Today marks 3 years living in Berlin. 

Today marks 3 years living in Berlin.

My collection of used tea leaves continues to grow. As I drink and share tea, then dry the leaves, I also take time to handle them as they move through each stage of drying. The mix changes over time as I consume teas of different types and origins. There is always so much color and texture to see and feel in the leaves. They remind me of the cycles, slow and fast, that we go through with having different people come and go in our lives, taking care of work and life duties, having fun, being down, and so on. Above all, I am happy to have my health, tools, and the right people in my life to keep going, drinking, collecting, and reflecting.

Thank you to everyone near and far, you have been part of it in some way.

And thank you for being a friend.

You have the power to buy better tea

Tea bags are designed entirely for convenience, but they actually taste really bad. On the flip side, buying loose leaf tea can seem overwhelming, expensive, and complicated,

You have the power to buy better tea. The points below will get you started. If your interest picks up your natural curiosity will take you forward to a whole new world.

Better tea bags exist

Mighty Leaf and Numi fill their bags with real tea leaves of good quality. This is the easiest way to enhance your experience to give you an honest flavor while still maintaining maximum convenience.

The Mighty Leaf tea bag. Leaves inside, not dust.
The Mighty Leaf tea bag. Leaves, not dust.

Buying loose leaf in a local grocery store

Grocery stores that have a large bulk foods section, such as Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, sell a nice variety of loose teas at great prices. Some Whole Foods locations have bulk tea too. Buying bulk lets you see and smell the leaves. For a few dollars you can buy only a small amount to try. If you end up disliking it you’ll feel better knowing you only bought a small amount.

Chamomile comparison
Left: amount of dust you get with a box of 20 Twinings Chamomile tea bags. Right: amount of whole Chamomile flowers from a bulk bin for the same price. Much greater quality and quantity.

Buying sample packs online

Many online tea retailers sell sample packs. Everything from these two sources is excellent quality. Don’t dwell too much on the details, just pick something that sounds interesting:

But what about brewing the tea?

There are many ways to brew loose leaf tea that involve different methods and vessels. Forget about that for the moment and know this:

The easiest and most forgotten ways to brew tea is to put about a teaspoon of loose leaves in a glass and fill it with water.

The tea will taste much better. You’ll get to see leaves open up and dance around. Drink, and refill. The leaves will eventually settle to the bottom.

Worried about it becoming bitter? Use less tea.

You can make your own tea bags too. Many shops with a bulk section will sell packets of blank tea bags. Make your own for on-the-go too.

Jasmine green tea leaves opening up in a glass.
Jasmine green tea leaves opening up in a glass.
Chamomile comparison
Left: Twinings Chamomile dust in a bag produces a dark yellow brew that smells bad. Right: Loose Chamomile works best in a tea bag to keep the tiny bits of the flowers together. Here the brew is a clear yellow with an authentic aroma and flavor.

Water temperature?

Start with this basic rule: For black and herbals use boiling water. Anything else, let the water boil and cool for a few minutes.

I hope this opens up some tea opportunities for you. Enjoy and keep experimenting!

Let’s get real about tea bags

Three problems with most ordinary tea bags:

  1. They’re full of dust
  2. Tea bags in pouches in a box generate a huge amount of trash
  3. The resulted brew tastes awful and looks cloudy

Dust

Yes. Most tea bags are filled with very finely ground particles of low quality tea, most of which is the end result from the production and handling of tea leaves.

Dust
The dust from a Lipton tea bag (center) sits next to real Chinese green tea leaves.

Waste

A tea bag made of paper sits in a foil or plastic pouch. Twenty of these sit in a box, sometimes wrapped in plastic again. It ends up being a very small about of tea dust and a huge amount of trash.

Packaging waste comparison
The pile of trash generated from 20 bags of Chamomile dust versus the amount of loose Chamomile you could buy for the same price.

Taste

The taste from tea bags poorly represents the true flavors and nuances you’d get in loose leaf tea. This is like eating the lowest quality of chocolate (tastes and feels like plastic). For many there is no comparison since loose leaf tea is not part of their routine. Another factor is how tea bags are packaged. A tea bag typically lives in a sealed foil or plastic pouch, stuffed into a cardboard box and sometimes wrapped in plastic again. The marketing speak indicates this preserves flavor, but there’s no real flavor to preserve from tea dust. All this packaging adds to the lame smell of tea bags.

Tea comparison
Left to right: Lipton green tea bag, Mighty Leaf tea bag, loose leaf.

But buying loose leaf tea is overwhelming and expensive!

There is a solution.