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Forget infusers and pre-bagged teas — tea sacks make a great alternative. Loose and free in the teapot can produce the best tasting tea, but even this tea lover knows there are times when that just isn’t practical. Thank goodness for innovative minds.
Many of you may be too young to remember “Sock it to me” from the 60s/70s show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” (Of course, you can always catch it in reruns on a cable/satellite station.) But “sacking it” to your tea has been around longer and is a great way to enjoy fine teas in a refined way.
So, what is this wonder of wonders, this marvel of the tea world? Generally, tea sacks are tea filters shaped like little sacks. Many are made of unbleached paper. They come in different sizes so you can steep from one cup to as much as 12 cups of tea at a time. One of the best brands on the market are “T-sacs” made by The T-Sac Company in Hannover, Germany.
The company has high standards to assure that their sack isn’t going to be something nasty coming between you and your tea. They start with cellulose and Manila fibers that are made into a light-weight paper. Since the late 1980s, they have been avoiding bleaching that paper, so you don’t get any chlorine in with your tea. (Great news for those of us hyper-sensitive to chlorine. Also great for those who don’t like their tea bleached.)
Some reasons to use a tea sack:
- Bagging your own tea (that is, filling a tea sack) means you know what is in the bag. Otherwise, it’s a guessing game. (I’ve had a few rude surprises.) Often, pre-bagged tea contains lesser quality teas “hidden” from your view by the bag.
- Tea sacks can be thrown away when you’re done. No muss, no fuss, and no infuser or strainer to wash. This gives you added convenience in an office or other work environment where you want to still be able to enjoy your fine teas. It also means you don’t have tea residue building up on your strainer or infuser and leeching into the next tea you steep. If you steep a black, then a white, then a green, this can really matter.
- In finer tearooms where they are becoming increasingly popular, these tea sacks save customers from the need to use a strainer. In one tearoom I dined at recently they used a small wooden stick to “hang” the bag inside the teapot.
A drawback or two:
- You don’t get the full-flavored steep that you do when the tea leaves are floating free in the pot. To me, this seems like a waste of tea dollars.
- They add cost to your tea experience. It’s minimal, so this isn’t a big deterrent. By the time you calculate what your time is worth, not to mention the cost of the dishwashing soap to clean the infuser or strainer, it all evens out.
Sounds like tea sacks are a real winner for those of you who value convenience yet want to enjoy full and broken leaf teas, not just teadust in a bag. Happy steeping!
Caution: In researching The T-sac Company, I came across two other sites with “t-sac” in the URL. Neither of these has anything to do with The T-sac Company.
Make sure to sock it to your tea life with A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!
While not all tea drinkers are enamored of tea bags as an alternative to loose leaf tea, there’s no question that the tea bag is a popular choice for millions of tea lovers worldwide.
By some accounts, which are probably more legendary than factual, tea drinking came about in 2737 B.C. when Chinese emperor Shen Nung just happened to be boiling some water – outside. As the story goes, tea leaves blew from a nearby bush and into the water. The rest was tea history. While tea drinking is likely to have gotten underway much earlier than this and in less picturesque circumstances, it’s probably true that tea drinking began in China with loose leaf tea.
For many centuries afterward, loose leaf tea was pretty much the only game in town. Then some time in the early 1900s the tea bag made its first appearance. Credit for this innovation goes to a New York City-based tea seller named Thomas Sullivan, who discovered tea bags pretty much by accident. At some point Sullivan began to pass out samples of his tea in small silk bags. As the story goes, one of the recipients of said sample dipped one in boiling water and once again – tea history.
Sullivan doesn’t turn up in United States patent records, but in 1916 George H. Peal scored a patent for a non-refillable Tea-Ball which was “intended to contain just sufficient tea for a single brewing.” In 1927, the first tea bag patent on record was registered to a New York resident named Simon Cooper.
Across the Atlantic tea bags didn’t exactly take the United Kingdom by storm, at least not at first. In 1965, some three decades after being introduced there, only seven percent of UK tea drinkers were taking advantage of tea bags. After that, however, tea bags caught on and by the end of the millennium eight-five percent of UK tea drinkers were using them, as opposed to sixty percent of tea lovers in the United States.
William’s making tea history everyday over on his blog, Tea Guy Speaks!
I recently attended a tea bag tasting, as you may have realized from my article about how to do so. I found it interesting that I was the only tea blogger to attend. The other bloggers were more general foodies. Now, I did not have access to the invitation list. But I had a theory that perhaps some tea bloggers considered themselves above this company, a humble company with tea bags on grocery store shelves. But I call on tea people to not neglect such brands. For example, Stash, available in the English Tea Store. Or Taylor’s of Harrogate. I think people should not get so caught up in loose leaf tea, or even in fancy whole leaf tea bags.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love loose leaf tea, and when I am home, I hardly ever use a tea bag. And I do try to find high quality teas. On the other hand, at the risk of losing my street cred as a tea blogger, I don’t turn up my nose at tea bags either. I look for flavorful teas that are pleasing to drink. End of criteria.
I’m not suggesting that people drink whatever they can find. There are certain prevalent American brands of tea that I never drink. And I would never go for grocery store-brand tea. I’m just suggesting that tea doesn’t always have to break the bank or be complicated. It can come in a box of tea bags with no pretentions. Stash is a great example. Their green tea is very traditional, and they do a great job of packaging. On a scale of 0-10 of effectiveness, their wrappers are rated 10 for keeping tea fresh. The president of a competing tea company told me that at Stash, “They are tea people. I have a lot of respect for what they do.” What an endorsement! Taylor’s of Harrogate doesn’t individually wrap their teas, but don’t let that turn you off. Their customer base, largely British, goes through a box of tea far more quickly than the American customer. The emphasis for Taylor’s is quality of what’s in the box instead of the quality of the packaging.
So go ahead, use that tea bag, and be proud!
Get more advice on drinking tea by reading Stephanie’s blog, The Tea Scoop!
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By Kathy McCarthy [reposted from our sister blog]
A pyramid teabag is exactly what it sounds like, a teabag in the shape of a pyramid. Introduced a little over ten years ago, this teabag was thought to be an improvement over the traditional pocket-shaped teabag because the pyramid shape gives the tea leaves more room to expand while steeping. Another advantage to pyramid teabags is that they can hold whole tea leaves, thus delivering a higher quality tea to the consumer while retaining the convenience of a teabag.
Unfortunately, the first pyramid teabags ran into a little problem in that they were deemed unfriendly to the environment because their synthetic material would not break down in landfills. Loose tea leaves and paper teabags are environmentally friendly. However, pyramid teabags have since been updated to use a sustainable woven mesh that is biodegradable.
Enjoying a cup of tea brewed from premium tea leaves in a pyramid teabag lets you enjoy the “real deal”. Unlike the tea fines and dust that are packaged into the regular pocket teabags, you can enjoy the rich, smooth flavor of tea brewed from the whole tea leaf when using a pyramid teabag.
Pyramid teabags brew a superior cup of tea because the unique pyramid shape of the bag provides enough room for the tea leaves to unfurl and release their full flavor. Water easily circulates around the tea leaves allowing for an optimum infusion.
It is actually a little entertaining to watch the leaves unfurl as they steep, and the pyramid teabag is just as convenient to use as a regular pocket teabag. Since the pyramid shape can easily house premium loose leaf tea, you enjoy a much higher quality cup of tea than you can get from the traditional teabag.
The pyramid teabag is an innovative brewing system combining the traditional teabags’ convenience with loose leaf tea’s superior aroma and taste.
By Kathy McCarthy [reposted from our sister blog]
If you have never been particularly fond of tea, consider for a moment what kind of tea you have been drinking. If your idea of brewing a cup of tea is grabbing a box of teabags off of your grocer’s shelf and dunking them in a cup of hot water until the color looks about right, you may actually enjoy a good cup of tea more than you think. You would not know, though, because to date you have never really had a good cup of tea.
While grabbing a teabag from the grocery store does not necessarily guarantee an inferior cup of tea, it comes pretty close. The problem is that your typical teabag contains the fines or fannings left over from the whole leaf tea that is used to make a superior cup of tea. So when you make tea from a teabag, you are essentially brewing a cup of tea crumbs.
When you brew a cup of loose leaf tea, you are extracting your drink’s flavor from the entire tealeaf which is what results in the great taste of tea. The whole tealeaf is rich with essential oils and various tannins and chemicals, which combine during the brewing process to form the delicious flavor of your particular tea.
When the tealeaves are pulverized, as in the case of fannings, the oils evaporate and the resulting brew is flat and dull. This pretty much describes a typical grocery store teabag. The other problem with teabags is that they are too constricting, because tealeaves need room to unfurl and swell as they brew. Therefore, there has to be room and good water circulation in the teabag for the leaf to benefit from the brewing process.
When whole tealeaf is brewed in a tea sock or infuser, you can get the full bodied flavor that your tea was meant to have. So if you have never really enjoyed the taste of tea, before you write tea off as a beverage that you just do not enjoy, make sure that you at least give a cup of properly brewed whole leaf tea a fair chance.
The Subject: Indian Spiced Chai Black Tea from The English Tea Store.
Water temperature: 212° F
Steeping time: 5 minutes
Tea type: Black
Scents, flavorings, etc.: Coriander, cardamom, ginger, cloves
Aroma, dry: Like walking into an Indian spice store
Aroma in the cup, plain: N/A
Taste, plain: N/A
Aroma in the cup, enhanced: Curry tea
Taste, enhanced: Spicy, mild, smooth
2nd Infusion: Equal in strength, taste, and aroma to first
When first opening the plastic, resealable pouch in which this tea comes, hubby and I were both enthralled by its strong aroma — like stepping inside a store selling spices from India. If you’ve ever been inside such a store, you’ll know what I mean. As someone who makes curry in the authentic manner (taught by exchange students from India at the university I attended), my senses were filled with pure delight. This tea has the wonderful fragrances of all the spices I use in curry. It was love at first whiff!
Chai, in the traditional method of preparation, has the tea leaves being boiled in milk, not water. (This was my first experience with chai, enjoyed in an Indian restaurant.) However, the Little Yellow Teapot thought it was better to boil water and steep the tea in it, then add milk to the resulting tea “liquor.” He’s a bit temperamental, so we followed his plan. (Have you ever tried arguing with a teapot, especially a little yellow one?)
The taste of the tea “liquor,” after 5 minutes of infusing and then pouring into a cup with milk and sweetener (a definite “must”), fulfilled the promise made by that first aromatic inhalation. Hubby suddenly got a craving for Indian food when he smelled the first cupful. He definitely considers this a year-round tea, as do I, just as we enjoy curry and other Indian foods year round and since we could drink this tea both hot and chilled.
Anyone trying this tea and expecting Starbuck’s Chai Latte, with its cinnamony, pumpkinish, sort-of-tea-like-flavor (which I like since it’s sort of like a slice of pumpkin pie that’s been pureed in a blender and added to hot milk), will be in for a surprise. This tea is quite different. Spices like coriander, cardamom, and cloves dominate. The cardamom taste lingers long after you’ve taken your last swallow, the only downside to this tea. I had to have a bit of dark, semi-sweet chocolate to take that taste away — ooh! maybe that’s an upside!
A word of caution: Unless you’re doing a second infusion, once the tea has fully steeped, pour it through a strainer into another teapot (or if you used an infuser basket or teaball infuser, remove this from the teapot). This will avoid over steeping, which would very likely result in an overly strong taste that can be quite bitter.
This tea gets half a teapot just for being chai (which I love) and another half for being loose tea, not bagged or some kind of syrup added to hot milk. Hubby and I gave it another three teapots for the sensory delight (taste and aroma) it imparted. I had to deduct a half teapot because of the lingering cardamom taste, which is a bit overwhelming.
Read more great tea reviews at the Little Yellow Teapot’s blog!
One of the benefits of tea drinking, at least for many of us, is that tea contains caffeine. When consumed in moderation, caffeine is considered to be a safe way to get a quick boost. Of course, for those who are sensitive to this substance, caffeine’s presence in tea might not be so welcome.
What many experts have failed to come to a consensus on thus far is exactly how much caffeine is in tea. There are those who don’t hesitate to offer up authoritative facts and figures on the caffeine content of tea, but on the other hand are those who suggest that the accepted numbers might not be accurate.
According to numerous and varied sources, loose leaf teas contain less caffeine because they’re subject to the least amount of processing. Green tea is supposedly next on the list, followed by some of the more lightly processed oolong varieties. At the other extreme of the caffeine scale are the more heavily processed oolong teas, black tea and puerh.
For more detailed information about the caffeine content of tea, refer to this FAQ from a Sri Lankan tea merchant. It suggests that the caffeine content of tea has more to do with the type of plant used to actually make it than with processing methods. In Caffeine and Tea: Myth and Reality, another tea expert takes a close look at some alleged myths about caffeine content and suggests that much of the accepted wisdom about tea and caffeine is untrue.
For information about the caffeine content of various types of food, medicine and beverages, including tea, look to these resources from MayoClinic.com, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Erowid’s Caffeine Vault. Though the focus is more on coffee, this article from the New York Times looks at some supposed myths about caffeine consumption and its effects on the human body.
While bagged tea is quite an invention, which depending who you talk to is either a rejuvenation or a bastardization of tea. But what if you are a firm believer in the superiority of loose leaf tea, but still want an enjoyable cup while away? For an English style cup of tea, it might just be easier than you think.
First you need to come up with a storage method for your leaves. If you happen to have a source of miniature tins with good seals that hold 10-15 grams of tea, you are golden. The rest of us need to get slightly more creative. Plastic bags and envelopes which don’t have the pungent odors of the chemical adhesive or other bad smells work well enough. To protect the leaves from being crushed into dust you can use a bit of bubble wrap around the bags or envelopes.
The other equipment you wish to bring should be a bit easier. As tea infuser should be relatively easy to pack, the trick is to remember them. But for ease of cleanup when on the go, or making a quick cup, there are teabags for sale of which you can fill yourself. Once you are done steeping the leaves as many times as you wish you can just toss the whole thing. Simple as that.
Now to get water hot enough can be a trick depending on where you are. If there is a mini coffee pot in your room, you can run water through it without the grounds to get it close to boiling. I would recommend sending water though a couple of times to try and wash away any coffee residue. Quite a few coffee shops and such should be willing to get you cup of boiling water. There are some mini electric kettles available that heat up roughly a cup at a time.
So traveling and making your perfect cuppa do not need to conflict. So bring some of your old favorites and must haves and enjoy a nice cup in a new spot.