For tea newbies, using loose-leaf varieties might seem daunting. Unwrapping a bag and dunking it in a cup of hot water is so simple, after all.
But Michelle Lusch, owner of local tea retailer Teajutsu, says the extra work is worth the effort because there’s no comparison when it comes to the flavor and freshness you get from loose leaves.
"The tea that’s in the bags … it’s been pulverized, basically," she says. "When you take whole tea leaves and you crush them to that extent and make a powder out of them, you lose flavor."
There are all sorts of gadgets on the market to help you brew loose-leaf tea. Tea pots in all shapes and sizes are the classic choice, and some come with mesh inserts so you can brew the tea without getting leaves in your cup when it comes time to pour.
Tea infusers, which can be dropped in an individual cup, come in a variety of forms from the conventional mesh ball to novelty cartoon figures for the whimsical at heart. You can even buy bags to stuff yourself if you’re looking to class-up the dunk-and-toss method with your favorite blend.
So what is the best steeping method? Purists will be quick to tell you why their favorite process is The Only Right Way, but Lusch isn’t a stickler.
"I tell people ‘whatever works for you … get a good cup of tea,’ " Lusch says. "There’s nothing sacred about one method or another."
The mesh ball infusers are a good way to start out, Lusch says, and a French press is an excellent way to brew tea. She even uses loose-leaf tea in a refillable pod with her Keurig coffee maker when she is in a hurry.
Teajutsu sells loose-leaf tea online at Teajutsu.net and at the Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market, which takes place Saturdays at Parkview Field. Lusch says her customers are often looking for flavors and types of tea they can’t buy off the shelf at a grocery store.
"People seem to like unusual things, something that’s different," she says.
Teajutsu’s top flavor is French Toast Chai. If you visit the retailer, you’ll also find top-selling blends such as Peach Ginger Green Tea, Butter Rum Bliss and the limited-edition Winter at Hogsmead, a Harry Potter-themed green tea with vanilla and mint.
But for loose-leaf first-timers, a black or green tea is probably best to help avoid "culture shock," Lusch says. Those are the teas we are already used to from restaurants and the boxed bags at the grocery store.
If you’re an iced tea lover, Lusch says you can experiment to see what loose leaf teas taste best when chilled. In her experience, unflavored or fruit-flavored tea blends make the best iced teas.
She boils a pan of water with green tea leaves on the stove until it is well concentrated. When she’s ready for iced tea, she adds the concentrate to cold water, ice and sugar.