Brewing loose leaf tea: How do I do it?
December 15, 2011 9:20 AM   Subscribe

After a failed attempt at getting my morning caffeine via coffee.. I discovered Bigelow's Plantation Mint tea. I like it stronger then their little teabags can provide though. How do I find and make it with loose leaves?

Pretend I'm an idiot and hold my hand through this process. I don't know how to buy spices or coffee beans, let alone tea leaves. I don't know where I could buy them. Is there a decent online supplier I should be looking at? (I prefer online, since I have to make special plans to travel anywhere)

How much should I get if I plan on drinking at least one cup a day? I use a 14oz cup.

Do I need special equipment? Right now my method is:

1. Fill Electric Water Kettle with Water
2. Push button
3. Add teabag to cup
4. Add sugar to cup
5. Wait for water to boil.
6. Wait 1-2 minutes after water finishes boiling.
7. Poor water into cup.
8. Wait until tea is cooled off, remove bag, drink.

How much do I need to modify that? Do I measure by weight or volume?

Just from poking around the internet, I'm assuming I need to buy dried spearmint leaves for tea flavoring and black tea for the caffeine. But I was overwhelmed with there being forty bajillion different kinds of black tea. Is one kind better then the other?

Most importantly: is buying it loose leaf more economical then buying it in bags and brewing two bags at a time?

Lastly, I love the spearmint tea because it doesn't taste like tea. Aside from peppermint tea, what other kinds of tea flavorings (Is that the right word?) could I add to make it not taste like tea?
posted by royalsong to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've bought plenty of loose tea from Adagio before. Never had mint, but they seem to have some options.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:23 AM on December 15, 2011

The least hassle for making a stronger tea would be to put two teabags in the cup during step three. Not that I want to discourage you from the joys and superior quality of loose-leaf tea, but if you like Plantation Mint and you want it stronger, just use two bags.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:27 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have clarified. The reason I don't just want to use two tea bags is because I'm going to fly through boxes of tea like a hot knife through butter. Especially since it seems like I'm starting to make more then one cup a day.

I was hoping the loose leaf option would be more affordable then buying stock in bigelow. :)
posted by royalsong at 9:30 AM on December 15, 2011

If you are making black tea, you can use the water as soon as you take it off the boil. If you are making green tea, then you should wait a minute or two after it stopped boiling.

I don't think you need any special equipment. I never did a cost analysis, but I have been buying loose-leaf tea due to its reputation for better flavor, since the leaves have more room to swirl around. This is my routine, for black tea.

1. Pour 1 cup of water into a Pyrex measuring cup.
2. Microwave 2 minutes (boiling).
3. While it's microwaving, put tea strainer into mug. Mine fits right into the mug, rather than using a teapot, since I only make 1 cup at a time.
4. Add 1 tsp tea leaves to strainer.
5. After 2 minutes, remove Pyrex cup from microwave, pour water over tea leaves.
6. Let tea steep for 3 minutes, then remove infuser.

I then repeat this twice, to get a total of 3 cups out of each teaspoon. Yes, each cup is weaker than the last, but it's a way of getting more bang for my buck, as I only use 1 tsp each day.

I can't really answer the question on what flavorings are best. But I get my tea from Mighty Leaf Tea which has a wide variety of flavors, which have pretty good descriptions and lots of reviews to help you decide.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 9:33 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

To quote Douglas Adams:
For a proper cup of (black) tea, the water must be boiling, not boiled.
Try pouring the water over the tea bags right when it comes to a boil, and I would be surprised if that doesn't make the tea strong enough for your liking.

Also, for the question you didn't ask: you can buy Plantation Mint in bulk from Amazon.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 9:41 AM on December 15, 2011

Usually your supposed to let the tea steep for 4 to 6 minutes
posted by majortom1981 at 10:24 AM on December 15, 2011

Let the tea steep for longer. I usually never take out my black tea ball because I like it to be very strong.

I just made the switch to loose leaf and it is much cheaper, though less portable. I drink a smallish soup bowl of tea every day and I just use one of those small tea balls, packed half full. One 100g container lasted about a month and a half.
posted by chaiminda at 10:36 AM on December 15, 2011

A tea bag is usually intended for one 6 or 8 oz cup of tea, so you should be using two tea bags for sure.

Ceylon and Darjeeling are black teas frequenly found in flavored tea blends. They both have lighter flavors with floral/fruity notes that would probably taste nice with mint. Darjeeling is the milder of the two.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:37 AM on December 15, 2011

To source the tea:

Adagio Teas has a tea called Casablanca Twist, which I found a little bright for my liking, but you might enjoy it.

If you're interested in trying your own blend, TeaSource has a 200-proof peppermint that will knock your socks off and would probably be great to blend with black tea. However, Bigelow's Plantation Mint is made with spearmint. I haven't tried TeaSource's spearmint, but I've bought lots and lots of tea and tisanes (herbal teas) from them and never have been disappointed in the quality.

For the black tea component, I'd try one of TeaSource's inexpensive black teas, probably Ceylon, or if you want something more robust, the Empire Keemun. If you want to try something like the "Casablanca Twist," go for their house Darjeeling.

If you browse TeaSource or Adagio, you'll find all manner of filters (I have one of these simple guys, and it has served me well for more than ten years) and filter-mug combos and whatnot. The most important thing is that the steeping tea be in a large container so that the leaves have room to expand as their release their flavors that the water can circulate freely among the leaves.

To make your tea:

1) Put your kettle on to boil.
2) While it heats, put the filter in the mug.
3) Measure about a heaping-half-teaspoon each of the mint tea and black tea into the filter. (The exact amount doesn't matter much, and you can experiment with different ratios to see what you like best.)
4) When the kettle boils, pour boiling water over the tea.
5) Steep for 3-6 minutes.
6) Lift out the filter. (Don't try to squeeze the leaves to get more tea out, unless you like a bitter, tannic taste.)
7) When your tea has cooled, add sugar to taste, and enjoy. (Don't put sugar in while the water is steeping! You want nothing but nice pure water to accept the flavor of the tea; sugar might prevent some of the delightful flavors of the tea from diffusing into the water.)

If your tea comes out too weak, try either steeping longer and/or using more tea leaves. If it's too strong, especially if it's bitter, try a shorter steeping time.

I hope this helps!

I don't work for TeaSource, I swear, but they're my tea-pusher of choice.
posted by BrashTech at 10:38 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

And for the love of god steep your black tea for three to five minutes.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:38 AM on December 15, 2011

If your tea is not strong enough, try Assam instead of Darjeeling. Absolutely use hot, boiling water. Let it steep as long as you want to, at least three minutes. (I've once forgotten a pot of black tea for half an hour. Let's just say it was strong enough.)

Some loose teas have dosage advice on the bag, usually measured in volume.
posted by Triton at 11:08 AM on December 15, 2011

I put vanilla in my tea sometimes. Add a few drops at a time till you figure out how much you like. Also, adding milk or Coffeemate will give you a different tea experience that you may like. Coffeemate may sound like heresy but I had a friend in college who served it like that and I grew to like it and sometimes crave it now.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:07 PM on December 15, 2011

I have an enormous mug. It's at least 40oz. What I do is I put the tea bag in the bottom of the mug and pour the boiling water right on top of the bag. Then I put the mug on top of the counter and pretty much forget about it. If I'm lucky, I get back to it before it's cold (not that I mind). Never had a problem with my tea not being strong enough.
posted by cali59 at 3:05 PM on December 15, 2011

Never use microwave water for tea. I have no science to prove it, but it is terrible.

That said, consider leaving the tea bag in for longer/ever. And if it's caffeine you are craving, consider a stronger blend - I'm an Irish Breakfast + dash of milk + one sugar cube girl myself, and I find mint teas weak.
posted by maryr at 8:18 PM on December 15, 2011

Also, Tazo makes a strong mint (I think it's the tarragon), but it isn't caffeinated.

Also, I can't speak to their mint teas specifically, but my friends really enjoy purchasing samples from Upton Teas i that might help you find something you like.
posted by maryr at 8:21 PM on December 15, 2011

You can also by "off the shelf" black mint tea, like this. That saves you from having to figure out which black tea leaves you like and combining them with dried mint leaves.

That said, on the black tea side, assam is my favorite, but usually anything that calls itself a "breakfast" tea makes me pretty happy.
posted by olinerd at 6:26 AM on December 16, 2011

I started drinking tea about a year ago, and bought Adagio teas after seeing a referral on AskMe. I buy a LOT of the sample sizes, and still do. It's a great way to find teas that you really love. I would start with four or five of the sample sizes and eventually work through them all to find out which one you love the most.
posted by raisingsand at 5:58 PM on December 16, 2011

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