which show they have been made using a traditional method of production. The leaves will have been handled carefully with the aim of keeping them as intact as possible through the process to capture their true flavour.
2. Leaf shape
Uniform leaf shape is an indicator of how well the tea has been processed. A consistent whole leaf shows the tea has been well cared for from picking to packaging, so you can expect an even extraction of flavour.
If the colour of the tea leaves has faded – for example, if a green tea has started to go brown – it means they could be old. Fresh leaves will bright and the infusion they produce will be almost luminous.
Quality loose leaf tea should be packed and sealed at source, away from moisture and light. There’s minimum intervention, so all of the goodness of this natural product is locked in. To keep it that way, conscientious companies will use air-tight packaging that continues to keep their tea away from the moisture and light that could otherwise degrade it. Just be sure to store the tea away from heat sources and other contaminating odours – with some green and white teas, like (If you do this, remember to bring the container up to room temperature before removing the lid, so that no condensation occurs inside.)
The visual indicators above can all help you when you are shopping for tea but, ultimately, the best way to gauge the quality of your tea is to taste it. A high quality tea will have clarity of flavour, aromatic complexity and textural balance.