Enjoyably Frugal Loose Leaf Tea

by Sabrina Savra


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Tea. The very word conjures up Brits enjoying a proper afternoon tea, or elegant geishas performing the Japanese tea ceremony. Many of us love curling up on the couch with a cozy mug of tea or a crisp glass of iced tea on a summer's day.

New varieties of tea tantalize tea-lovers as we discover the wonderful flavors and health benefits of tea, but tea bag prices can dismay the frugal tea-lover. Loose leaf tea offers a wonderfully frugal way to enjoy all the flavor and health benefits of tea.

Aren't Tea Bags Cheaper?

That's a myth! Tea bags are commonly made with the two lowest grades of tea, namely Fannings and Dust. These broken bits of the leaves brew fast but lose out on flavor and health benefits. Tea leaves are like any other plant or herb; the more the leaves are handled, the more potential there is to lose flavor and precious nutrients. Higher grade whole and slightly broken leaves (the grade used in loose leaf teas) mean a better-flavored, health-rich cup.

A two-ounce bag of loose tea selling at $6 can brew about 30 cups of tea for only 20 cents a cup. The savings increase if you choose to re-steep your tea. The flavor will be lighter, but still delicious. Try that with a tea bag!

I'm In! Where Can I Find It?

Look for a tea with full, whole leaves. This applies to all varieties. Larger supermarkets, health food stores, specialty food shops, farmers' markets, ethnic grocers and online retailers are all great places to find quality tea. Ethnic grocers like Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian grocers are good places to find larger bags of tea for a reasonable price. Online tea retailers like Tea Gschwender www.teagschwendner.com offer a variety of teas and plenty of advice. You can even harvest your garden for free herbal tisanes like rose, hibiscus and mint. All teas, with the exception of red and herbal teas, come from the Camellia Sinensis plant.

  • Black tea leaves are fully fermented, strongest in flavor, and contain the most caffeine.

  • Green tea leaves are withered and steamed. It tastes fresh and is antioxidant-rich with half the caffeine of black tea.

  • Oolong tea is semi-fermented and has a delicate, refined flavor.

  • White tea is only withered and air dried, with a mild, lightly sweet flavor, and with the least caffeine.

  • Red tea (Rooibos) comes from the South African Red Bush. Naturally sweet and caffeine free, red tea is rich in antioxidants and minerals.

  • Herbal tea, also called tisanes, are infusions of dried herbs, flowers, leaves, roots and fruits and are often caffeine free. Chamomile and Mint are well-loved varieties. An easy way to prepare tisanes is to simply boil the leaves/flowers, strain, and pour into cups.

Is Loose Tea Harder To Brew?

Brewing loose tea is as simple as pouring water over your tea. There may be as many teas as there are ways to brew it. Play, experiment and find what works best for you!

My recommended method is to bring fresh filtered cold water to a rolling boil. Minerals in tap water can affect the taste of your tea. For green tea, use water slightly under a rolling boil. Measure out one teaspoon of tea per eight-ounce cup, and drop it into a tea-ball or teapot. Make sure the leaves have plenty room to expand. Pour the water over and steep according to the required time. Be careful not to over-steep or you'll risk a bitter brew! Strain the tea or pop out the tea-ball, and sweeten as desired. Breathe in the aroma and enjoy!

We've all heard of "sun tea," but have you ever tried "fridge tea"? Fill a tea-ball or tea-bag (a coffee filter tied shut also works) with one teaspoon of leaves per serving, and drop it into a pitcher full of cool water. Place it in the fridge and steep overnight. In the morning, you have iced tea! Any tea works great with this method. Iced tea combined with fruit juice is a delicious summer refresher.

So, refresh yourself! Here's to a tasty, healthy cup of tea!

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