For my US readers.

It has come to my attention that my readership is overwhelmingly American. In fact my American readers equal more than my readers from every other country combined.

I was surprised at this but I welcome American tea nerds (or tea nerds of any other nationality for that matter).

As my goal is to make getting into tea easy I include clear instructions including temperatures. However Britain and America use different systems for not only temperature but many types of measurement.

I could keep doing things the way I have been so if you want to make a tea I have written should be brewed at 80 degrees Celsius you would have to look up what that is in Fahrenheit yourself, but I will do the work for you. Aren’t I nice? (80 degrees Celsius is 176 degrees Fahrenheit by the way).

Therefore from now on I shall be doing the following;

  • Giving recommended brewing temperature in Fahrenheit as well as Celsius
  • When writing about the volume of liquid required I shall use oz as well as ml.
  • Where I am aware of a difference I shall use imperial measurements as well as metric.
  • When mentioning price I shall give the price in dollars as well as pounds sterling (Note: Prices are correct rounded to the nearest dollar as of time of writing, you may not be able to find items mentioned at the prices mentioned in the US the equivalent price is merely to aid your understanding).

I shall be using online converters to do all of this so I cannot be 100 per cent sure the imperial system measurements/price in dollars/temperature in Fahrenheit are correct online converters are usually pretty good but not infallible so if you notice something that doesn’t sound right do please let me know.

When I have time I will probably go back and add imperial measurements and Fahrenheit to the posts in my archives but this will not happen immediately. Though the above rules to apply to every post going forward.

 

 

Rare Ceylon silver tips

This is a white tea from Sri-Lanka (Sri-Lanka used to be part of the British empire and when it was it was called Ceylon this is why even though the country name changed tea imported from Sri-Lanka is often referred to as Ceylon tea.

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When I take it out of the packet the tea resembles high quality Yin Zhen there is noticeable “fur” on the leaves as in all high quality silver needle style teas.

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When brewed it produces a pale yellow liquor typical of good quality white teas, a good quality white tea will not produce a liquor that is too “yellow”.

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Brewing method: 70 degrees for 3-4 minutes

My brewing method: 70 degrees for 4 minutes

Taste: Fruity and sweet like many white teas with a delicate honey aroma. Not quite as fruity as Chinese white teas such as Bai mu dan but it is quite close in flavour to Yin Zhen though the flavour is slightly stronger and less subtle. Just as good as Chinese Yin Zhen in my opinion. Though not a cheap version as it is actually slightly more expensive than the Yin Zhen.

Subsequent infusions: According to the packaging the leaves can be infused once more however I was dissapointed by the second infusion as it was lacking in flavour compared to the first.

Conclusion: A very enjoyable tea. I prefer the taste of Ceylon silver tips to Yin Zhen but only just, it was a hard decision. Though as the Ceylon tea is more expensive than Yin Zhen and can only be used for one resteeping which is not so good as the initial brewing while Yin Zhen can be infused several times the Chinese Yin Zhen is of better value. However if taste is more important to you than value I would recommend trying this tea.

Recommended if you like: Yin Zhen, white teas in general.

Rose bud tea

“Tea” refers to any drink made from the Camellia Sinensis plant so other drinks made from things such as herbs, flowers or fruit are called tisanes. This “tea” is made from whole rose buds and therefore it is a tisane.

See full rose buds in the tea pot below (side note: I replaced the tea pot I broke).

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There is a strong rose scent, this tea smells like rose perfume. It produces a pale yellowy green liquor.

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Brewing method: 100 degrees for 2-4 minutes

My brewing method: 100 degrees for 3 minutes

Taste: Like rose, obviously. Floral, slightly sweet.

Conclusion: Smells wonderful, I am not such a fan of the taste so I probably won’t make it again but I enjoy using flowers and herbs in cooking so I doubt the rest of the rose buds will go to waste.

Recommended if: you enjoy Jasmine tea or tisanes made from flowers.

Ya bao silver buds and Ya bao purple buds: a comparison.

Ya bao silver buds and Ya bao purple buds are both white teas comprised on sun dried buds. Ya bao silver buds is one of my favourite white teas (after bai mu dan, Yin Zhen Jasmine and Yin Zhen). I have never had purple buds before but I had a sample pack in my tea box and I saw a post on the r/tea subreddit about purple buds and some people (including me) wanted to know the difference. So here we go.

The packaging is virtually the same for both teas as for comparison I got them from the same seller. The teas are also from the same place Dehong, Yunnan, China.

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Silver buds, as the name suggests resemble silver buds.

 

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When brewed Ya bao silver buds tea has little colour to it and looks almost exactly the same as a mug of hot water. The picture below is the tea after I removed the silver buds which had been in the brewing basket for 4 minutes.

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Brewing method: 90 degrees, 3-4 minutes

My brewing method: 90 degrees for 4 minutes.

Taste: A white tea with a subtle woody profile. It tastes a little like pu-erh except lighter.

Subsequent infusions: There is little change in the taste profile of this tea for the second and third infusions. The taste is pretty consistent and I got four infusions (including the initial one) out of this tea so it is quite good value.

The purple buds are more purple (and green) in colour than the silver variety.

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This tea develops a pale golden colour more characteristic of white teas than the silver buds clear almost water like liquor.

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Brewing method: 90 degrees for 3-4 minutes

My brewing method: 90 degrees for 4 minutes

Taste: The initial taste is hard to describe I think it is quite smoky which surprised me as the packaging for this brand is usually very accurate. The packaging does mention “complex taste” though doesn’t mention smokiness. The smokiness soon gives way to a sweeter profile more characteristic of white tea. There is very strong and very pleasant sweet after taste of peaches.

Subsequent infusions: The second and third infusions was less smoky and sweeter and more to my taste. I do not really like smoky tea ( I can’t stand lapsang souchong) so this was preferable.

Conclusion: Ya bao silver is a woody tea which does not change the appearance of the water much. Ya bao purple buds are sweeter and more like a typical white tea and the fruity after taste is very enjoyable yet there is an unusual smoky flavour which ruins the enjoyment for me. I tend to prefer sweet white teas but I have always enjoyed Ya bao silver bud’s woody profile for variety I will continue to buy Ya bao silver buds though I do not think I would buy purple buds again as I prefer the sweet taste of bai mu dan.

Tan Cuong Fish hook

This is a Vietnamese green tea. It is called “fish hook” due to the curved nature of the leaves.

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The packaging is below.

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It produces a pale green liquor. I planned not to put up any more pictures of tea in a mug as it does not photograph as well as my glass tea set but I broke my glass teapot by dropping an electric fan on top of it by accident. I have ordered another one though.

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Brewing method: 80 degrees for two minutes

My brewing method: 80 degrees for two minutes (increase steeping time with each infusion by around 30 seconds).

Taste: Vegetal and slightly astringent with an unami flavour. I am a big fan of Korean Nokcha (green tea) but it is expensive to import to the UK and due to the small size of South Korea and the fact most of the tea they produce goes to the domestic market there is a smaller amount available. This Vietnamese tea tastes very similar and is considerably cheaper.

Subsequent infusions: The flavour remains consistent with subsequent infusions though I felt by the third infusion the strength of the flavour was weakening but increasing the steeping time by a minute with each infusions solves this. I got five infusions out of one teaspoon of leaves.

Conclusion: This is the only Vietnamese tea I have ever tried I tend to stick to Indian black teas and Chinese, Japanese and Korean teas but several people recommended this one so I had to try it. I still prefer Korean Nokcha but given how hard it can be to get hold of and how expensive this is an acceptable, good quality alternative.

Recommended if you like: Korean green teas, Genmaicha.

Teas I drink most, a top 10.

This is a list of my top ten teas based on what I actually drink the most of. Some of these are rarer or more expensive teas some of these are a lot more common. Based on what I drink the most of.

Also note this list is in no particular order I just couldn’t choose an absolute favourite. I could easily have done a top 20 (or top 100) but I would have had to write about each tea and I’m too lazy. I may release (depending on demand) a list of my top 100 teas.

1. Glenburn tea makers of London first flush Darjeeling

A black Darjeeling more reminiscent of a white tea the leaves produce a paler liquor than most Darjeelings and the taste is floral and sweet with a hint of citrus basically it combines everything I love about Darjeeling with everything I love about white tea

2. Tea pigs green tea and mint tea temples

A combination of Chunmee green tea from China and a peppermint leaves in a roughly 1:1 ratio. This is rather different from the other teas on my list as it is not loose leaf and it is also a blend while all the other teas in this top ten are pure tea leaf.

The tea temples are essentially larger pyrmaid shaped tea bags filled with loose leaf quality tea. This allows you to have the best of both worlds, the convenience of the tea bag with the taste of loose leaf. There are better quality green teas out there but this remains my favourite morning tea. I am so not a morning person and this tea is so convenient (heat water, pour into cup, add tea temple, done) when I am still half asleep and I find the mint helps wake me up.

Teapigs were what first got me into tea. I tried their Green tea and mint, their mao feng, their oolong and their Jasmine tea. I now tend to buy more expensive loose leaf from specialist sellers but I still enjoy their Oolong (though it just missed out on being on this list) but the Green tea and mint is still a firm favourite of mine.

3, Long jing dragon well

A very famous Chinese green tea and perhaps the most popular tea in China. Longjing dragon well is very mellow and balanced it also works well cold brewed or as an iced tea for summer. There is no astringency just a mellow smooth vegetal flavour.

4. Huo Shan Huang ya

A yellow tea from China. Yellow teas are less common than greens and not widely known in the UK. yellow teas undergo an extra step after pan frying which results in a mellow slightly creamy taste (it tastes a bit like a creamier Long Jing).

5. Bai mudan (white peony)

A popular white tea, stronger than the more subtle but more prized Yin Zhen. I love Yin Zhen (though it just missed out on this list in favour of bai mudan) but I prefer the stronger fruiter flavour of bai mudan. This is also a good gateway white tea if you want to try white tea for the first time as most white tea is more subtle than this.

6. Yin Zhen silver needle with Jasmine.

I know I just said Yin Zhen lost out to Bai mudan in my top ten but it also missed out to this. Yin Zhen flavoured with Jasmine, Jasmine tea is very popular in China and my favourite Jasmine tea is this as I love the balance between white tea and Jasmine and prefer it to all the Jasmine green teas I have tried (though Phoenix eyes Jasmine came close).

7. Nokcha

Korean green tea. “Cha” means tea (as it does in Chinese and Japanese) and “nok” means green. Korean nokcha is different from other green teas it is usally brewed at around 70-75 degrees and only for about a minute compared to the usual (though admittedly variable depending on the tea) 80 degrees for three minutes for most green teas. Nokcha has a light savoury taste that is difficult to describe it is a little like rice though the tea is far lighter than Genmaicha.

Unfortunately not much tea is imported from South Korea this is because most of their tea is for the domestic market. South Korea is a small country and as such the supply of tea is limited. This means South Korean tea is quite expensive.

8. Dong Ding Oolong

I drink a lot of oolongs but I rarely find one I will buy again and again in fact there are three; Dong Ding, Khao Hom fragrant rice oolong (see the honorable mentions) and Jin Xuan milk oolong. Dong Ding was the first oolong I ever tried. I loved it. It is still my favourite oolong and my go to for this category of teas.

9. Xu Long snow dragon

A Chinese green tea that is somewhere between a green and a white. It is very sweet naturally which is why I like it so much. I have a big sweet tooth and I am quite fat so obviously I need to stop eating so many sweet things. Making this tea gives me the taste of something sweet without the calories and also gives me something to do with my hands meaning I am less likely to go for cake (now if only I could find teas that taste like chips, pizza and ice cream).

10. Sencha

The most common tea from Japan almost all Japanese teas are made from Sencha (such as Genmaicha which is Sencha and rice) or a by product of Sencha productions (like Mecha or Hojicha).  This is why of all the Japanese green teas I had to put Sencha on my list. A good everyday drink (in fact when I lived in Japan I did drink it every day) and it is good cold or warm. Cold green tea is sold in bottles in Japan the same way fizzy drink is in the West. While I love most Japanese teas and probably drink more Genmaicha than I do pure Sencha the simple fact is without Sencha Genmaicha would not exist.

 

Honorable mentions:

Teas I wanted to include but just missed out.

Yin Zhen silver needle- A subtle sweet and fruity white tea and the most prized. I wanted at least one white tea on this list and to be honest though I drink quite a bit of Yin Zhen I drink Bai mudan more. The Jasmine version of this tea did make the list though as my favourite Jasmine.

Fen Yuan Phoenix eyes- A jasmine green tea that just lost out to Yin Zhen Jasmine on my list. I enjoy this tea a lot but my preference for white Jasmine teas means reach for the Yin Zhen Jasmine far more than this one. For more on Fen Yuan Phoenix eyes see my review of this tea.

Genmaicha- I do drink more Genmaicha than pure Sencha but as there is no Genmaicha without Sencha I felt the more popular tea deserved to be on the list. More information on Genmaicha coming up soon in my upcoming post about Japanese greens (as soon as my order from Japan gets here).

Khao hom fragrant rice oolong-This is an oolong from Thailand. It is flavoured with sticky rice in a pretty overpowering way. For the first 2-3 infusions all you can taste in the creamy vanilla and rice scent. By the third infusion the taste of the oolong underneath begins to emerge. This is one of those teas that but be infused several times to get the best out of it as the flavour profile begins to change. Just lost out to Dong Ding for me.

Yuchi wild shan cha- I have never had a green or white tea I didn’t like. I like about 75 per cent of the oolongs I try enough to at least finish my pack of tea even if I never buy more of that particular tea. With black teas I am more picky. I prefer Indian Darjeelings and Assama and Sri Lankan Ceylons. I rarely find black tea that is not from India or Sri Lanka that I like. Yuchi wild swan cha, a black tea from Taiwan is the exception. It is not too malty or astringent and has a clean finish and slight hint of honey, peaches and savoury flavours.

I’d love to hear what other people’s top ten are in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Darjeeling Phoobsering First flush

The third tea from my curious tea subscription box, guaranteed to be a big hit with me as I LOVE first flush Darjeeling.

As soon as I open the packet there is the typical floral scent characteristic of a Darjeeling. There leaves are tipping and dark as is typical for Darjeelings. I tend to prefer Darjeelings with greener leaves and while there is clearly green in there there is not as much as I tend to like.

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The leaves produce a golden brown liquor. With a floral and menthol aroma.

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The packaging as always for curious tea is very clear.

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Brewing method: 3-4 minutes at 90 degrees.

My brewing method: 5 minutes at 90 degrees

Taste: I have already stated how I tend to prefer greener Darjeelings so did wonder how this would taste I am not a fan of black teas that are too malty and in my experience darker Darjeelings tend to be quite malty. However I was pleasantly surprised. It is not as floral as some of my favourite Darjeelings like Glenburn or Rohini (see my comparison of tea makers of London Darjeelings post for more details) but there is still a distinct floral taste balanced with menthol and a hint of citrus there is a little bit of a malty taste but just enough to be pleasant without being overpowering.

Subsequent infusions: Darjeeling does not resteep as well as Chinese greens, whites, oolongs and pu-erhs do. I only got two mugs of tea out of one teaspoon full of leaves but this is typical of my experience with Darjeelings and not a fault with this particular Darjeeling. As always the second resteeping while still enjoyable to drink was not as good as the first steeping.

Conclusion: Less floral and more mineral like than my favourite Darjeelings yet the balance of the different flavours, the floral with the mineral, the slight malty taste is not overpowering and actually compliments the tea. I would definitely buy this one again in a larger quantity.

Recommended if you like: Darjeeling, Ceylon

Huang Jin Gui Golden Osmanthus Oolong

This is a lightly oxidised oolong from Anxi, Fujian in China. It is called Osmanthus oolong as there is a light floral character and aroma reminiscent of Osmanthus flowers. I was quite dissapointed when I realized this as I have heard of Osmanthus flowers being added to green teas sometimes and that is on my (admittedly extremely long) list of teas I want to try.

This Huang Jin Oolong came from the curious tea discovery tea subscription box. I am a fan of this subscription service as it is very cheap (£9.50 a month) and contains 4 packs of tea of 10g each an ideal size for trying something new. The Feng Yan Phoneix eyes that were my first review were part of the same subscription box and I plan to review the other two teas from the box eventually.

I brewed this tea “Grandpa style” meaning I put the leaves straight into a mug of hot water to brew. Normally I like to use my glass tea set which is a good compromise between traditional Chinese gong-fu (tea ceremony) brewing where small amounts of tea are brewed and savoured like a fine liquor and the Western preference for brewing a decent amount of tea in one go. But my tea set is in the dishwasher so I am using my glass mug which has a built in removable strainer. Unfortunately it is not as photogenic as my usual method (it doesn’t help that I have no photographic skills).

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Packaging: As always curious tea’s packaging is clear, easy to understand and full of information.

Brewing method: 3 minutes at 90 degrees

My brewing method: 3 minutes at 90 degrees

Taste: Definitely floral which is surprising for an Oolong especially one with nothing (such as flowers) added to it but there is a subtle flavour of Osmanthus. I found it very buttery a bit too buttery for my personal tastes. There is a slight after taste that is reminiscent of the more popular and widely known lightly oxidized Oolong Tie Guan Jin (Iron goddess of mercy).

Subsequent infusions: The buttery taste abates with subsequent infusions making the tea more balanced. I personally think the third infusion tastes the best as it is more balanced.

Conclusion: This is an interesting oolong and I am glad I tried it but I wouldn’t buy it again, Oolong is a huge category of tea with a wide variety of flavour and my personal preference are for heavy roasted oolongs like Dong Ding or “milk” oolongs like Jin Xuan. Lightly oxidised oolongs are not a favourite of mine though I quite like Tie Guan Jin I would always choose Dong Ding over Tie Guan Jin or an lightly oxidised oolong.

Recommended if you like: Tie Guan Jin or other lightly oxidised oolongs.

Yin Zhen silver needle (from Yunnan)

Yin Zhen is one of the most prized of the white teas. A good quality Yin Zhen will have “fur” on the leaves as in the picture below. Apologies for my hand I have ordered a cha he (presentation vessel for tea) from the Chinese tea seller Yunnan sourcing but as they are based in China and I am based in the UK and in the rural North of England as well I expect it will take a while to arrive. Though as I placed the order last night and woke up to an email saying it has been dispatched this morning I am so far impressed with their speed.

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This particular Yin Zhen is from Yunnan province while most Yin Zhen is from Fujian province. Almost all white tea is produced in China and most of that in Fujian.

Yin Zhen from Fujian has a sweet floral profile whereas this one is more woody and tastes more like other woody white teas such as Ya Bao silver buds (review on that one coming soon) but slightly sweeter. I wish I had some Fujian Yin Zhen left to do a comparative post but I drunk all my Yin Zhen before I had the idea to do a blog and I have so much tea at the moment and a couple of small deliveries (one from China one from Japan) on the way and I need to drink through all (or at least most) of that before buying more.

The packaging (side note: I love curious tea’s packaging because there is always so much information on it, most packaging has the name of the tea and brewing instructions but theirs also has interesting details about the tea) states that this white tea is processed similar to young pu-erh. My experience of pu-erh is very limited as I have only ever tried one and though I didn’t dislike it I wouldn’t buy it again. I do have a couple of samples of different pu-erhs somewhere which I will eventually get round to reviewing.

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Brewing method: 3-4 minutes at 80 degrees

My brewing method: 5 minutes at 80 degrees (I prefer my white teas overbrewed).

Taste: Woody profile with a slight sweet aftertaste.

Subsequent infusions: From the second infusion onwards the sweet aftertaste is completely gone leaving a subtle woody profile. Pleasant enough but no where near as complex a flavour as the first infusion.

Conclusion: Not a bad white tea, I can tell it is good quality by the texture of the leaves but I personally prefer the Fujian Yin Zhen with its sweeter profile. If you enjoy pu-erh or woody white teas I would recommend this tea if you prefer sweeter white teas (like I do), look for Yin Zhen from Fujian instead.

Why loose leaf?

Loose leaf is considerably more expensive than most bagged teas. It is also less convenient, you have to measure out the required amount with a spoon and place it in a strainer of some kind, then you have to wait several minutes to wait for the tea to brew and remove the strainer from the tea and clean it out. Whereas if you use a tea bag you can just put it in your cup and the tea will be brewed in seconds.

So why do some many people prefer loose leaf?

I imagine due to the nature of this blog it will attract an audience of tea lovers who are already loose leaf converts but for the benefit of those newer to tea I shall explain why I prefer loose leaf.

So here is my list of reasons why loose leaf teas are worth the extra cost.

Better quality

Bagged tea is often low grade tea dust and fannings from broken tea leaves. Broken leaves loose most of their aroma and most of their essential oils. They also release more tannin than whole leaf tea, this results in the tea being more bitter (and is also the reason very few people in the UK drink black tea as the black tea in tea bags has a bitter taste).  Loose leaf leaves have a larger surface area which not only improve the aroma and taste of the drink but also means they have more antioxidants.

The size and shape of tea bags also gives the leaves little room to expand meaning the full flavour of the tea cannot be released (this is also a problem with loose leaf tea if you use an infuser ball, loose leaf tea should be made using a “basket” infuser to allow the leaves to fully expand).

More variety

Today in the West there is a wider variety in teas than ever before. However this still pales  in comparison to the variety of loose leaf teas available. The tea bag industry is run on a large industrial scale so teas that sell easily are the priority whereas if you drink loose leaf you will have tea produced in smaller batches and in some cases teas that are only produced on one small farm in China or India for small scale operations they can never match the scale or compete on price with large companies  so they must compete on quality and the quality of loose leaf is far superior.

For an experiment I went on the website of a large supermarket and looked for the teas available I have not counted fruit or herbal teas, I have only counted tea made from Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) with or without flavouring added, these are the options available; Non-specific “black tea” which is normally found in the tea bag industry of the UK,  Earl Grey, Green tea (with no more specific information),  Green tea with lemon, non specific white tea, Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Masala chai, Lady Grey, matcha in teabags, Jasmine tea, Green tea and mint,  salted caramel flavoured green tea, mao feng green tea, ginseng matcha, cherry Bakewell flavoured green tea, chocolate tea bags, variations of the above in decaffeinated form.

This looks like a lot. But compared to the selection of loose leaf available on specialist sites it is a tiny amount. There is no oolong, pu-erh or yellow tea on this list at all. Themselves all huge category’s with massive variations (especially the first two). There is only one white tea and while there is more of a variety in green tea with the exception of the mao feng green tea and matcha most of those offered are mass produced with the idea of adding flavourings to the tea rather than bringing out the natural aromas of the green tea leaves and being vague about “green tea” leaves no room for choosing a Chinese, Japanese or Indian green tea (or Thai, Indonesian or Vietnamese for that matter there are many other countries that have green tea) based on their different characteristics.

Infusions 

Loose leaf tea can be used many times over and each infusion tastes slightly different to the one before it. By infusing the same leaves multiple times you get a full profile of different flavours from a few teaspoons of leaves. In some cases the taste of subsequent infusions of tea is very different from the first infusion. This can also help to offset the fact the cost of loose leaf is higher than bagged teas as each tea bag can only be used.

Conclusion

If you are used to tea bags getting loose leaf brewing right can seen complicated but all you need is a teaspoon to measure out the amount of tea, a mug or cup and a brewing basket to hold the tea leaves. It is really worth trying loose leaf for yourself.