On the eve of 2022, everything has changed. Threatened by the loss of so much of life as we took for granted, our value and appreciation of ourselves, people and planet is changed. Where does tea fit into this? Tea is unique in expressing the fingerprint of nature, through its aroma, taste and texture. It is also unique for the natural antioxidants that Nature induces in the leaf. All this merits a fresh perspective on fine tea. As tea growers, we have known all along that while good tea in teabags are still good, loose leaf tea is the purest experience of tea. Here are six reasons, and six ways to enjoy fine loose leaf tea, and with good tea and right teaware, it only takes 5 minutes.
The 16th Century phrase turning over a new leaf has more resonance than ever in 2022 with the whole world looking to turn the page on a two year long pandemic chapter. None more so than the community of artisans and tea tasters devoted to the revered ancient herb, camellia sinensis, or more simply, tea. The past decade has not been kind to tea, tea growers or tea lovers. The herb that became so popular worldwide in the hands of passionate tea makers, suffered the tragedy of commoditisation at the hands of pretenders more interested in the profit in tea, than its potential. And what potential – a healing, varied, affordable and serene herb.
Like its effect on other pre-existing conditions, the pandemic intensified inequality in the system but with it induced greater sensitivity amongst a new generation that is beginning to understand the incomparable beauty in fine tea. Though bruised and terribly battered, tea is ready to reveal once again its infinite variety of colour, aroma, flavour, immune boosting, calming and protective antioxidants and the magnificence of its myriad tastes.
A new generation of tea drinkers
Alongside a desire for more ethical and authentic experiences in food and beverage, convenience is something new generations yearn for. In tea, quality and convenience don’t always sit well together. Teabags were a wonderful innovation, and teabags containing good tea do offer good quality, but they still require the same brewing to extract the taste and goodness in fine tea. For gen Z-ers with an appetite for unequalled antioxidant goodness, taste crafted by none other than Nature herself, infinite variety a companion for every food, mood and moment, and 5 minutes to spare there is no greater luxury than handpicked, loose leaf tea.
Six reasons why loose leaf tea
- Fine tea that is made in the traditional way is handpicked, withered, rolled, fermented and dried – entirely natural, with no artificial processing. Being crafted by Nature through the sunshine, soils, rainfall and wind in our tea fields, tea possesses the fingerprint of nature, and loose leaf tea offered the most pure expression of that luxury.
- When tea is rolled, the leaves undergo different levels of rolling with some broken into smaller particles, others rolled more gently into wiry, long leaves. These form the ‘grades’ in tea from Dust through Broken Orange Pekoe to Orange Pekoe A. Loose leaf tea, whether broken grades or the bolder, delicate grades, has an inexpressible romance which is both functional and sensory pleasure, connected with the dance of the leaves as they impart their flavour, texture, aroma and goodness into the brew.
- The notion of luxury in tea has several dimensions, of which only one is taste. As tea tasters, we assess tea on the eye, nose and only then one the palate. This 3-dimensional perspective most perfectly presents the terroir in tea, describing the soils, rainfall, sunshine, humidity, elevation and other conditions that form its personality or terroir. That evolves into a form of modern luxury that no beverage can fulfill as genuinely as tea.
- The variety of taste in high quality, traditional loose leaf teas, from the finer, fannings grades to the bolder Pekoes and OPAs, present insight into different tastes and aromas in themselves, while grades from different elevation and regions, add a further layer of complexity to the array of experiences that loose leaf tea offers.
- The experience of fine, loose leaf tea begins with its preparation, from savouring the aroma of the tea as you spoon the dry leaf into the brewing vessel to pouring in the freshly boiled spring water and gently stirring. The brewing process is a significant part of the ancient ritual of tea, as it genuinely expresses the impartation of the taste and goodness inscribed by nature into the leaves.
- There is no, more sustainable way to enjoy good tea, than loose leaf tea. The dried leaf that is the outcome of a natural process whose origins go back 5,000 years maintains its purity in releasing flavour, texture, intensity, colour and aroma into the water that becomes its medium of expression. The antioxidant that define both taste and goodness in tea persist in the leaves after infusion. They retain their antibacterial properties, soothing skin, tired eyes, absorbing odours and demonstrating circularity as compost for plants.
Now for the methods. They are important, because extraction of taste and goodness in fine tea is vital for the enjoyment of the flavour, texture and human health benefits in tea. Presentation is similarly important because every experience begins on the eye, and then evolves through aromas, tastes and the myriad memories and enjoyment that leads to.
Six methods, brewing for the traditionalist to the rebel
- For the classic tea aficionado, there is no more elegant teaware than porcelain teapot and cup. Both perfected over centuries of tea drinking, their function requires only good loose leaf tea, water, a strainer and a little care in brewing.
- For the vintage modern tea lover, my suggestions is a glass teapot with infuser, and a glass cup. Adding vibrance to the brewing experience, the diffusion of colour and gradual development of intensity is added depth to the tea drinking experience. A gentle and regular swish of the teapot induces brewing, allowing the leaves to release their taste. As that happens the dance of the leaves and the evolution of the water to golden orange, or burgundy (depending on your tea of choice), is a sensory experience in itself.
- For the aesthete, the Perfect Tea Brewer requires the same care in selecting fine, garden fresh tea, and adding freshly boiled spring water in the right proportion (200ml per 2.5g of tea). A few stirs, a minute to watch the tea infuse into the water with gentle change in hues, and the Perfect Brewer does its magic. My favourite for the brewer is our Ceylon Silver Tips, fine White Tea. After dispensing the tea, the aroma the infused leaf offers is always inspiring.
- For the rebel, a t-Column, shunning tradition in tea without throwing out respect for the leaf. The infuser in the double walled glass column contains the tea, and when in the brewer is angled to allow brewing, allows the tea to impart taste and goodness. A few artistic flourishes with the t-Column and the tea is brewed.
- For the prolific tea drinker, the Thetiere. Simple, functional, while retaining all the hall marks of a good tea brewer. Paired with a porcelain or glass cup, the Thetiere is convenient and works perfectly.
- For the practical tea lover, the Effortless Infuser. Not the most alluring option, this is my go to brewer. It fits on top of most mugs or glasses. The traditionalist will probably exclaim in shock that mugs are no way to enjoy good tea. My take is that mugs are comfortable, homely and always have way more tea than a cup! There really is nothing to beat a fine porcelain teamug for a time of introspection or at work.
There is a footnote to several of these. Tea cosies were invented centuries ago, to keep tea warm. They were functional, and the idea of a cosy is dated now. Contemporary cosies however are a very functional addition to any tea experience because they enhance presentation, and keep the tea warm. Anything that allows conversation to wander, friends to linger, and still keeps the tea warm has got to be brilliant.
Loose leaf tea is a special pleasure – luxurious with an unique sensory dimension. Teabags with good tea in them are still great, but the expectation of convenience opens teabags to all sorts of abuse, most often, really poor brewing. That won’t produce taste or goodness from any tea. Loose leaf tea offers an elegance that demands reverence. That usually encourages proper care in brewing, and proper appreciation of tea beyond taste alone. Yet, the way you like your tea best is the best way for you to enjoy your tea, teabags or loose. One request from us tea growers. It takes a wonderful combination of the influence of heaven, earth and the artisan to produce fine tea. So please – respect the tea!