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Beyond the Tea Bag: Loose Leaf Teas

By +Carolyn Richardson on Jan 26, 2012 10:00 AM in Tips & Updates

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 SaladsLeslie Brenner Jasmine Lily Display Tea

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.

Your thoughts…

Have you tried loose leaf tea? Please let us know how it is compared to your regular tea bag experience.


haha looseleaf tea is something i grew up with (is taiwanese). One thing we're very proud of is our High mountain oolong tea - i can't live without it! =D

I looooove loose leaf teas. As I've been living in China for the last 4 years, I had the chance to try so many varieties. Learning how to do it properly with my lovely teaset now :-)

How do you drink loose leaf tea? I want to try this

Angelina's in Winston-Salem is far better than the chains you mention, and guy who runs it is incredibly knowledgeable. My current fave is roasted mate and chino mate. Mate never gets bitter the way black tea can. Very smoothe.

I just recently discovered a tea shop in Gatlinburg, TN who also do online sales.  My current favorite of theirs is Black Bear Berry Fruit & Herb.  

I love loose tea and found your article very helpful on how to prepare this multi faceted beverage. My first purchase will be a french press.

Chinatown is the best place to find every type of loose leaf teas of high quality.  You cant go wrong there.

Loose leaf green tea is far superior to teabags. You get a fragrant live taste as opposed to a bitter taste. I like Clipper loose leaf tea the best.

The Teavana website has some great information about brewing for the different types of tea. Once I learned the proper brewing temperature and time for green tea I discovered how much I love it!

Great article.  It reminded me how much I used to love tea!  I'll be bringing some to work today. 

Cecilia, there are lots of nice french presses on Amazon that would work great for both tea and coffee.

What is the shops name? I am headed there in a few weeks.

I started growing different types of mint a few years ago, everything from your traditional mints to chocolate mints and lemonbalms.  I also grow chammomile, lemongrass, ginseng and echinacea.  I've been loose leafing my tea since that point and LOVE it!  The teas always seem richer and the flavor is delightful and heady.  I encourage anyone who hasn't tried loose leaf teas to do won't regret it!

One thing not mentioned in the article is how best to brew tea.  Black teas should be made with boiling water--that means 212 degrees.  It's very hard to find that out in the coffee shop world.  Green tea should be made with slightly less than boiling water--190 degrees--otherwise the flavor is negatively affected. 

I've been drinking loose teas all my life.  You get better, more interesting teas, at a fraction of the cost of tea bags, which are also a fraction of the cost of coffee.  An inexpensive gold mesh tea strainer is so much easier to use than a French press.  Put it in either a mug or pot, add tea and water, steep--then the clean up is simply to dump and rinse--no fussy parts.  My favorite supplier in this country is Harney Teas in CT.  They have an incredible tea and equipment selection.

There are a number of different ways to drink loose leaf teas...I am assuming that you are referring to how to actually steep the tea...  If you've got ground leaves you can use a tea ball, but as the writer said, you often loose flavor that way.  The most efficient way is to get a filter, but honestly, for just trying it out and seeing if you like it, the easiest way is to get some good leaves, pour your water into your cup, drop in your leaves and steep for a few minutes.  Then remove your leaves from your cup and set to dry, as they can be used several times as long as you don't steep them for more than a few minutes each time. 


I'm a huge loose leaf tea fan!  One of my favorites is a tea from a shop on St. Simons Island, GA.  Perhaps it's the name of the tea that gives me a chuckle: Skinny B****.  It's a Lemon Ginger Oolong and it's so yummy!

If anyone is in NYC-there is an awesome new tea shop in the East Village. It is called Physical Graffi-Tea (St. Marks between 1st and A). The owner is extremely knowledgeable about teas and many of the teas she offered me were great for digestion! As a new tea drinker, it was helpful to hear about how to steep the different teas and she took the time to explain it.

I LOVE loose leaf tea!  It is amazing how relaxing it is to get home in the evening and brew a small pot of tea.  I have my tea tray, a small teapot with strainer, and my teacup and saucer.  Love it!  My favorite "tea" is not really a tea, but rather ginger root.  I get it from Upton Tea online.  I probably have 5 or 6 different kinds of tea that I drink on a regular basis.

I too learned to appreciate correctly made and served loose tea on a trip to Hong Kong and China.  But the primary thing I'm experiencing from reading the article and all these responses is exhilaration - it makes me smile to hear so many people extolling the joy of tea-drinking!  It restores my faith in the inherent desire of the human race for serenity, dignity and gentility.  Everybody have a serene day!  And go brew some tea!  :~)

Some of the best loose leaf tea around is sold through

If you first trying to brew a tea and you don’t have a teapot, just put leafs in the cup, pour hot water and cover with a plate or something.  Wait for a few minutes then pour some of the liquid in separate cup and dissolve it with more hot water at your liking.  If it’s too strong you might not be able to enjoy it.

My dad used to make a loose leaf tea. It was a process J

Rinse a teapot with boiling water, put some leafs in, pour water about a third of a teapot, cover and put a towel over a teapot. Wait for a few minutes, then add more hot water, pour some of the brew in the cup and pour it back in the teapot. Tea is ready J

But again, we pour it in the cup and add more hot water to drink (some people like it stronger, some lighter)

I am a loose leaf fanatic. I am allergic to many things, and I find that instead of craving soda ( because of the corn syrup) I can drink a nicely flavoured tea with sugar in it and feel just as content. I am also allergic to pork, and so bacon, even though it is one of my favourite foods, is right out of the equation. So, now, I make Tofu Bacon with Lapsang Souchong. Recipe with pictures below: ars-and-tofu-bacon.html


I love loose leaf tea and have been drinking it all my (long!) life. One of the very best companies selling it IMHO is The Republic of Tea. You can find their teas in lots of retail outlets (although usually in tea bags) or visit their website and/or order a catalog. Their catalogs are beautiful ... and fun! They also sell beautiful "teaware", including travel mugs with built-in French presses. I use these all the time; they are so easy, and don't require extensive cleaning; just a dump of the used leaves and quick rinse of everything works just fine. I use many of their loose teas, but my current favorites are Sky Between The Branches and Jasmine Jazz.

Argo Tea has my favorites at

try the ginger green tea ..the best..

My wife gave me the Breville One Touch Tea Maker for Christmas.  It was a lot, but worth every penny.  It takes all the guess work out of temperatures and times. 03LNOPSG/ref=sr_1_1?s=appliances&ie=UTF8&qid=1327594 122&sr=1-1

I use it two or three times a day for hot and ice tea.  I used to hate gunpowder green tea, until I made some in this and now it's my favourite tea.

We are very lucky to have one of the best tea shops in the state of NY not far from where I live.  You can find it on line or even on Facebook and Tweeter.  SensibiliTeas is the name of the shop.  A few years ago I needed to stay totally off caffeine and I went to this shop.  Donnalynn Milford is the owner and she can help you with any questions you may have about loose teas, she is extremely knowledgable concerning teas and quilts if you are so inclined.  

I purchase my herbal/tisane loose tea from Cafe Moto in San Diego.  Excellent Tea!!! My favorites are Blood Orange, Kir Quncy and Berry Patch.  Outstanding and so flavorful all by itself!  I use a Tea Infuser--works great.  Very little tea is needed (1 rounded teaspoon) to enjoy a 12 oz cup. Check out their website below:

Relax and Enjoy!!! Smile

One additional comment...Cafe Moto (based in my town--San Diego) sells the tea infusers for about $20.00.  Just empty the leaves, rinse and reuse.  Love mine!!! If you drink a lot of loose tea, I recommend going this route, as it is so easy and is totally worth the money. 

Being used to tea from childhood on (children friendly summer fresheners along with warming honey and herbal versions for the cold season, curing all the little sniffles, fevers asf) it was a nobrainer for me money as well as energy wise to keep going with it as a ("almost") grown up, why would I go thru buying and carrying all these packaged bottles, packs of anything, when all I need is a tap and a kettle and a couple of thermo or normal pots. I don't mind bags especially of fused teas (as it can be quicker than peeling say ginger and picking fresh mint leaves;b...which I obviously prefer to do when I can spare the time) but I also started to bring back real lose leave versions from trips or make others to get me this instead of sending a postcard:). Just last year we explored Yunnan and I came back with the biggest carry on of tea goods and like half my Rucksack full of lose leave or flower teas as gifts or for me. Loved all of them when there and since whenever there is time to really enjoy a cup than just to hydrate like normally. However am not feeling I have to decide between tea and coffee, they both perfectly serve me great at the right time. Latter will make a good pils or a nice glass of red wine as well as freshly home made juices and nades hot or cold the special and healthy treats, they should be.

I love loose tea as well. The two places at the moment I tend to get my tea is at David's tea (Specialises in loose teas) and On occasions I will buy morrocan mint and ginseng green tea and mix both together to help me wake up. Its delicious with a teaspoon of honey or agave nextar. Yum! My husband likes black teas more. I prefer Herbals and a few green teas.

 I began drinking tea as a way to give myself a treat that did not involve calories in my battle with weight.  It opened up a whole world of flavor to me. I purchased loose tea in small packets while traveling in the US, Canada and Europe and have had memories renewed each time I drink my tea for a long time.  

Once you begin your journey with loos tea, products just seem to pop up or catch your eye.  I have a french press coffee pot by Bodum, and wanted to mention their brand of products because I bought a little tea steeping tool some years ago by Bodum that is just great and I am pretty sure you can find it online.  It is to make a mug of tea and is a cone shaped plastic screen on the sides with a top that snaps off and becomes a holder when you remove it from your cup. 

I also have a tea pot that I purchased on Victoria Island, BC with a central core similar to the cup thingy to make a pot of tea, and then remove the leaves when you are done steeping.  

However, after I began my passion for loose tea, I remembered having tea with my granny, and she always had a pot of water simmering on the stove and just put the leaves into a large cup.

I've drunk loose leaf tea for years, much preferring it over the "leavings" that make up most of the tea sold in the grocery store.  I go for making things as easy as possible, using an inexpensive mesh infuser for my daily tea and keeping paper tea bags on hand to make up my own to carry on trips.  I don't care for herbal tea and mostly just like a good quality black tea.  My favorite tea sites are  (you can order small samples of their tea for free) and -- both sell quality tea and aren't as pricey as some of the other places. 

Btw, when it comes to herbal teas, it's best to avoid chamomile tea if you're allergic to ragweed or if you're pregnant. e-11/natural-good-sleep-tips-on-melatonin-valerian (see the last paragraph on pg. 1)

I just recently discovered the joys of Teavana tea. It's so flavorful and aromatic. I suggest Samurai Chai Mate. It has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, so it isn't really a late-night tea. I love it! I need to either get some of Teavana's teabags (they're made specially so as not to tamper with the flavor) or get a teapot with a strainer. It would be so much easier to make. 

Haha I have enough loose leaf teas to open up a shop XD Tea is the love of my life. 

I hate water, so if I want to stay hydrated without packing on calories or filling my body with fake sweeteners, tea is my best (and favorite) option. I love drinking chilled green tea, but I feel that the best way to enjoy a quality loose leaf tea is hot. However, it's possible to have my cake and eat it too, as the saying goes, since most quality loose leaf teas can be brewed at least twice. I enjoy the first, strongest brewing hot, and then reuse the bag for my chilled tea. Yum!

A friend of mine introduced me to loose leaf tea and I was hooked.  That was years ago.  I also have many, many bags and enjoy them all. 

Another great resource for tea:

A non-conventional tea is Yerba Mate, the Argentina National drink.  I get mine from  

This has caffeine but doesn't seem to give me the same sort of jitters that coffee or regular tea does if I drink to much.

I buy my loose tea at


I also adore loose leaf tea.  Its a wonderful way to enjoy natural flavours without artificial sweeteners.  I love the amazing concoctions that seem to be endless.  If u live in Canada, DAVID'S TEA offers terrific varieties of loose tea, and all sorts of tea parafenalia.  When I make a cup of tea from their leaves, its like a flavour-bomb and I love it!!  I order their leaves on-line which makes it easy.  Enjoy the Brew!!


When I was a kid growing up my grandmother would buy Lipton loose tea and she had a special spoon that had little holes and a hinged top to hold the tea in. She would heat the water in her tea kettle and then stir the water with her spoon to make the tea. Plus as a side benefit, she would look at the tea leaves and tell your fortune. She would always tell us of the wonderful things that were going to happen to us in the future. I just loved my grandmother and this talk of tea leaves has brought back many fond memories of her.

I was introduced to loose leaf teas, brewing methods, and teas service at Teasource in Highland Park,  if you are in the area, really worth a visit

I'm an addict. Enjoying a nice early grey this second. i have a nilgiri and some gunpowder tea in as well.

When I visit family in Albuquerque, New Mexico I always try to visit the NM Tea Comany. They are on-line at If you like spice tea try the Sandia Spice - very mild with a great taste!

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Would the same tea in loose form be better than the bagged tea?  I know some of the loose tea brews we have are much better than the bagged tea, but I think it is the blend not the packaging.

Maybe I should "debag" tea and test it. 


Bagged tea -- especially the grocery store kind -- is made from the "crumbs" and even dust left over from whole-leaf tea.  While it may have a similar taste to the original tea, it's lower in quality and has less flavor than whole-leaf tea.  Some of these tea shops and sites may sell their whole-leaf tea bagged for convenience, and, in that case, the bagged tea should be very similar in qualilty and flavor to the loose tea.  You will pay more for the convenience, though. 

As I said above, I buy paper tea bags (sold by some of the sites mentioned) that I fill and carry on trips.  That way the tea in the bags is fairly fresh and hasn't been sitting around for a long time waiting for my next trip.

I've been using loose leaf tea for years! I buy mine at The Coffee Roaster in Sherman Oaks, they have a hugeeee selection of all kinds of loose leaf tea! It's great!!!  ( )

Loose tea FTW.

Another cheap source of loose leaf tea- your friendly neighborhood Indian grocery store. You'll find some of the best black tea at good prices.

Here's how to make a traditional Indian chai:

Bring 2/3 cups of water and 1/3 cup of (whole or 2%) milk to a boil. Add sugar if you like. When it starts to boil, add 1-2 tsp of tea (I use a mix of granular oolong and long leaf Darjeeling) and let it boil for 30 seconds or so. Take off the heat and cover for another 30 seconds to let it steep. Strain through a simple mesh strainer and serve with cookies. :)



Guayusa tea is about equal to a cup of coffee for caffeine. Runa makes most of them. I love the Rainforest Mint with some Longan Honey, or with some raspberry syrup.

Easiest way I found to do the loose leaf tea is from using this: /dp/B000FPN8TK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327966200&sr= 8-1

Allows you to steep your tea and then strain it into a thermos with your other ingredients to combine. The tea house I went to all the time used them. Have had mine for personal use for 2 years now with no issues. Love them.

The tea I was talking about with the caffeine ability(do a google of guayusa to find out the benefits of this Amazon(area, not website) tea): (they only have the cinamon flavor left on 4GIHH9O/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1327966291&sr=8-7

You can also get them at I cannot go a day without these for the great slow energy release it gives and great taste.

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