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Mikee said

English tea drinker after beginners advice

Hi all,

I recently switched from the cheaper brands of UK teabags to some of the more premium teabags, and I’ve found the switch worthwhile. I drink a good 6 mugs a day, and like the handiness of teabags, but if loose tea is better, I’d like to give it a go.

Firstly, if loose tea is better, why is it – why can’t the same tea work in bags? Secondly, what’s the easiest (read cheapest) way to try some loose tea – should I just put some in a teapot (I have teapots) and buy a cheap strainer?

Assuming this is all worthwhile, is there any particular tea (easily available in the UK) you’d recommend? I like Yorkshire Gold, Twinnings Breafast, Afternoon and Assam teas, all with milk. I don’t mind Earl Gray occasionally, and can drink it with or without milk, although I prefer basic tea without extras (such as bergamot).

If I find myself enjoying loose tea, I’ll then start worrying about iron pots and the like.

Thanks for any suggestions.

27 Replies

The difference between loose tea and tea bags is they way it’s processed. What you usually find in a paper tea bag (Lipton, Bigelow, Twinings etc) is what’s called “fannings.” These are effectively tea dust particles left over from the processing of loose-leaf tea. Fannings are convenient because they’re really cheap and have a greater surface area, and as such may steep more quickly.

However, fannings also have their drawbacks. They often don’t contain the depth of flavor of the full leaf, and they are only good for one steep.

Full-leaf teas are teas with the full leaf. The leaves can be steeped multiple times and the flavor profile develops with each steep. You may find that they contain higher levels of antioxidants and such (I myself am skeptical to believe these studies simply because there is evidence going both ways, and health benefits aren’t why I drink tea.)

You can find full leaf teas in pyramid bags. These are typically silk or other cloth bags that allow the tea leaves more room to expand (leaves need to expand to release their full flavor) and provide the convenience of bags with the taste of loose-leaf. You can find these pyramid bags from TeaForte, Tazo, Adagio, Harney & Sons, Epi Tea (a new brand that just started up, they’re here on Steepster), David’s Tea – lots of companies have them.

There are also things called T-sacs, (they go by different brand names) but they’re basically paper bags without anything in them, so you can fill it with whatever teas you want, and you can pre-fill them and tie them off and bring these homemade bags with you, if there’s a tea you like that doesn’t come in bag form.

I don’t know too much about UK retailers (I’m from the States) but I believe Harney & Sons has a UK division.

Adagio.uk.com is the UK version of Adagio – smaller selection, but they have good teas. I might recommend the Irish Breakfast (strong and malty), or the Ceylon Sonata (brighter, good with milk).

Sorry, I know that was very long, but I hope it helps! If you have any questions, feel free to reply or message me :)

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Mikee said

Fantastic reply, thank you :)

I get that producers can put some left over bits in paper bags, I just assumed they didn’t have to, so they could make premium bags if they wanted. So it’s the lack of bag room that full leaf teas require that’s the problem.

I’m certainly not after filling bags myself, I may as well just try loose leaf. Would you recommend just buying a cheap strainer (eg http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Good-Grips-3-Inch-Strainer/dp/B001713L84/ref=sr_1_3?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1342547687&sr=1-3&keywords=tea+strainer) to try some loose leaf teas? I could buy some from the local shop, or try Adagio.

Thanks again

It’s partly the bag room. The fannings, or tea dust, don’t expand, so there’s no need for room in the bag. Pyramid bags with full-leaf teas are larger to accommodate the unfurling of the tea.

And yeah, that’s basically where I started. I’d myself recommend one more along the lines of this:
http://www.amazon.com/FORLIFE-Brew—-Mug-Extra-Fine-Infuser/dp/B001JPA3Y8/ref=sr_1_5?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1342550137&sr=1-5&keywords=tea+strainer
or this:
http://www.amazon.com/Finum-63-421-50-00-Brewing-Basket/dp/B000I68NCS/ref=sr_1_12?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1342550137&sr=1-12&keywords=tea+strainer
because they’re larger and allow the leaves more room, but if you’re primarily brewing English-style blacks you should be okay. Those don’t expand as much as, say, an oolong would.

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Mikee said

Having looked at some of the loose teas available here, I guess I was thinking along the wrong lines. I was thinking of brewing in an open teapot, and then pouring through a strainer to catch the leaves, but a lot of the leaves can be re-used, so I guess you’re better with a basket. Are you recommending a mug basket as opposed to a teapot basket?

Ouch some of the tea is expensive. For the full leaf pyramid teabags, you can be looking a $1 a bag lol

Anything you’d like to recommend an English breakfast tea drinker from here:
http://www.cantonteaco.com/loose-leaf-tea/type/black-tea.html

I like tea with milk, but I’m open minded.

Missy said

You can brew in the tea pot that way. I think for the most part it’s a matter of preference. It may be easier to re-steep if you should brew with the leaves in the basket. If I was going to make a whole pot of oolong, I’d brew it in the tea pot and pour over a strainer. The leaves are so big and the tea pot would give it lots of room to unfurl.

I think mug versus tea pot brewing is really about size and again preference. If you have a really good brew basket you may want to brew in your mug for convenience. On the other hand if you have a brew basket that leaves behind little bits you may want a tea pot. The tea pot will help cut down on the little bits in your cup.

I can’t really recommend many companies in the UK for you since I’m in the states. I do suggest getting samples. This way you can try out the tea for cheaper. It’s less of a commitment if you should find you don’t really like that particular tea as well.

Aha – I didn’t realize you were intending to brew in a teapot. You definitely can brew in the teapot, and I’ve seen actually a few filters you can put in the spout to keep the leaves in the pot while you pour.

Canton Tea Co – I see right on the front page, a 4-tea sampler pack for £10. I’d recommend starting with that, or maybe their breakfast blend or a Lapsang? I notice that they allow you to search by country, and if you’re familiar with English blends, you’re probably most familiar with Indian teas (Assam, Ceylon, etc)
Here’s the Steepster link for Canton’s teas:
http://steepster.com/search?products=on&q=canton+tea+co

Mikee said

I have teapots, could either brew in those or in a mug. If I enjoy the loose leaf teas too much, I’m likely to get an iron pot (or similar) which will come with an infuser anyway, so I think a mug basket is probably best. Should I buy a new teapot, I’ll then have the choice of either. Perhaps this one:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B002XUAT0Q/ref=s9_simh_gw_p79_d0_g79_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0C365XTVH5QJD1TVDJDK&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=467128533&pf_rd_i=468294
or the Finum (in fact, they look the same):
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Finum-Tea-Brewing-Basket-Large/dp/B000J3JFJU/ref=sr_1_1?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1342561420&sr=1-1

Am I missing something with the 4 tea sampler pack for £10 – it seems cheaper to just pick your own samples to try?

Apart from trying tea at restaurants in the far east etc, I am more used to Assam, Ceylon & Kenyan blends. I don’t understand strong fruit scented teas at all, they taste completely different to the smell. But I should give any of them a go.

Thanks again for all your help, I really appreciate it.

I’ve never used Finum myself, but I’ve heard fantastic reviews on it. It’s a mesh cloth, not a metal basket with holes, so very little tea gets out into the cup, which is nice.

It may in fact be cheaper just to pick your own samples; it usually is. I’ve just found sampler packs to be easy and convenient, especially if I don’t know where I want to start. But yeah, usually more expensive.

Enjoy your tea! :D

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Here’s the thing… with tea bags, even with premium teas, they are often cut to a uniform size and shape to make it easier to process into tea bags. In addition, the premium tea bags still MUST be processed, and this additional process time exposes the tea to additional elements that it would not otherwise be exposed to when sold loose leaf.

Furthermore, the tea bag is itself confining, and does not allow the tea to open up and unfurl properly. This is especially true of large, expanding leaves like Oolong.

For these reasons, I believe loose leaf is better, and my many tastings have proved this belief to be true.

Mikee said

Understood, and thank you. I shall try some, and see how I get on. So many to choose from, impossible to know where to go.
With the top reviews of Bai Lin Gong Fu Black Tea, I think that’s a given to try.

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erik_s said

Everyone has given great advice. I would add this: if you are looking for the convenience of a tea bag with the quality of a loose leaf tea you might want to try an infuser mug. http://www.teavana.com/tea-products/tea-cups-mugs/infuser-mugs
The ones I linked to here have a lot of small holes in the infuser rather than fewer big holes and I think makes a big difference. They’re great for using away from home.
As far as general brewing goes, I think the best results comes from boiling water in a small sauce pan, after the water comes to a boil add the tea, allow the tea to steep, and then strain into a warmed tea pot. Tea brews quickly and completely this way, and you can easily avoid over brewing.
Here is a link to a tea wiki I am working on. It’s under construction so things are sometimes a little whacked but but it has some good info on what you are asking about.
http://templemountaintea.com/wiki/tea_wiki/tea/forms-of-tea-for-consumption/loose-leaf-tea/

Mikee said

Thanks Eric. Those infuser mugs offer a similar solution to the infusers you get to drop into your existing mugs right? Assuming so, the latter would suit me better.
Brewing – having a saucepan sounds like extra mess/work :) Is that particularly useful for teas that like to brew at 100c? I see that Bai Lin Gong Fu Black Tea recommends brewing at about 80c.
Thanks for the link to your site. Feedback – would it not be better to have dark writing on a light background?

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Kiaharii said

Sometimes loose leaf will seem more expensive, but if you think about the multiple infusions you can get from the same teaspoon (or so) of leaves, it can make it cheaper. Plus, the variety and taste is just fantastic. :)

Mikee said

I believe you. I’m not sure how many infusions I’ll get, but it should be affordable.
Thanks

Kiaharii said

For my blacks it’s usually 2-3, and that’s just in an Ingenuitea. I haven’t really pushed anything too much though…

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James R said
Mikee said

Looks like a homely mug

James R said

Its nothing special visually, but I dont mean for it to be. It does what I want it to, the infuser holes are not too big, and it rests on the lid perfectly. The material is excellent for keeping my drink warm too, which is very beneficial as I always get pulled in different directions at work.

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Mikee said

I don’t fancy starting another thread, so…
Tea Containers: I found a nice thread on Tea Storage here (http://steepster.com/discuss/2451-tea-storage), but being in the UK I need to shop elsewhere.

I like the idea of the Adagio Glass Jars, but they’re only 400ml (maybe 160g of breakfast tea). So I’m looking for others. I’ve seen Twinings do 1 litre storage jars with borosilicate glass (http://shop.twinings.co.uk/shop/teaware/tea-accessories/bodum-storage-jars-794.html), but they don’t say if they protect from UV (the Adagio jars do). Any idea if the Twinings ones will be suitable, or anywhere else I can try?

Thanks

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mrmopar said

i use a kamovje pot it allows a large surface area on the tea to be hit by the water. when you are done with the steeptime hit a button it goes in the lower chamber and then you just pour in your cup. if you buy one i would suggest at least a 1000ml to get a good 10 oz. of brewed tea.the 500ml only give me about a half cup(or i have a big cup).

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Hi Mikee,

You will find Mighty Leaf and Teapigs here in the UK and both use full leaf tea in their teabags. It’s good tea.

If you prefer to purchase whole leaf tea to infuse in a teapot, I would recommend a Chatsford teapot: http://amzn.to/OIOgsm

Postcard Teas has some of the best loose leaf tea in the country. http://www.postcardteas.com

And, although expensive, don’t forget Tregothnan – the only tea grown in England. http://tregothnan.co.uk/

Hope this helps.

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