Your Guide to Loose Leaf Tea
Tea has been around for thousands of years and is considered to be the most popular beverage consumed today. There are hundreds of varieties of quality loose leaf teas that are a testament to the dedication of talented tea growers across the world. Whether you are a tea connoisseur or have just started to buy loose leaf tea, Tea-Direct has a fabulous collection of loose teas, from traditional favourites to rare teas and infusions that you are unlikely to find elsewhere. Below, you will find information that may be of help to you when choosing a loose leaf tea.
Loose Leaf Tea vs. Tea Bags
Why buy loose leaf tea instead of tea bags? That’s a question people may ask, especially if they’ve always used tea bags. However, once they have experienced the freshness and flavour of a loose leaf tea, they may possibly never look back. One reason could be the huge range and diversity of loose leaf teas available, and the wealth of flavours and aromas to appreciate, compared to the limited choice of tea bags. When you start to buy loose leaf tea, you could find yourself on an exciting journey of discovery, with many tea varieties having a fascinating history to be explored.
Tea bags may offer convenience, less mess, and speed in the tea-making process, but freshness, flavour, and the quality of your cup can be compromised. Tea bags usually contain a blend of more than one type of tea in the form of tiny particles of tea leaves, sometimes referred to as dust or fannings. Smaller particles mean a larger surface area when the tea is infused, allowing essential oils and flavours to quickly evaporate. Loose leaf tea, however, is made up of whole leaves, buds, or partially cut leaves, that expand to produce more flavour, and retain this flavour for longer.
Tea bags are often filled with a lower grade of tea, that may have been produced from more mature tea leaves than the tender and flavoursome top buds and leaves used in many loose leaf tea varieties. Also, the processing methods used to achieve faster oxidation may impair flavour. The tannins in tea bags may be more evident, especially if they are brewed too long, making the tea taste harsh or astringent.
Loose leaf teas can be more aesthetically pleasing than tea bags; some varieties contain delicate flower buds and petals, that can swirl and unfurl when infused. Flavours are usually more complex and interesting than standardised blends found in tea bags, and aromas more intense, so enhancing the tea tasting experience.
Although tea bags may seem a less expensive way to drink tea, most types of loose leaf tea can be steeped more than once in a brewing session; the second brew may even produce more intense flavours. The strength of a brew is easy to gauge with loose tea leaves as more or less can be added to the pot to taste. Loose teas can usually be brewed longer than tea bags, before the tea starts to become bitter.
Tea-Direct loose leaf teas are freshly packed to order, whereas shop bought tea bags are often stored for long periods, to ultimately become stale and flavourless.
Types of Loose Leaf Tea
If you have just decided to buy loose leaf tea instead of tea bags, you’ll probably be amazed at the diverse range of loose leaf tea varieties available. You will also find there is so much more to enjoy in respect of freshness, flavour and quality when you become a loose leaf tea drinker. With so many types of loose tea packs to choose from though, how do you decide which is the best one for you?
If you’re accustomed to a particular flavour of tea bag, you may want to try something similar in the form of loose leaf tea. However, traditional branded tea bags are usually filled with a blend of teas from different regions, whereas a loose leaf tea may come from a particular region, or tea estate. The unique flavour profile of a tea will depend on the cultivar of tea plant, its terroir, and method of cultivation and processing. Certain varieties of tea, such as Darjeeling for instance, may also have different characteristics and flavours depending on when the tea was harvested. For example, the ‘first flush’ of plucking, early in the year, will produce a light-coloured liquor with a floral scent and mild astringency; the ‘second flush’ plucked in mid summer, will yield a full-bodied cup with an amber hue and delicate musky flavours, and the ‘third flush’ in autumn will result in it being darker in colour with more robust flavours. It may be necessary to try a few different kinds of loose leaf tea to help you find one that suits your palate. A tea selection pack is a great way to try a few varieties before splashing out on a larger pack of tea.
The appearance of dried loose leaf tea, and the colour of the liquor when steeped, will vary depending on what parts of the leaves have been used, and how long they have been oxidised. Loose leaf teas produced from the tea plant Camellia sinensis, may be composed of whole leaves, tips, buds and stems of leaves, small parts of leaves, or tiny particles, so the shape and size of leaves will differ. Some types, such as Pinhead Gunpowder Tea, will have been hand-rolled into small pellets. The longer a tea is oxidised, the darker it becomes, with colours ranging from a pale yellow hue, through to copper, amber and dark brown. Loose leaf black teas are fully oxidised, whereas loose leaf green teas are not oxidised at all. Oolong teas fall somewhere in between black and green teas, their leaf colour and flavour profile being determined on how long they have been oxidised.
A cup of loose leaf English breakfast tea may be a great way to start the day, but when you want to unwind in the evening, a decaffeinated option may be the best loose leaf tea choice.
Tea-Direct has a great selection of loose leaf decaf teas that include a number of quality black teas, and also a huge range of delicious loose herbal teas and tisanes, that are perfect when you want a decaffeinated beverage. Why not try a soothing loose chamomile tea, made with sweet and aromatic, dried chamomile flowers, or a refreshing loose leaf peppermint tea? Rooibos loose leaf tea is a wonderful alternative to black teas, and is also caffeine-free. And for something a bit different, you could try a loose leaf tea that has been blended with an attractive mix of flower buds and petals to add subtle, delicate flavours, or a tea that has been flavoured with fruit, nuts, chocolate or spice.
There’s a whole world of exciting teas to discover out there, so instead of sticking to the same old tea bag brew, why not experiment and discover the sensory delights that loose leaf teas can deliver?
Tea Grading Terms
Tea leaves are prepared in different ways depending on how they are plucked and processed, and loose leaf tea is graded in respect of this. Teas from countries like India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and Africa may sometimes have abbreviations as part of their name to indicate the type of leaf used. This gives the buyer an idea of the quality of the leaves, their size and appearance, and whether they are whole, broken, or crushed. The terms denote if the tea has been made with the delicate young leaves and buds of tea plants or more mature ones, and if the pack contains pieces of leaves of varying sizes or tiny tea leaf particles. For instance, Assam PF Tea is an Assam loose leaf tea made from pekoe fannings, which are the small particles of young tea buds, whereas Bukhial TGFOP Assam Tea is made from tippy golden flowery pekoe leaves. Below is an explanation of some of the main abbreviations and descriptions used:
Whole Leaf Grades
|FOP||Flowery Orange Pekoe|
|GFOP||Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe|
|TGFOP||Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe|
|FTGFOP||Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe|
|SFTGFOP||Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe|
Broken Leaf Grades
|BOP||Broken Orange Pekoe|
|FBOP||Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe|
|GBOP||Golden Broken Orange Pekoe|
|TGBOP||Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe|
|FOF||Flowery Orange Fannings|
|GFOF||Golden Flowery Orange Fannings|
|TGFOF||Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Fannings|
|BOPF||Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings|
|BOPD||Broken Orange Pekoe Dust|
Within these grades, a number ‘1' written after the letters may denote a higher quality leaf.
The word ‘Pekoe’ is thought to have derived from the pale and dusty appearance of young, unopened buds, resembling the fine, downy hair of babies, described as ‘pak-ho’ in Chinese.
‘Orange’ doesn’t refer to a colour or flavour, but is thought to be associated with the history of Dutch tea importers.
‘Broken’ indicates where leaves have been chopped into smaller pieces.
‘Flowery’ refers to the aroma of the buds.
‘Golden’ describes the appearance of tips that have turned golden when oxidised.
‘Tippy’ refers to tea with an abundance of flowering buds.
Loose leaf teas from China or Taiwan, however, may have different grading terms used to describe them.
Our Loose Leaf Teas
Our range of over 300 loose leaf teas includes classic favourites, as well as exciting new varieties. You can view our entire range here and get to know a little more about some of our most popular loose leaf teas below.
This fine black tea is sourced from the beautiful Wuyi Mountain region of China’s Fujian Province. Its distinct smoky aroma and flavour, and complex woody notes, are created by the leaves being dried over pine wood fires. A well-balanced and robust tea that can be served on its own, with lemon, or milk and sugar.
“A world of difference in taste from LS tea bags and also the loose leaf tea purchased at the supermarket.”
Kate C. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This exquisite Indian black tea from West Bengal offers delicate fruit flavours and a delightful floral aroma. Darjeeling is known as the ‘Champagne of Teas’, being characterised as’Muscatel’ in reference to the Muscat variety of grape.
“Lovely light delicate tea, perfect for people who enjoy their tea without milk.”
Alison M. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Ceylon Orange Pekoe is a black tea made with the young, golden-tipped Pekoe leaves of the tea plant. It is well-balanced, with complex flavours, a subtle sweetness and lovely crisp bitterness. It is best served on its own, but can also be enjoyed with milk.
“Lovely invigorating 'all-day' tea. I have finally weaned my 98 years old mother off commercial tea bags and this is now one of her favourites.”
Brian S. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Keemun is a Chinese black tea sourced from the Qimen County of Huangshan City, and was first produced in 1875. It yields winey, fruity flavours and has a delicate floral fragrance. It is best enjoyed without milk or sugar to appreciate the complexity of its flavours.
“Rich flavour and good colour.”
Richard S. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A rich, aromatic and flavoursome tea that makes a refreshing and energising brew to start the day with. Sweet and full-bodied, but not overwhelming, English Breakfast Tea is a popular choice for the whole family to enjoy.
“Lovely clean, light tasting tea. A joy to wake up to.”
Wesley I. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
What are the advantages of loose leaf tea?
At Tea-Direct, we range hundreds of the finest loose leaf teas from around the world to choose from, compared to the limited selection of tea bags and packet teas found in most supermarkets. Those tea enthusiasts who have ditched the tea bags for loose leaf tea may now be enjoying the amazing flavour profiles of superior loose teas unique to their terroir, as opposed to tea bags containing tiny particles of lesser quality tea, that are often a blend of teas from different regions. They will be buying teas that are fresh and flavoursome rather than those that may have been gradually going stale on a shelf for months, or even years.
How should I infuse loose leaf tea?
There are various devices available to infuse loose tea leaves. The most obvious one is a teapot, of which there are many types. Stainless steel and cast iron teapots hold their temperature well and are ideal for brewing loose black tea. A delicate loose leaf herbal tea, however, will benefit from being steeped in a vessel that doesn’t hold the heat so long, such as a glass or porcelain teapot. Ceramic teapots are good for most teas. Some teapots contain a built-in infuser to make it easier to discard used leaves, otherwise a tea strainer for loose tea can be used. That’s unless you’d like to have your tea leaves read afterwards!
For tea made in a cup, a loose leaf tea infuser, usually made from stainless steel or silicone, can be filled with your favourite tea and placed directly in the cup. Alternatively, Tea-Direct’s Fill Your Own Tea Bags are convenient and quick to use with any loose leaf tea.
How long should I brew loose leaf tea?
Methods of brewing loose leaf tea are subject to the type of tea being brewed, and personal taste, but a few rules should be observed to ensure the delicate flavours, aromas, and unique characteristics of your chosen tea can be fully appreciated.
Water for steeping loose leaf tea should be clean and freshly boiled. Some of the more robust teas, such as loose leaf black tea, are better able to withstand boiling water, but a loose leaf green tea, white tea, or oolong should be steeped with water that has not fully boiled, due to the delicate nature of the leaves. Care must be taken not to over-steep to prevent bitterness; black teas should be steeped for 2-5 minutes at 90ºC-100ºC (194ºF-212ºF); white teas for 1-3 minutes at 80ºC-85ºC (176ºF-185ºF); green teas for 1-4 minutes at 66ºC-85ºC (150ºF-185ºF); and oolong teas for 2-5 minutes between 85ºC-96ºC (185ºF-205ºF). Loose herbal tea can be steeped for longer according to taste.