Everything You Need to Know About Tea Leaves
Looking for more information on how to brew tea using loose tea leaves? You’ve come to the right place. We created this handy guide to help beginner tea drinkers learn the basics of tea and how to brew. With this tutorial, you’ll learn everything from the different types of tea to where tea is produced and find tips on how to brew the perfect cup every time. Read on to find out more about tea leaves and why you should use them to brew your next cup.
Types of Tea
True teas are teas made using the leaves of the tea plant known by the scientific name Camellia sinensis. Within this category, there are five types of tea including green tea, white tea, black tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea. While these teas are made using leaves from the same plants, they offer a wide range of flavor because they are processed differently.
White tea and green tea tend to have milder flavors including hints of floral, grassy, umami, and earthy notes. These teas are harvested and dried using the power of the sun, steaming, or roasting methods. They are considered minimally processed and offer light bodies and nuanced flavors.
Oolong, black, and pu-erh teas have stronger flavors that are earthy, roasted, and bold. Oolong is a partially oxidized tea while black tea and pu-erh tea are fully oxidized. They often have nutty undertones and hints of chocolate or caramel. These teas have higher caffeine levels than green or white tea and tend to be better suited for bold palettes.
Herbal teas or tisanes encompass virtually all other types of teas. They are made using the flowers, stems, leaves, and roots of plants that are not the tea plant. The most popular herbal teas include peppermint tea, hibiscus tea, and chamomile tea. These teas offer a wide range of flavors from spicy notes like those found in ginger tea to sweet, seasonal tastes like apple spice tea.
Where Is Tea Produced?
Tea is cultivated and harvested all across the globe. Every continent plays a role in tea production, though there are certain countries that dominate the industry.
China is by and large the world's largest producer of tea. The country produces more than two million tons of tea each year, accounting for around 30 percent of the world's entire tea production. The country mainly produces black teas, oolong teas, pu-erh teas, and green tea (1).
India is the second-largest tea producer, though close to 70 percent of the country's tea supplies remain within its borders. India is one of the largest consumers of tea, with most teas cultivated mainly in the Darjeeling and Assam provinces. Masala chai, a spiced tea drink using black tea and spices, is one of the most commonly consumed beverages in the nation. With a history of British colonization and the presence of the East India Tea Company, the country provides teas ranging from traditional black tea to Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea.
The third-largest producer of tea is an interesting case. Kenya produces close to 500,000 tons of tea each year. What makes it unique is that most of the tea cultivated in Kenya is grown on small farms — often less than one acre. In contrast, much of the tea from India and China comes from large producers that cultivate the plants en masse. Since tea is grown on a smaller scale, farmers here are able to experiment with new cultivars and are on the cutting edge of new industry trends and techniques.
Japan produces much of the world's green tea including favorites like matcha green tea and Sencha. They're renowned for the umami, vegetal, and herbaceous flavors of their green teas, which are produced using a steaming method.
Other countries like Vietnam, Turkey, Indonesia, and Iran also produce large amounts of tea. Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, produces the popular Ceylon black tea and South Africa is the sole producer of a red tea known as rooibos. In South America, much of the world's yerba mate is produced and cultivated using centuries of traditional techniques.
Loose Leaf Tea vs. Tea Bags
Tea can be brewed using loose tea leaves or tea bags. Tea bags are convenient and easy to use, but they generally provide poorer flavor compare to loose teas. That's because tea bags contain broken pieces of the tea leaf known as dust and fannings. These don't provide the same health benefits or authentic flavors that loose teas do since they don't contain the whole tea leaf. If you want to use tea bags because of their convenience, try using sachets instead. These bags contain larger pieces of tea leaves and provide enough room for the leaves to expand and infuse flavor.
High-quality tea makes all the difference when making a tasty cup of tea. Stick to loose tea or USDA organic tea for the best flavor and health benefits. These teas often contain the entire tea leaf, providing more nutrients and antioxidants that make tea a healthy drink.
How To Brew Tea Leaves
Brewing loose tea is easy with the right tools. All you need is a saucepan, teapot, or similar vessel to heat water, high-quality tea leaves, and a strainer. Here's a quick breakdown of how to brew tea.
- Heat water in a saucepan or teapot. The proper temperature depends on the type of tea you are brewing. You can find a breakdown of the best water temperatures for different tea types here.
- Place the loose tea leaves in a tea strainer or tea infuser and steep them in the hot water for 3 to 5 minutes. Herbal teas and certain tea blends can be steeped longer — up to 10 minutes. The longer the steeping time, the stronger the flavors will be.
- Remove the tea leaves and sweeten as desired. You can also add additional flavorings like lemon and mint if desired.
For iced tea, brew as you would a hot tea. Then allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before serving over ice cubes.
Brew Tea Leaves Into Tasty Teas Today
Add a few dried tea leaves to your teacup and enjoy a world of flavor that can't be matched by tea bags. You can find dozens of tea recipes on our blog to help brew everything from seasonal-inspired drinks to classic favorites and iced sweet teas made with true teas, herbal teas, and decaffeinated teas. Tea drinkers will find all the information they need to brew tea plus handy tips and innovative flavor concoctions to take taste up a notch.
If you're just getting into tea, check out a tea sampler or our tea starter bundle. It comes with everything you need to brew a delicious mug of tea and takes the guesswork out of the brewing process.