When it comes to what we choose to drink, whether coffee, juice or even water, we are always looking for the best options. And sure, it is no secret that the trend for high-quality ingredients and beverages has become more prominent in the past few decades. However, it seems that the trend of high-quality has also affected tea. People seem to be turning away from the mass-market produced tea (in tea bags) which is usually consumed without any second thought, to high-quality, loose-leaf tea. Tea has become an indispensable beverage for people, right after water and coffee, and to some extent, it has come to define people, countries, and cultures. There has never been a better time for tea, so why not lookout for the best you can get.
Unlike the commercial tea you can buy at any store, loose-leaf tea is famous for its detailed preparation process, ability to soothe, calm and relax and also all the health properties and benefits. That is why we’ve decided to take a look at loose-leaf tea and help you choose the best one for you. We are going to explore the ways you can choose the best loose-leaf tea, and of course, we’ve also come up with few recommendations. So, let’s get started!
What is Loose-Leaf Tea?
Loose-leaf or whole-leaf tea is made from the dry, unbroken tea leaves. It is safe to say that many people have never encountered or tried loose-leaf tea. The majority relies on the tea in tea bags, which is, of course, significantly lower in quality. Unlike the tea in tea bags, loose-leaf tea is made from high-grade tea, where the leaves are often left intact and are brewed directly in a kettle (without any bags constraining them). Loose-leaf tea contains significantly more flavor and aroma than regular bagged tea, as well as more properties, antioxidants, and compounds which make you healthier, more relaxed and calmer and overall contributes to your wellbeing.
Of course, for the beginners, loose-leaf tea can be intimidating. There seem to be countless tea varieties, a lot of teaware and tools you need to use, and of course, you need to be patient and dedicate time to making loose-leaf tea. When starting out with loose-leaf tea, you will need to make a lot of choices, but in time, this type of tea preparation becomes easier and completely worthy of all the fuss. Loose-leaf tea is all about expanding your horizons and investing in quality in order to get the best tea can offer.
How to Choose the Best Loose-Leaf Tea?
Just because tea is the loose-leaf form, doesn’t mean it is high in quality. Some tea makers nowadays tend to skip steps and produce low-grade loose-leaf tea because it is simply cheaper. Therefore, you need to pay attention to certain important factors and aspects when it comes to choosing the best;
1. Growing conditions
Each tea variety has clear preferences in terrain, climate, and rainfall that is necessary for its growth. The differences or sudden changes in growing conditions can alter the plant’s and leaves’ appearance, the harvesting and processing methods, and most importantly, the quality of the resulting tea. That is why you need to look out for the following tea bushes since they are consistently grown in excellent conditions;
- Camelia Sinensis – these bushes are grown in cool, high-altitude terrains across Asia. As the seasons change, these bushes produce sweet, fragrant leaves that make them perfect for production the tea varieties we all know and love; green, white, Oolong and black tea. Because during the winter these plants cannot yield any leaves, the first pluck, or the first flush often takes place during spring, between February and May. The tea made from the first flush leaves is considered to be the highest in quality, as they are considered the most flavorful and fragrant.
- Assamica – these bushes are grown in hotter, tropical climates, where there is high annual rainfall. Such growing conditions can be found in countries like India, or in the Yunnan Province in China. Unlike Camelia Sinensis plants, Assamica bushes yield leaves within weeks of being plucked. Therefore, these are re-grown and harvested repeatedly throughout the whole year. Assamica plant is usually grown into leaves for black tea. Because of the high yield, Assamica takes the majority of the commercial tea market. Moreover, the yield potential and leaf resilience make this plant perfect for vigorous, lengthy or complicated processing, which further makes it excellent for longer oxidation, caffeine development, blending, scenting, etc.
2. Fertilization and Pesticides
When growing tea plants, it is important for the cultivators to know certain safe practices regarding organic growth and the use of pesticides. Many tea estates and farms use fertilizers and pesticides to increase the yields as well as enhance the quality of the tea, But, the main reason for this use is to prevent insects, pests or disease outbreaks to wipe out the entire tea crop. Nevertheless, there is a debate on whether tea grown with the help of fertilizers and pesticides is considered high-quality. In Japan, for example, the use of fertilizers and pesticides is necessary to keep the quality consistency, while in other countries natural fertilizers and ‘clean’ tea is considered the priority. Here’s what to look out for;
- Organic loose-leaf tea – organic tea is grown only with the help of water supply, good compost, soil base, and healthy biodiversity. Organic tea farming refrains from the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. It is considered the ideal form of tea growth, where the growing conditions, safe practices, and management yield fantastic tea, with exceptional flavor profile and quality. However, organic tea farming can be incredibly complex, and a growing issue in many tea-producing countries. Therefore, organic loose-leaf tea can be hard to get a hold of and can be rather expensive.
- Pesticides/fertilizers-sustained loose-leaf tea – it is believed that without pesticides and fertilizers, sustained tea growth is not possible. The use of these growth enhancers is a common practice that is usually ascribed to the need for consistent, high-quality tea production. Because the tea industry is competitive and is driving the economy of numerous poor and rural areas and regions, the use of pesticides and fertilizers is completely understandable. The problem arises when there is a lack of education regarding these chemical enhancers, which can lead to diseases in humans and the destruction/pollution of soil, environment and water supply.
3. Origin of the Tea
The place your tea comes from can be a major determiner in the quality of the tea. That is why you should be aware of the best tea growing regions, which are the following;
- China – for thousands of years, China has been the leading producer of tea. Tea in China has become a national treasure and the quality of the product is always the main concern. Best Chinese tea is produced in Yunnan, Sichuan, Fujian, Anhui and Hunan provinces. The teas that are cultivated there are usually green, black and Oolong. Chinese tea is also often scented with fragrant flowers that usually include jasmine or rose. China is the main global tea consumer and one of the main producers and exporters of tea. This applies not only to mainland China but also to Taiwan, which contributes to the tea industry immensely. Taiwan is, after mainland China, one of the biggest global tea producers and exporters, famous for its Oolong and the so-called bubble tea.
- Japan – Japanese tea culture is the most famous in the world. Even though Japan does not produce as much tea, and the country’s production usually revolves around green tea, this country is one of the major consumer in the world. Moreover, their exports are globally dominant in terms of quality, as Japanese (green) tea is probably the best you can get. The main tea regions in Japan include Kagoshima, Shizuoka, and Uji. Half of the Japanese tea production happens in Shizuoka. Tea is a very important part of Japanese society and culture and is essential to the Japanese tradition. Japan is also the only globally certified producer of Matcha green tea, as this country is the only one to meet the strict and demanding production and quality requirements.
- India – after China, India is the 2nd biggest tea producer, famous for its Assam and Darjeeling black tea. The majority of the produced tea in India is produced to meet the country’s high demand, and the rest is exported globally. India mainly produces black tea, as previously mentioned, but it also produces green and white teas, however, not in such high quantities as the black tea. The main tea growing regions in India include Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri Mountains region. Assam is the largest tea growing region in the world and Darjeeling is the best known loose-leaf marketed tea growing region. Nilgiri region is located in southern India, famous for its exceptional black tea. Other tea-producing regions include Sikkim, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh.
- Other tea producers – other countries that are notable and famous for the exceptionally high-quality loose-leaf tea include; African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Ethiopia), Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iran, etc.
Best Loose-Leaf Tea Brands
Now that you know all the secrets to what makes quality loose-leaf tea, it is time to look at tea brands that provide the crème de la crème of premium loose-leaf teas.
Harney & Sons is an American family tea company that has been in the business for more than thirty years now. They have built their reputation around high-quality tea production and a variety of tea they provide. The Harney & Sons loose-leaf tea originates in China, Japan, and India and meets the highest standards of quality, flavor, and aroma. This company carries Fair Trade Certified teas and stands for fair traded practices as well as protection of the working conditions in tea-producing regions. Their loose-leaf tea range from standard to luxury, meeting the preferences and affordability of each and every customer.
Taylors of Harrogate is a family business that comprises some of the best tea and coffee specialists in the world. The company is devoted to their craft and the production of high-quality tea and coffee. Their loose-leaf tea collection comprises specialty teas, all originating from India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Africa. Their teas are available for purchase in over 35 countries, but they also provide online sales and shipping. The company also has distributors across the world, which is available for check at their official website. Taylors of Harrogate provide high-quality tea for affordable prices, so make sure to check what they have to offer.
Teakruthi is a Sri Lanka based tea company that specializes in organic, premium, pure Ceylon tea. Their loose-leaf Ceylon tea is organic, naturally grown and prepared. During the production, there are no chemical enhancers used to yield more product, and the tea is all-natural, garden fresh. Moreover, the company uses recycled packaging and focuses on sustained farming and proper education of their workers in regards to tea production and the industry. Ceylon tea is globally acknowledged as one of the best tea in the world, and this company proudly carries the responsibility of producing high-quality, pure Ceylon tea. Their tea collection includes black, green, Oolong and white teas, as well as Ceylon tea infusions for incredibly affordable prices.
- The Tea Spot
The Tea Spot is a company started by a cancer survivor Maria Uspenski in 2004. Maria’s goal with this company is to provide the best possible tea to their customers so that they can gain from its medicinal properties and numerous healthy compounds. The goal is to provide tea that will make people feel good, healthy, in harmony with their mind and body. That is why the tea this company provides meets all the quality, flavor and aroma standards, in the hope that their loose-leaf tea will become a part of your daily health regimen. The selection of tea is incredible; they have everything, from white, green, black, Oolong, to Pu-erh, Yerba Mate, and Rooibos loose-leaf tea. Because their teas are exceptionally high in quality, the prices tend to be a bit higher as well.
- Teamonk Global Tea
Teamonk is an Indian based company that specializes in the production of high-quality loose-leaf green and black tea, but they also sell other tea varieties. The principles of the company are based on effort, finest tea production but also exceptional conditions for their plantation workers. Teamonk focuses on producing tea that will provide energy, relaxation, health care, detox and weight care to all their customers. Teamonk believes it is important to consume tea in order to achieve the ultimate health and wellness experience with every cup. That is why their tea is certified globally as organic, of high, biodynamic quality and part of the global fair trade. The company offers 40 years of expertise in tea, so you can get the best end product possible.
- The Republic of Tea
The Republic of Tea is currently one of the best tea providers on the market. The company offers over 300 premium loose-leaf teas, that are completely organic, all-natural and garden-fresh. The focus of their production is quality, organic, fresh and flavorful tea that everyone can enjoy. The company does not only focus on provides exceptional tea, but also on taking care of the environment in which the tea grows. They are proud supporters of the Whole Planet Foundation and members of the Ethical Tea Partnership. The Republic of Tea loose-leaf teas are incredibly delicious and represent tea in all its glory. They provide a full-bodied cup of heavenly flavors and aroma that is now affordable and available for everyone.
- In Pursuit of Tea
In Pursuit of Tea is a company that provides a huge variety of tea without affecting the quality. The focus of this company is to provide a selection of tea from each renown tea producing region; the regions include Japan, China and Taiwan, and each selection meets the highest and most demanding quality, flavor and aroma standards. The best of their teas include Oolong and Pu-erh teas, as well as the wonderful and delicate Dai Bai Hao and Silver Needle white tea. The majority of tea companies tend to provide standard and dull tea selection, but In Pursuit of Tea always keeps customers on the edge with numerous surprises and regular new tea arrivals.
More Tips on Buying Loose-Leaf Tea
- Only purchase loose-leaf tea online when you don’t have the tea available in local tea shops. By buying the tea in person you can actually check the quality right away. However, sometimes certain loose-leaf tea is not available and you have to buy online, in which case, make sure to contact the supplier directly and check for certification and quality control.
- Stay away from chain names; these are the tea companies that produce tea you can buy at local stores and malls. If you care about quality, you will avoid buying tea from such names as they don’t usually equal quality; not to mention, they don’t sell tea in its loose-leaf form, only in tea bags.
- Try to buy from smaller tea sellers and smaller, family-owned companies. Chances are that the focus of such sellers is definitely quality and their tea is trustworthy and reliable. The companies we’ve mentioned before are globally renowned, but all are actually companies that started out as small, family business.
- When buying loose-leaf tea, if you can, discuss the processing and the origin of the tea with the seller. There needs to be evidence that the seller or the company acquires high-quality tea from tea farmers. If you’re ordering online, check for this information at the seller’s website, contact them directly and of course, read the product description.
- When buying loose-leaf tea, prepare to pay more for higher quality. Of course, not all good tea is expensive, and most certainly not all expensive tea is good. However, the standard prices of loose-leaf tea are definitely higher than those for bagged tea.
Whether you are only a beginner when it comes to loose-leaf tea, or you’re already a pro, we can all agree that the leaf form of tea is by far better than the bagged form. The flavors and aroma are more profound, the tea is much healthier, filled with antioxidants and other healthy compounds, and the overall experience is more mindful and enjoyable. So, don’t be afraid to invest in some high-quality loose-leaf tea and do something good for your mind and body. Make sure to remember our quality guidelines and check our loose-leaf tea brand recommendations.