The Best Loose Leaf Teas: A Guide From Cup & Leaf
Drinking tea is a delight. The wide range of flavors means there is a taste for everyone. However, finding those amazing flavors can be difficult if you're new to the tea world. Here, we've put together a list of the best loose leaf teas so you can try something new and find your favorite flavors.
Looking for new flavors to add to your tea collection? Check out our collection of the best loose leaf teas right here.
Types of Tea
There are two main categories of tea: true teas and herbal tisanes. True teas are teas made using the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, known commonly as the tea plant. There are five main true teas: white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, and pu-erh tea. While these teas are made from the same leaves, they develop dramatically different flavor characteristics during the production process.
The main actor in flavor change is oxidation. White and green teas are not oxidized while black teas are the most oxidized. Oolong tea is partially oxidized and pu-erh tea is post-oxidized or aged. The result is a considerable range of flavors that varies from light, airy and floral, to nutty, smoky, and bold.
Herbal tisanes are teas made from any plant parts that do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant. They include favorites such as peppermint tea, chamomile tea, and hibiscus tea. These teas can deliver spicy, sweet, or tart flavors depending on what they are made from. Most herbal teas are also naturally caffeine-free.
Loose Tea Vs. Tea Bags
In the tea community, there is much discussion around the best type of tea: loose leaf or bagged. Tea bags are convenient since they make brewing and cleanup easy breezy. However, tea bags also tend to contain the dust, fannings, and ground up pieces of tea leaves. That means the brewed tea may not have all the healthy compounds that are present in whole leaf tea.
Tea bags also restrict the leaves, preventing them from fully developing and infusing flavor. Many tea connoisseurs choose loose tea for this reason. Loose teas develop flavors fully, resulting in a better tasting tea.
In general, the consensus among experienced tea drinkers is that loose teas develop the best tea flavors and provide the highest quality health benefits compared to tea bags. That's largely because loose teas feature the entire tea leaf. If you must use a tea bag, look for a tea company that is selling tea in pyramid shaped bags. The bags should also have enough room for the tea leaves to expand fully.
The Best Loose Leaf Teas
Green tea is one of the most popular tea types and is widely regarded for its health benefits. Green teas fall into two classifications: Chinese green teas and Japanese green teas.
Chinese green teas are roasted, which produces a slightly nutty flavor and toasted aroma. These teas are robust and bold — making it the perfect alternative to a cup of coffee. The most famous Chinese green teas are longjing, Formosa gunpowder tea, and biluochun.
Japanese green teas are steamed during the drying process. This creates a vegetal and slightly sweet aroma. Many Japanese teas are described as grassy and herbaceous with notes of seaweed and floral influence. Popular Japanese green teas are matcha tea, Sencha, Genmaicha, and Kukicha.
Black tea is a true tea made from the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are allowed to oxidize for an extended period of time, turning the leaves a deep brown or rich black hue. Black teas are noted for high caffeine content — about half the amount of a standard cup of coffee — and a robust, earthy flavor.
Black teas are mainly differentiated by where they are grown. Some of the best sellers include British varieties such as Earl Grey, English breakfast, and Irish breakfast teas. Earl Grey offers a slightly citrusy and tart flavor thanks to the addition of bergamot orange rinds. English and Irish breakfast teas are bolder with earthy and toasted flavors.
Indian varieties of black tea include high-quality teas such as Assam and Darjeeling. These black teas have a hint of floral flavor and are rich and full-bodied. In addition, black teas from China such as Keemun and gunpowder tea are wildly popular in Asia along with Sri Lankan Ceylon tea.
White tea is a true tea that is renowned for its delicate flavor profile. It is adored by tea lovers thanks to its nuanced taste. White teas are slightly sweet with floral notes. The highest quality white tea is known as Silver Needle tea, which is made using the two youngest leaves of the plant.
The next in line is White Peony tea, which is made using a combination of young leaves and buds. Other popular varieties include African white teas such as Safari White Tea and blends made using the stems and twigs of the tea plant.
Oolong tea offers the widest flavor range among the true teas. This is because oolong teas are oxidized anywhere from 8 to 80 percent. The result is teas that range from floral and sweet to nutty and earthy.
Lightly oxidized oolongs are lighter in color and tend to have more delicate flavors. Heavily oxidized oolong teas are more robust with earthy notes and toasted flavors.
Pu-erh tea is a unique true tea because it undergoes an oxidation or aging process after the tea has been dried. The tea leaves are gathered into large piles and then covered with a damp cloth. The moisture encourages the growth of microbacteria, which slowly oxidize the leaves.
The highest quality pu-erh teas are oxidized for decades. However, pu-erh begins to develop richer and more nuanced flavor after four to seven years of aging. That means you can get a great tea without waiting half your life.
Masala Chai Tea
Masala chai is a spiced tea that hails from India. This tea is noted for its rich, layered flavor profile. Most masala chai include five staple spices: cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper.
Some recipes call for other spices such as star anise. For the perfect cup of tea, add a dash of milk and some black tea leaves to enjoy the creamy and spicy blend just like the locals.
Rooibos tea is cultivated exclusively in the mountains of South Africa. It's a relatively new tea on the scene and is adored for a slightly sweet and tart flavor profile.
The tea presents the perfect backdrop for blending in other flavors. In fact, it's often used as a replacement for black tea in masala chai thanks to its flavor and caffeine-free characteristics.
Lavender tea is a popular bedtime tea that offers a subtle sweet flavor and stunning aroma. The tea boasts natural calming properties that can help you unwind after a tough day at the office.
Purple lavender petals are the perfect addition to a cup of tea. The tea can be made by steeping fresh petals or dried flowers in a tea kettle. Allow the tea to infuse for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Lavender also makes the perfect iced tea when you want to cool off and refresh in summertime. Just brew the tea as you would for a hot cup and then let the mixture cool to room temperature. Serve over ice or store in the refrigerator.
Hibiscus tea is a vibrant tea that delivers a flavor similar to cranberries. It has contrasting sweet and tangy notes that make it a perfect choice for an iced or hot tea.
Hibiscus tea is made by steeping the flower petals of the hibiscus plant in boiling water. The tea should steep for around 5 to 10 minutes in order to fully develop flavor. To make the tea even tastier, add some citrus or fresh fruit to iced tea blends.
Like lavender, chamomile is a beloved bedtime tea. The tea features natural properties that help to soothe and calm. In fact, research shows that chamomile tea may work directly to increase GABA in the brain, resulting in a direct effect on neurological processes.
Chamomile tea is made from the flower petals of the chamomile plant. This tea may cause allergic reactions for people who are sensitive to chamomile or daisy flowers. For those who aren't allergic, this tea is a tasty choice for relaxation.
Chamomile tea brews into a stunning sunlit color that adds a visual dimension to tea drinking. The tea features a flavor similar to crisp green apples.
Peppermint tea is known for its tingling taste and invigorating aroma. The tea is made from the leaves of the mint plant and features a high concentration of menthol. Menthol is what gives this tea is refreshing flavor and aroma and is also known to reduce inflammation.
Peppermint tea is wildly popular because it's extremely easy to brew. You can use fresh leaves from plants in your garden or opt for a dried loose leaf option. The flavor profile tolerates heat well and will not develop bitter flavors, even if steeped for long periods of time. Add a few mint leaves to your next tea blend or throw some into a glass of iced tea for a refreshing experience.
Drink Loose Leaf Tea
With our extensive selection of teas, you're sure to find a flavor you adore. The possibilities are endless with thousands of tea varieties ranging from true teas to herbal tisanes. Have fun experimenting and try new tea flavors. From earthy, spicy and nutty to airy, floral, and sweet, the tea drinking experience is a fun and tasty process.