Everything about tea is good for the soul. Brewing a cup of tea becomes therapeutic when you watch the fresh-smelling leaves and flowers unfurl their wisps of color into the hot water that envelops them. And all the care you put into brewing is repaid many times over as soon as your cup cools enough for the first sip to moisten your throat and warm you from the inside out. Exhale… now excuse me, I think my tea kettle is calling.
I love buying loose leaf teas because there are typically more unique varieties available than what comes in pre-packaged tea bags, and they’re usually less expensive. My absolute favorite teas are from Mariage Frères, a French company that I can’t get enough of. They have endless types of tea, and their boutiques and salons are heavenly. If you don’t have a trip to Paris planned in the near future (but if you do, I’d like to join you!), you can find these teas in Williams-Sonoma and Dean and Deluca, but the stores don’t carry the full line. And seeing the price in dollars, post import, makes me cringe.
My next favorite source for loose leaf tea is Ching Ching Cha, a tranquil Chinese tea house in Georgetown. I wasn’t sure whether I should mention this urban oasis out of fear that you’d all rush there and make me wait for a table. But it would be plain mean to keep such a good secret.
I’ve tried many, many tea-brewing methods over the years. Some have been successful, others have been disastrous! I’ll start with the disastrous methods first.
The ceramic tea cup-brewer combo: I can’t include a picture of it here because I broke it into, realistically, 9 pieces. It was a mug with a perforated ceramic insert and a lid. I would put my leaves in the ceramic insert, submerge it in hot water, and pull it out once the tea was brewed. Unfortunately, the perforations in the insert were much too large, and I ended up drinking a lot of leaves. And if I pulled the insert out too quickly, it would drain water everywhere but in my cup. Not fun, don’t recommend.
The metal spoon infuser: My boyfriend, David, refers to this contraption as “the venus fly trap.” The name is very appropriate because when you squeeze the infuser’s handle to open each side of the spoon, it looks like a menacing, gaping mouth. You’re supposed to fill the fly trap’s mouth with tea leaves and dunk it in your hot water. I know many people who are fans of the venus fly trap, but I am not one of them. Because tea leaves expand so much, I find the fly trap to be rather restrictive. It gets filled up quickly, and the hot water has trouble getting inside to mix and mingle with the leaves. Inevitably, my vigorous stirring to speed the brewing process always leaves me drinking leaves. Ha. And it only makes one cup at a time.
Fill-at-home tea bags: I can’t tell you much about these tea bags because their packaging is in Chinese. I can tell you, however, that they’re absolutely fantastic and I use them on an almost-daily basis. These bags are more than twice the size of the average supermarket tea bag, so they let your tea leaves expand to their hearts’ content. Just add a tablespoon or so of tea leaves, fold over the top of the bag (they work a lot like plastic sandwich bags), throw it in your mug, and add water. They’re also disposable- extra convenient (maybe green too, but I don’t know what they’re made of). If I know I’ll be making tea on the road, I’ll pre-fill a few bags to keep on me for whenever a tea craving strikes. They’re also really great for making iced tea. Just drop three bags in a pitcher of water, keep it in the fridge overnight, and enjoy your delicious cold-brewed iced tea in the morning.
Tea pot with mesh infuser: These tea pots are perfect for making more than one cup of tea at a time. Just fill the removable mesh infuser with your leaves, pour over hot water, and cover with the lid. When the tea is done brewing, remove the infuser. Other tea pots have a mesh strainer attached to the inside base of the spout so you can pour the tea without getting leaves in your cup. With those pots, however, you can’t remove the tea leaves to stop the brewing process (the leaves are loose in the pot). All you can do to avoid drinking dark bitterness is to empty all of the tea from the pot. This method might work if you’re brewing for a group, but if you’re drinking alone, you’ll end up with cold tea. They’re also harder to clean because tea leaves get stuck inside. A tea pot with a removable mesh infuser is a must-have for any tea lover. The one pictured above is cast iron, so it can be warmed directly over a flame.
I’ll drink to that, cheers!