Beyond the Tea Bag: Loose Leaf Teas
With the bevy of cold weather nationwide and the height of the flu season, you may find yourself in a tea-drinking mood. Tea is reportedly the major source of our population's flavonoid intake, often providing more than half of total intake. Flavonoids are antioxidants that have been shown to have various health benefits including heart health. With January being National Hot Tea Month, it's a perfect time for a new tea experience. Up until a chance lunch meeting a few years ago, the tea bag was the only way I’d experienced tea, the world’s most popular beverage behind water. Enter Hugo’s Restaurant in Studio City, California, which boasts an extensive list of loose leaf teas. Calorie Count sat down with Tom Kaplan, Hugo’s Partner and Tea Buyer, to get more information on how to enjoy premium loose leaf teas in your home.
Tom began roasting coffees for the restaurant as early as 1980, and his curiosity led him to the discovery of loose leaf teas. What he found has broadened his tea horizons and taken him around the world. Here’s his advice on enjoying tea beyond the tea bag.
CC: What’s the difference between tea bags and loose leaf teas?
Tom: Quality and shelf life. Premium loose leaf teas are made from hand-picked buds, whole tea leaves, or parts of tea leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Generally speaking, tea in tea bags may be the by-products of picking and processing and may include a combination of plant parts. Tea in tea bags can have a bitter taste as it lacks the full flavor and distinctive characteristics of premium loose leaf teas. Because quality teas have a short shelf life, tea in tea bags is generally of much lower quality than loose leaf teas. Actually, when you buy a $3 package of tea bags at the grocery store, the least expensive part in the tea is the tea itself. Most of your money is going to packaging and marketing with store-bought tea bags.
CC: How does one start enjoying loose leaf teas?
Tom: If you live near a coffeehouse or restaurant that serves loose leaf teas by the cup, try out different flavors first. When you're ready to buy, start with a 2 oz. bag of loose leaf tea. Premium loose leaf teas are sold by the ounce and cost anywhere between $1 and $10 an ounce yielding 10 to 20 cups depending on the type of tea and how you brew it. Because they steep faster than tea bags and can be steeped three to four times, they cost about .10 to .20 cents a cup if brewed properly. Equipment wise, a simple 12 oz. tea pot with filter or French press will do. Tea needs a lot of room to open up so I don’t recommend tea balls or teaspoon strainers, although a small handheld strainer could also work if your teapot doesn't have a built-in strainer.
CC: What are some similarities and differences between coffee and tea?
Tom: I find that more than one cup of coffee makes me tired late morning or early afternoon, whereas tea makes me more alert without feeling wired. It makes me sharper. In terms of taste, tea has a broader range than coffee. I would actually liken loose leaf teas to wine as they cover 80% of the flavor spectrum. Like wine, you can do flights of teas with meals as well.
CC: Can you give suggestions about which teas are best with certain foods?
White Teas - Cheeses and Salads
Mint Teas (Herbal)– Good before dinner and for relaxing and revitalizing
Green Teas - Vegetable dishes, Lighter dishes, Seafood
Oolong Tea - Chicken, Duck
Black Tea - Heartier meats, Chili, and Stews
Green Tea or Black Tea - Chocolate
Pu-Erhs – Good after dinner
Herbal and Spice Teas – Good after dinner and with lighter salads, examples include ginger or chamomile varieties.
Rooibos Tea – Desserts
CC: Where can people go to find good premium loose leaf teas online?
Tom: They can visit any one of three Hugo’s Restaurants in the Los Angeles area or buy tea in bulk at our Agoura Hills or from our extensive tea list online. Other options include purchasing tea and tea gifts at Teavana, Rishi Tea, and Peet’s Coffee and Tea.
Have you tried loose leaf tea? Please let us know how it is compared to your regular tea bag experience.