Entering the world of loose-leaf tea is an exciting but challenging place to be. You may have discovered a fantastic loose-leaf tea on holiday or been given one as a gift. You love it and want to try something else just as good, but where do you start?
Here we give a few tips and tricks to help get you on your way. If you are not sure about the different types of tea we suggest you check out the DISCOVER page first, before continuing.
Although there are technically six different types of tea, if you are just starting out it is much easier just to think of four types of tea; two of which you are probably already familiar with:
Black, Green, White and Oolong
As this is most familiar to people thanks to tea-bags, this is a good place to get your feet wet without taking too much of a risk. If you are in the UK, then you will be used to the breakfast tea which traditionally was a blend of Indian and Chinese teas. Nowadays it is very likely that this will be farmed in Africa from Kenya or Malawi or a blend of both. All of the traditional British breakfast blends are specifically grown, processed and selected to be taken specifically with milk (and in the UK, also with up to 3 sugars!).
Step 1 – Choose a single-origin (i.e. not a blend), loose-leaf black tea, that can be taken without milk
Two great loose-leaf black tea choices to start with are:
1) From China, try a single origin black tea such as Keemun
2) From India, try a either a first flush or second flush Darjeeling.
Don’t worry too much about flushes or harvesting dates at this point; the most important thing is to choose a good quality tea which is designed to be drunk without milk. Whatever you do – do not simply ditch your milk on your standard breakfast blend otherwise you will find it has a very harsh, bitter taste which can only be ameliorated with milk (and sugar).
Step 2 – Compare with your usual cuppa
Once you have found yourself a good loose-leaf tea, try and compare it with your usual every day tea. When trying various loose-leaf teas, it is very helpful to taste it vis-à-vis something as you will be able to get a lot out of the cup by noticing the differences rather than trying to figure out the new taste.
The good news is that Keemun and Darjeeling will still have classic “tea taste” attributes from breakfast blends giving you a brisk, maltiness; however, they will start to introduce you some new characteristics, what sensation the tea gives your mouth (mouthfeel), colour, shape and texture. By comparing this with your standard cuppa you will be able to easily find this out for yourself. Like discovering a new dish in a restaurant you will start to unearth new tastes you didn't know existed before.
These are only some small steps but will start you on the right track to really enjoying loose-leaf tea. In part 2 we will start to delve into the world of green tea.