Up until August of 2011, my loose leaf experience was limited to Twinings and Ahmad. The bag versions of these teas are above average grocery store teas. Their loose versions add a bit more sparkle to the cup and the leaf can be steeped twice making them a good bargain. I was perfectly content.
I did have a brief intro to better quality loose leaf a year or so before, when Golden Moon sent me samples of some of their tea to review. (See my reviews of these teas on this blog) At the time my technique was a bit too undeveloped to fully appreciate the depth of these teas. Even so, I knew they were something special. Using a 2” tea ball at the time, I got multiple infusions with each tea.
By the summer of 2011, I was using an electric kettle and had abandoned the tea ball in favor of a French press. I had learned to adjust the water temperature and the steep time to get the best cup out of the leaf.
I had previously located a tea merchant online whose shop was only a couple hours from my home. I hadn’t ordered from them yet and I didn’t know what to expect. I live in rural Indiana, far removed from most big city tea opportunities. Finding someone who sells tea is rare enough. This shop actually blends their own loose leaf teas. One fateful day in August, I made a road trip to Empire Tea Services to check them out.
The shop was easy to find but much smaller than I had imagined. The fellow in the shop was very helpful and not at all pushy. I already had two teas in mind I wanted to buy before I arrived. I wanted a micro blend Earl Grey green tea and their Afternoon Tea. I asked about some of their other teas and was offered a sample size of each. I got Ti Kuan Yin oolong and Peach Apricot green tea.
The leaf of these teas was so fresh looking and the scent so pleasant I knew we were going to be friends. The Afternoon Tea could be steeped twice like the Twinings loose teas but the flavor was more complex and rich. The other three teas could each be steeped between three and six times. I could use one spoon of leaf and drink all day! Price wise this tea was only a bit more than a tin of Twinings, but because it could be steeped more times it was actually cheaper. The flavor difference was even more impressive.
It was about this time the light came on. Before my trip, I never really thought there was much of a difference between loose leaf and bagged teas. I thought the loose leaf fanatics were just being tea snobs. Suddenly I was faced with the realization the loose tea people were correct. Better quality leaf just makes better tea.
Since August 2011, I have had the opportunity to try a good number of loose leaf teas. They have really won me over. I am not a snob. I still drink bag tea on occasion. I even still enjoy it, but given the choice I have no plans of buying any more bagged tea.
A two hour road trip changed my tea journey forever.