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  • Writer's pictureAmy

Free Your Tea: A Case Against Teaballs

I kicked the snow off my boots on her doorstep as she let me in through the back door while Maggie, her dog, considered the cat smell on my clothes. Her home was warm, it was Saturday, and we had about a hundred questions each to stitch up the time gone by. I had been busy reorganizing the tea factory and Violet was absorbed in projects with her company. That morning we joined the fabric of an immeasurable history of women mending their intermissions of friendship with the balm of hot tea, a small table, and the timeless act of catching up.

When the water broke into boil, she filled our cups and set a tea-ball in each. I tensed in my seat. A tea-ball? Feigning a casual tone I asked, “and what tea are we having?” “Oolong Gold,” she replied, not without catching my uneasiness. “You may be the most transparent person on the planet, Amybird,” she teased as she sat down. “What’s wrong?” I turned quite pink and sank in my chair. “The oolong,” I ventured, “it’s trapped!”

Luckily, Violet lit up with curiosity as I opened the tea-balls and set the tea free into the water. We watched the tea relax open and stretch to the edges of the cups. We saw its colors painting the water as it opened more. She giggled with delight and I breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude for her playful, ever-learning way of life.

Loose leaf teas must be loose, free to move and expand as hot water extracts its elements. After tea with Violet, I realized I owe all my tea friends an explanation.

Below are a few easy methods for making loose tea loose. You don’t have to own a fancy gadget to make loose tea loose. If you are drinking whole leaves, don’t be afraid to simply put them straight in your teacup like Violet and I did.

Tea Baskets

We often use tea baskets here at the tea factory. Our stainless steel tea basket sits inside the cup and allows the tea to open and move around as it steeps. At time’s end, remove the basket and set it on its lovely porcelain dish while it awaits its second steep.

For over two hundred years, friendships have flowered over tea boiled with onions, bootlegged tea adulterated with graphite and common weeds, and the cheapest tea-dust on the market. Even so, I bought Violet a few bits of tea equipment for our next tea date, and she professed she never knew oolong was so good until the day we set it free.

Friendship is the finest extract of the tea leaf.

The Nothing Fancy Method

No fancy tools? Here is a basic stovetop method for making loose leaf tea without anything tea-related… except the tea itself, of course:

  • Check the back of your tea jar for amount of water and amount of tea to use

  • Boil water in a pot on the stovetop

  • Once the water is boiled, take the pot off the heat

  • Add your tea, cover, and steep for the correct amount of time (written in the instructions on the back of your tea jar)

  • At the time’s end, pour the tea through a mesh strainer into your mug

French Press

French Presses are also convenient for making loose leaf tea.

  • Check the back of your tea jar for amount of water and amount of tea to use

  • Measure tea and place in the French Press

  • Boil water and pour over the tea. Set lid on top but do not press down

  • Set your timer

  • When the time is up, push the press down and pour your tea to serve

  • For herbal teas, instead of pushing the press all the way down at time’s end, you may continue steeping your tea after you’ve poured off your first cup. Many herbal teas get better and better the longer you steep them. Our North tea is incomparably better at 10 minutes than at 3.

For green and black teas, however, you’ll want to pour all the tea out of the French press after your timer ends. If the tea continues to steep, too many tannins will extract into the water, causing the tea to become too bitter.

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