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Tea strainers vs. tea bags has been a debate going on with tea drinkers for some time now. It’s easy to see why. You want a cup of tea. You want a quality cup of tea. You want a quality cup of tea NOW! The odd thing is that most people resort to – ugh! – bagged tea. “What’s wrong with bagged tea?” you ask. Good question. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote, “Let me count the ways.”
- Inferior grade of tea.
- More likely to oversteep and be bitter.
- Even with “flow through” bag designs and getting away from bleaching the teabag, this bag is still coming between you and your tea (see my previous article here).
To understand why bagged tea is not preferred by tea aficionados, let’s take a quick look at how tea is processed. (We’re talking about true black tea made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, just as chocolate is only made from cacao beans and coffee is only made from coffee beans. All the rest are herbals, florals, or just plain plant infusions.) Leaves are plucked from the tips of the branches. Then, they are spread out to dry. Depending on the type of tea desired, from here the process varies. For black tea, which is in most tea bags, the leaves are rolled, oxidized, etc. In short, they go through the proverbial ringer.
You are probably guessing by now what I’m going to say next. “These leaves get broken up a bit.” Very good! The dried and processed leaves get quite broken. (Imagine a bag of potato chips that you have rolled over a bunch of times with a rolling pin or metal rod.)
Here comes the next step of the process: sorting the pieces by size.
Using a series of filters (fine, medium, coarse), the tea leaves, now all dry and dark, are sorted into dust (fine), fannings (medium), and pieces (coarse), with the whole leaves that manage to remain intact being left to last.
In the spirit of “waste not, want not,” the dust and fannings are further processed and bagged. Some of the pieces (also called “broken-leaf”) and whole leaves (also called “full-leaf”) are also bagged (usually in higher quality sachets, sometimes made of silk). The rest are packed in tins.
Despite the inferior quality, etc., the demand for bagged tea has grown over the years since they are seen as being more convenient (something I contest later in this article). Starting, as legend says, with a tea merchant who mailed tea samples in little silk bags to potential customers, the market really grew with companies like Jewel Tea, Luzianne, and of course Lipton pushing strong.
With our fast-paced lifestyles, it often seems that bagged tea is our only alternative. How do you make a nice cup of tea in the office using loose tea? Impossible, right? Wrong. Fixing loose tea (whole or pieces) is just as easy as, and much more satisfying than, bagged tea.
How to do it: use a tried and true tea strainer! (You probably saw that coming.)
Here’s a simple tea setup for any office:
- A two-cup teapot
- A teaspoon
- A cup or mug
- Loose tea
- Your sweetener of choice, if used
- Milk or creamer, if used
- Water (if not already provided)
I’m assuming, of course, that, like most offices, yours has a microwave oven available. Just fill the teapot with water and heat it in the microwave. Add about two-and-a-half spoonfuls of loose whole leaf tea into the pot. Let steep for about five minutes or until brew has reached desired strength. Add milk/creamer and sweetener to your cup or mug before pouring in the tea for a better blending. Hold the strainer over the cup and pour the tea through it. (Tip: You may find pouring a little easier if you remove the lid from the teapot first. Be careful, since it could be very hot.) Give your tea a gentle stir and enjoy!
© 2009-2016 A.C. Cargill photos and text