Some people want to explore the world of connoisseur tea, but are not comfortable with the idea of brewing teas that do not come in tea bags. Let’s demystify the options here and save the planet, friends (for more, see my entry on “Tea’s Carbon Footprint”).
First, the only thing you really need in order to brew loose leaf tea is a device to strain the tea or rather separate the infused tea liquid from its leaves. There are several methods to choose from:
1. Porcelain cup with filter: For many people new to loose leaf tea, this is the most comfortable and familiar method of brewing tea. You simply put tea leaves in the filter, place the fitted filter in the cup, then pour in hot water. Steep for the allotted time, then remove filter (with leaves), and your tea cup will be filled with a lovely tea infusion. You can put the filter, with the used tealeaves, aside, and steep it again when you are ready. If your cup does not come with a filter, you can use a small strainer, found in almost any cooking store or even the supermarket. Easy peezey.
2. Tea pot (with its proprietary strainer or with a filter): The next most familiar method is the trusty tea pot. You will find many choices, but optimally, you would use a glass, porcelain or ceramic teapot to brew white and green teas and porcelain, ceramic or yixing for oolongs, blacks and puerhs. Many tea pots have a built-in filter or some type of internal system at the interior base of the spout that will prevent tea leaves from escaping the tea pot. If you have a tea pot that has no such filtering device, simply use a filter or strainer over your cup or serving vessel. You can find some very nice strainers made of bamboo and other non-metal materials (which is preferred).
3. Gaiwan: Ahhhh, the gaiwan…. For those who are new to tea, the gaiwan can be either enchanting or perplexing. Once you learn how to use a gaiwan, you might never want to use a filtered tea cup or tea pot again. The gaiwan comes from China, and comprises a saucer, a cup, and a lid. In fact, it means “covered bowl” in Chinese. Regardless, the lid of the gaiwan is used to cover the tea as it steeps, smell the tea, and also prevent the leaves from escaping the cup when the infusion is sipped or poured into a serving vessel. To use a gaiwan is simple: put tea in the gaiwan. Rinse the tea for 1 second with hot water, and pour off. Pour hot water on the leaves and cover with the gaiwan lid. You can also use the lid as a kind of paddle to nudge the tea leaves awake while the tea is brewing.
Then either pour the infusion into a serving vessel or drink the leaves directly from the cup of the gaiwan, using the lid to hold back the leaves. I brought a gaiwan with me on a family trip, and my father blanched and asked “WHAT is THAT??. Alas, the gaiwan is not for everyone.
4. Japanese tea bowl & whisk (for matcha): Tea has been prepared from ground green tea for more than a thousand years. In China, it was whisked in a bowl. In Japan, it became the primary object of contemplation and practice in the famed Japanese tea ceremony, but you can lose the kimono if you wish, and simply whisk up some tea to elevate your mood. The bright green froth of a matcha brings great solace and energy to those who love this kind of tea. To use this method: put a few small scoops (2-3 teasppons) of matcha powder in a ceramic tea bowl. Pour hot water into the powder and whisk briskly (while you say “whisk briskly” briskly three times :>D ) with a bamboo whisk. Stay tuned for more information on different kinds of matcha and different Japanese tea ceremonies (hint; there is a sencha ceremony as well).
In all, tea brewing can be taken very seriously and require a number of traditional tools, but it can also be extremely simple and require nothing more than a cup and a filter. This is the beauty of tea.