Dipping your toes into the world of loose leaf tea may seem intimidating for new tea drinkers, but tasting your first perfect cup of flavorful and smooth tea will change a tea lover’s life. Tea bags are simple and do the job, but loose leaf tea takes your tea drinking experience to the next level. With some practice, you’ll realize just how easy it is to make loose leaf tea and it’ll quickly become a habit in your rou-tea-ne!
Steeping loose leaf tea for the first time involves a bit of a learning curve when you’re used to tea bags, but the benefits of loose leaf far outweigh the extra effort. You’ll be trading an okay cup of tea with bitter tannins for a high quality, healthier cup of tea with more antioxidants, richer aroma, and better flavor.
From the tools you'll use to steep and strain to how much loose tea you need per cup of water and how long it takes to steep your tea, our guide will teach you everything you need to know about using loose leaf tea to make your perfect cuppa!
Sips by is a personalized tea discovery subscription. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Members receive 4 teas chosen just for them in every box. Learn more here.
SHOP BEST LOOSE LEAF TEA
Discover the best loose leaf teas as rated by Sips by's 600,000 tea-loving Members. Across all tea types, from black tea to green tea to herbal tea and more, these are the best loose leaf teas from different tea brands around the world. Find your favorite loose leaf tea - no matter the type or flavor of loose leaf tea you're searching for, Sips by has options you'll love. Discover your new favorite loose leaf tea, as well as disposable tea bag kits to make brewing loose leaf tea easy.
HOW TO MAKE LOOSE LEAF TEA
So, you were given a nice bag of loose tea for a special occasion or decided to treat yourself and picked one up. But now when you actually want a cup...where do you start? While making loose leaf tea might seem overwhelming at first, with a few tips and tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be steeping away in no time!
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HOW TO USE LOOSE TEA
Here are a few guidelines to follow that will help you become a pro at steeping loose leaf tea. Learn about the type of loose tea you have, the ideal water temperature for each type, how to measure loose leaf tea for each serving, and how long to steep your loose tea for the best cup.
- Use freshly drawn water every time. This small step will make a big difference when it comes to steeping loose tea, so each time you boil water for a cup or pot of tea make sure it’s fresh and filtered.
- Don’t over steep your tea or use too many tea leaves. You’ll end up with too strong of a cup that’s bitter instead of fresh and flavorful.
- Pay attention to the size of your cup or brewing vessel when deciding how much tea to use.
- One of the best things about loose leaf tea is that you can re-steep your tea leaves at least once, and sometimes even up to 10 times!
- Loose leaf tea is not a one teaspoon fits all situation! The size of your cup and steeping vessel, such as if you’re using your favorite big mug or a vintage teapot, will change how much tea you use.
TYPES OF LOOSE TEA
The first thing you need to do is identify what kind of tea you have. For example, how long it takes to steep herbal tea will be different from steeping a strong black tea. You may need to use more tea for lighter blends like herbal or green tea than you would for a black tea, which require fewer tea leaves and a shorter steeping time. All of these variables will slightly change how you prepare your loose leaf tea.
- Herbal: Herbal teas are made from herbs, fruits, spices and flowers. These caffeine-free blends are characterized by their light, mingling flavors that range from floral to citrusy or sweet to earthy. Because they have so many delicious ingredients mingling together, such as real flowers or chunks of fruit, herbal teas generally have a larger volume compared to other teas and you may need to use more tea when steeping to extract the full flavor.
- Rooibos: Also known as “red bush tea,” rooibos is made from the Aspalathus linearis shrub plant native to the Cape province of South Africa. It has small needle-like leaves and creates a delicious, antioxidant-rich red brew. Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free and has a slightly sweet, nutty and fruity flavor and aroma, great for drinking by itself or blended with other inclusions such as dried fruits, flowers and spices.
- Pu-erh: Pu-erh tea is a prized fermented tea that is often aged until it matures into a smooth, sweet, and rich flavor but young, unaged pu-erh will also have a nicely vegetal and smoky flavor. Pu-erh is known for its health benefits, including the potential to lower bad cholesterol, help prevent diabetes, and promote digestion.
- Black: Black tea is the most widely consumed tea in the West. It’s the most heavily oxidized tea, generally with the highest levels of tannins and caffeine, making it brisk and uplifting. Black teas will have a dark liquor and bold taste when steeped, so you’ll generally use less loose leaf tea per cup compared to other types of tea.
- Oolong: Oolong tea is a complex, semi-oxidized tea that is ideal for re-steeping. Because there are so many different types of oolong, the flavors can range from light to full bodied, floral to creamy, and sweet to toasty.
- White: White tea is a beautifully delicate tea known for its subtlety of fragrance, taste and color. White tea is the least processed tea, contains around 10-75mg of caffeine per cup, and often has a distinctly floral character.
- Green: Green tea is associated with freshness and purity, a high antioxidant content, and other beneficial properties. Flavors can range from mellow and sweet to vegetal and grassy, with nutty, floral, buttery, roasted, fruity, herbaceous or oceanic notes. Most green teas are tricky to steep for beginners as they require low temperatures and steep times or else they will go bitter.
You may have never thought about water temperature when using tea bags, but it makes a difference if you want to optimize the flavor extracted from your high quality loose tea leaves. This guide breaks down the recommended water temperature for steeping each type of tea.
- Herbal: 212℉ // Hard boil
- Rooibos: 212℉ // Hard boil
- Pu-erh: 212℉ // Hard boil
- Black: 205℉-212℉ // Soft boil
- Oolong: 185℉-195℉ // Light steam
- White: 175℉-185℉ // Light steam
- Green: 175℉ // Faint steam
HOW TO MEASURE LOOSE TEA
Knowing how much loose tea to use per cup or teapot is the trickiest part of learning how to make tea without a tea bag, but we break down everything you need to know to steep your tea perfectly every time. Follow the measurements below so you don’t end up with a disappointingly weak tea or a brew so strong it’s bitter and mouth-puckering.
However, we know that you won’t always be making exactly 8 oz of tea. Sometimes you’ll only want a single cup of tea, but what about when you need two cups for you and a friend? Or four to six servings in a large teapot? Our size guide covers these variations so you know exactly how much tea to use in every situation.
- Teapot: The standard size of a teapot is 32 oz and will make around 4 cups of tea. Use 1-2 tbsp of tea for a regular 4 cup teapot.
- Teacup: The typical size of a teacup is 6-8 oz. Use 1-2 tsp for one teacup, or 2-4 tsp for two cups of tea.
- Mug: Mugs will vary the most in size but most fall between 8-15 oz. A 12 oz mug is the size of a standard coffee cup, so you should use around 2-4 tsp for most mugs.
- Travel Mug: The size of travel mugs will fall between 15-20 oz. Pop in 3-5 tsp of tea for your travel mug.
HOW LONG TO STEEP LOOSE TEA
When using a tea bag the general rule for steeping is around 3-5 minutes or just eyeballing your cup to see if it’s dark enough. However, when steeping loose leaf tea you’ll want to be a little more precise so you can get the best possible flavor out of your leaves! Steeping times will vary depending on the type of tea you’re using but our quick guide below will help you determine how long to steep your loose tea.
- Herbal: 5-10 minutes
- Rooibos: 6-7 minutes
- Pu-erh: 2-5 minutes
- Black: 3-5 minutes
- Oolong: 2-4 minutes
- White: 1-3 minutes
- Green: 2-3 minutes
TYPES OF INFUSERS FOR LOOSE LEAF TEA
When brewing loose leaf tea, it’s helpful to have a tea infuser for simple steeping and easy clean-up. There are several types of infusers you can use to match your particular steeping need, whether you like to make a single cup at a time or several servings in one go.
SINGLE SERVE INFUSERS
This gold star infuser is perfect for making a single cup and functions as a reusable tea bag. Or, if you don’t want any clean-up at all you can put your own loose tea in these biodegradable paper filters and throw them away or compost them after you’re done steeping.
Whether you’re taking your tea on-the-go or enjoying a cup at home, you can also steep your tea directly in your mug! This dreamy botanical tea mug comes with a perfectly fitted detachable infuser that allows your loose tea to expand and infuse your cup with a balanced flavor. After it’s done steeping, you simply take the infuser out and set it aside until you’re ready to re-steep your leaves.
If you don’t have time for a cup of tea at home, this insulated travel mug with an infuser lets you take your favorite loose leaf tea with you on the go.
MULTIPLE SERVING INFUSERS
Some teapots will come with an infuser so you can steep your loose tea in the pot and not have to worry about straining each cup of tea later. If you don’t have a teapot, a French press will also work wonderfully in a pinch! Other options for brewing more cups of loose tea at once include a small to medium sized saucepan or a coffee maker carafe.
HOW TO MAKE LOOSE LEAF TEA WITHOUT A STRAINER
Even if you don’t have a specialized tea infuser or strainer on hand there are a few easy ways to steep and strain loose tea without a ton of extra accessories.
- You can steep loose tea directly in your brewing vessel without a strainer, letting your leaves freely unfurl and infuse the pot, mug, or teacup. After it’s done steeping, carefully strain the tea into each cup with a mesh kitchen strainer, a piece of cheesecloth, or a large spoon/fork (depending on the size of the leaves).
- Use a coffee filter to strain loose leaf tea.
- Strain your tea between two mugs, using one mug as a barrier for the leaves.
- Make your own infuser by poking small holes in a piece of foil.
HOW TO DRINK LOOSE LEAF TEA
Well-steeped loose leaf tea is delicious to drink hot or iced! While the steeping instructions above mainly apply to making hot loose leaf tea, simply pour your steeped tea over ice for a cooling cup of iced loose leaf tea. If you want a stronger cup of iced tea, add an extra teaspoon or two of tea when steeping. Or, steep your loose leaf tea overnight in the fridge for a refreshing cold brewed tea. Finally, you can soak in the natural flavors of your loose leaf tea or enhance your cup with a bit of sweetener, milk, or lemon.
BEST LOOSE TEA COLLECTION
Want to discover the best loose leaf teas as rated by Sips by's 600,000 tea-loving Members? Across all tea types, from black tea to green tea to herbal tea and more, these are the best loose leaf teas from different tea brands around the world. Find your favorite loose leaf tea - no matter the type or flavor of loose leaf tea you're searching for, this Best Loose Leaf Tea Collection has options you'll love. Discover your new favorite loose leaf tea, as well as disposable tea bag kits to make brewing loose leaf tea easy.
Interested in trying these teas and others? Subscribers receive 4 teas chosen just for them in every box. Learn more here.
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About Sips by: We’re a female-founded and led startup that makes discovering tea fun, personalized, and affordable. The Sips by Box is the only multi-brand, personalized tea subscription box. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Based out of Austin, Texas, we are adept at savoring a hot mug even when it’s seasonally inappropriate.