How to Brew Loose-Leaf Tea: 5 Easy Steps

Eric Niewinski

How to Brew Loose-Leaf Tea

Sure, the quick convenience of bagged tea is great. But sometimes you want something more—more flavor, more fragrance, more of a “tea experience.” Loose-leaf tea can give you all of that. But what is the trick to brewing the perfect cup?

You can brew a cup of loose-leaf tea with just a few simple steps.

Five Easy Steps for Delicious Loose-Leaf Tea

  1. Heat your water.

  2. Measure the tea and fill the strainer.

  3. Pour the hot water over the tea.

  4. Let it steep.

  5. Remove the tea leaves and enjoy.

Okay. That sounds easy enough. Is that really all there is to it?

Well, not exactly.

Heating the Water

Heating the water to the right temperature is very important. A full-bodied black tea needs to be treated much differently than a delicate white. And what if you are in the mood for an herbal brew?

Each tea has its own unique preferences.

  • Black Tea: These rich leaves need to steep in water that has come to a full boil, or 212 degrees.
  • Oolong Tea: This flavorful brew does best in water heated to 195 degrees.
  • Green or White Tea: Steep these delicate leaves in water warmed to a temperature between 170-180 degrees.
  • Herbal Blends: Don’t let the mild flavor of this tea fool you. Herbal tea likes to bask in 212-degree boiling water. 

Of course, enjoying a quiet moment with a cup of tea shouldn’t turn into a chemistry experiment. You don’t need to sit patiently by, thermometer in hand, waiting for the ideal temperature.

When you notice small bubbles forming on the bottom of your pot, you are ready to enjoy an earthy green tea. That after-dinner oolong will be ready to go once you see the bubbles rising up the sides of the kettle. And, bring on the black and pu-ehr once those big, rolling bubbles take over.

Measuring the Tea

This step is a little more consistent regardless of which tea you use. Generally, 1 teaspoon of tea for every 8 ounces of water should do the trick. But when you're using a large, fluffy tea like chamomile or a subtle white variety, a tablespoon is better. And, of course, a full teaspoon of that potent gunpowder green may just knock your socks off!

Steep Those Leaves

To make the best cup of tea, this step, like the others, varies with which tea leaves you are using. Green and white teas need only two to three minutes. Heartier black and oolong teas do better with a longer steep—three to five minutes for black and four to seven for oolong. Herbal teas will make you wait a bit for their full profile to develop. These beauties like a steep time of at least five minutes, and they are content taking a full seven.

While we’re on the subject of steeping the tea, we should talk about strainers. There are a few different types out there. Here are some of the more common varieties:

  • Teapot with Infuser: Not only are these teapots convenient and easy to use, but they also allow you to brew more than one cup at a time. And they are ideal for just about any tea leaf.
  • Infusing Ball or Spoon: These won’t take up much space in your kitchen. They are inexpensive, easy to use, and great for many teas. These strainers can be a bit small for some large tea leaves to expand but they are a good choice for herbal and green varieties.
  • Brewing Basket: While this type of strainer is great for just about any tea, you may occasionally come across one with mesh too big for a small-leaf herbal tea. These basket-style infusers leave plenty of room for tea leaves to open up and release their flavor. Plus, the larger size gives you the option of re-steeping heartier tea for a second cup.
  • Paper Filters: These easy-to-store, single-use bags work for almost any tea, but they work best with a large-leaf, full-bodied tea. The paper can overwhelm the flavor of a more delicate leaf.

Alright then. Time to remove the tea leaves and enjoy. Not so fast! We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about one more method.

Putting Tea Leaves Directly in the Water

What if you don’t have a strainer? Or, maybe you just prefer a simple method with fewer steps. True to the ancient tea rituals, many folks swear by putting the tea leaves directly in the water while it heats.

While this technique will give you a tasty cup of tea, it does leave you with the issue of tea leaves in your drink. And lots of people are fine with that. If you aren’t one of them, you can always strain your tea into another cup.

Regardless of the brewing method you choose, always cover your tea while it steeps. The leaves will open up better and develop more flavor when covered.

Loose-Leaf Tea Really is Better

Brewing loose-leaf tea is not a difficult process. But it still is more complicated than just putting a teabag in a cup of water. And a box of teabags is much less expensive than buying loose tea leaves. Is loose-leaf tea really worth the cost and effort?

Yes. Loose-leaf tea is better—and more flavor is just the beginning.

  • The infusion process alone gives loose-leaf tea more flavor. Right off the bat, bagged teas are limited by their size. And the smaller leaves inside those bags tend to lose their freshness and natural oils fairly quickly. Loose-leaf tea, on the other hand, can open up and develop fully while it steeps.
  • The fresher and larger loose-leaf teas don’t just have more flavor. They are richer in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants as well. Better tasting. And better for you.
  • At first, the price may seem higher with loose-leaf tea. But buying tea in bulk is actually more economical. With less packaging, you are paying for tea and nothing else. Your dollar goes further. And, that leads us to an added bonus. Less waste makes loose-leaf tea a more environmentally friendly choice.

So, there you have it. Brewing loose-leaf tea is not a difficult process. Instead, it is well worth it. Take a moment then. Sit back and enjoy a peaceful escape with a delicious cup of tea!