Brewing Loose Leaf Tea at Home

The many delicious teas of the world come both in individual bags or sachets and in loose leaf form. Once you are comfortable making loose leaf tea at home, there are that many more teas for you to taste. While most teas come with clear instructions, some don’t, like the bulk teas you’ll find at Your DeKalb Farmers Market. That’s no reason to miss out on a great tea. Here’s Angela’s four-step method to brewing tea at home.

Ultimately you’ll develop your own method and “tea tools,” but in the meantime, feel free to copy my style! You will need:  

  1. Something in which to boil your water – kettle, pot, electric kettle
  2. Something in which to steep your tea – glass or metal, make sure it pours without dripping
  3. A teaspoon to measure your tea
  4. Loose leaf tea (surprise!)
  5. Hand strainer or tea infuser (see Infusion Steeping Option)
  6. Something in which to serve your hot tea – teapot, non-plastic pitcher or just mugs or cups if you’re planning on using it all on the first pourloose leaf tea brewing equipment

Step One: Boil Your Water
Obviously. There are actually a couple of details worth knowing about your water:

  1. Temperature Matters. All teas are not steeped in boiling (212 degree) water and there are simple tricks you can use to get around relying on a digital, temperature-controlled kettle. More about this in a following post.
  2. Oxygen-Rich Water Brews the Best Tea. Water that has been left boiling too long or reboiled will have a lower oxygen content. Also, several teahouse owners have emphasized the importance of using filtered water.Boiling Water in Electric Kettle

Step Two:  Measure Your Tea
I use a general guideline of one teaspoon per (8 oz.) cup of water, plus one teaspoon for the pot. So when I boil a 7-cup pot of tea, I measure out 8 teaspoons into my bowl.Measuring Loose Leaf Tea

Step Three:  Time Your Steep and Prep Your Tea Service
When the water is at the right temperature, pour it over your tea leaves into the bowl you’ve readied. You can set a timer or if you trust your short-term memory, glance at the clock. Note that different teas have different steep times (more on this in a following post).2016-02 Brew Loose Leaf TeaIMG_6292

This is when I typically lay out the tea service, which is what we call the set of dishes you will use to serve tea. For guests, you may line a tray with a tea towel or decorative linen or placemat, then add your tea cups, saucers and spoons, fill a creamer with milk, half-n-half or cream by your preference and check that your sugar bowl has been replenished, possibly with sugar cubes, cane sugar, palm sugar or turbinado.

When it’s just me, I skip the full service and simply choose a favorite pottery mug or tea cup and saucer. You might choose to steep more than you know you’ll drink, pour yourself a large mug and filter the rest into a glass pitcher to refrigerate for future ready-to-go iced tea. Teapot, pitcher or cup at the ready

Step Four:  Strain Your Tea and Enjoy!
Pour your tea through a hand strainer either directly into tea cups and mugs, or into a pot or pitcher. Because this whole process takes less than 10 minutes and freshly brewed tea is tastiest, it’s okay to wait until guests have arrived before you put the kettle on for tea.

Infusion Steeping Option
I don’t usually choose to do this, because I find my infuser harder to clean and it can also limit space for the tea leaves as they are trying to open. Its benefit though is that you can simply pull an infuser out of the brewed tea, saving yourself the possibly messy step of pouring tea through a strainer. If you prefer this method, while your water comes to temperature, measure your tea leaves into an infuser and place the infuser inside your tea pot, pitcher or bowl, where you will steep your tea. Have a plate or bowl at the ready to catch your infuser as it emerges.Tea Infusion Method
Tea Savvy Tips:  

  1. Double Brew Your Leaves. While the second steep will have less caffeine (which may be desirable), don’t let those tea leaves go to waste. Simply empty the contents of your strainer back into your bowl and boil up another batch of water. If you have no need for so much tea at the time, strain it into a glass pitcher and refrigerate for iced tea for later.
  2. Compost Used Tea Leaves. They are a nitrogen-rich source of organic material for your garden. Simply add used leaves directly to your compost pile or bin.

 

Afternoon Tea Venues: Tea Room, Tea Bar, Tea Shop, Tea Cafe and Tea House

When planning an afternoon tea outing, like most other city dwellers, Atlantans are gifted with many choices. Lucky us! We have many ambiances and menus to explore at a variety of tea rooms, tea houses, tea shops, tea cafes and tea bars, each with its unique charms.

While some of these terms are used interchangeably, here’s how we’ll use them in upcoming Destination Tea reviews.

Afternoon Tea served at the Four Seasons Atlanta's Park 75 Restaurant
Afternoon tea terrace at the Four Seasons Atlanta’s Park 75 Restaurant

Tea rooms are typically housed within a larger establishment, such as a hotel, department store, country club, bed & breakfast, inn or historic site like an estate or castle (at the top of my destination tea bucket list). These will reflect the style of their hosts and usually have a set teatime in the afternoons. Oftentimes in-town hotel tea rooms offer a grand, classical setting and prepare their afternoon tea trays much like the British traditionally do.

Cozy book nook for afternoon tea at Candler Park's Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party
Cozy book nook for afternoon tea at Candler Park’s Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party

Tea houses, tea cafes, tea shops and tea bars are locally owned businesses whose decor and afternoon tea offerings vary widely and reflect their proprietor’s creativity. Most offer a combination of brunch, lunch and tea menus (walk-in and by reservation) throughout the late morning and afternoon.

A tea house is often a renovated historic home with several themed rooms, while a tea cafe or tea shop may be tucked into a town square or plaza. At all three, you usually feel a woman’s touch in the decor, which may transport you to the early days of afternoon tea and include antiques, unique tea collections, Victorian pieces, even a vintage hat and boa collection. In her decorating, the owner is sharing with her guests what it is she loves about the tradition of taking tea. Many also sell teas from their menus and include a gift shop worth exploring.

Baron York Cafe in Clarkesville, Georgia for afternoon tea
The once Baron York Cafe in Clarkesville

Tea bars are the latest in tea purveyors, usually designed with clean lines and modern or Asian-themed decor. While some do offer the traditional three-tiered afternoon tea, they also offer tea tastings and encourage à la carte teas, for which you go to the counter to order your tea along with some of their displayed baked goods. Tea bars emphasize tea education and exploration. While more traditionalist afternoon tea-goers can very much enjoy a tea bar, so too can the typical coffee shop patron, who sips tea over a business meeting or a good book. Tea bars also keep hours more like a coffee shop, staying open into the evenings and hosting local workshops, classes or music.

Why not see it all and taste it all? And take the advice of Angela’s Aunt Mary Ann:  patronize the places that you want to be there for you in future. Any of these afternoon tea venues would be a lovely setting for:

  • Showers (Baby, Bridal)
  • Holiday Celebrations (Seasonal Afternoon Tea Events)
  • Mother-Daughter Outing
  • Multi-Generational Family Get-Together
  • Children’s Tea
  • Tea Society, Book Club, Red Hat or other Group Meetings
  • Tea Education
  • Locally-Made Lunch
  • Relaxed Mini-Getaway

Do you already have a favorite tea venue? Please leave a comment telling us where you love going for afternoon tea.

Let the Afternoon Tea Fanfare Begin

Welcome to the world of afternoon tea! Maybe you’ve loved going to tea for decades or years, maybe you’re a newbie to “taking tea,” maybe you’re an Anglophile who loves pretty things and beautiful places or maybe you just love a good time out with friends. However you found your way here, you are in for a treat (or rather, many scrumptious things). afternoon tea cupboard

At Destination Tea, the talk is all about the ritual of afternoon tea. We’ll be spreading the word about where you can find a great tearoom, beginning with Metro Atlanta and including any destination teas we have the luck of attending.

But certainly afternoon tea can be just as thoroughly enjoyed at home with a little preparation (and does not require you to develop a vast teacup and teapot collection, though my cupboard is evidence that I understand the temptation). That’s why we’ll test and share simple, delicious recipes for your tea tray at home.

We’ll also get better acquainted with the elements and etiquette of afternoon tea to make sure that all guests at the tea table are at ease.

And given that most of us teagoers are not certified Master Tea Tasters, we’ll become familiar with the types of tea you may find on a tea menu, to help you find your favorites.

As an introduction, please visit Tea Story and Afternoon Tea 101. As we learn more about afternoon tea from the many experts around the world, we hope you and other visitors to Destination Tea will add to that knowledge, which we will happily pass on.

That’s what we do at Destination Tea:  our small part in keeping alive the lovely tradition of afternoon tea in our fast-paced modern world.