Although making a cup of tea may seem like a no-brainer for most, there’s much more to the act than simply steeping a bag in hot water. Brewing a mug of tea without a tea bag isn’t complicated, but there are a few simple steps that you should take to ensure the best quality. This simple tutorial will lay out the three main ways to make tea, and why each is important.
First, let’s talk about quality. While I have a soft spot in my heart for the many well-crafted, pre-bagged teas that are out there, my personal preference is to use loose leaf. Much like the ingredients you use to cook, the better the quality, the better the outcome. When selecting dried herbs to brew my teas, I always try to find organic, dried herbs, and when possible, try to purchase from stores and companies that carefully source their products.
Where do you find these herbs? Often you can find loose leaf, bulk tea at local food co-ops, herb shops, or health food stores in your area. I love supporting local business and encourage all tea lovers to find a source they trust. If going local isn't an option, there are a number of trusted online vendors that you can order from, or you can even try growing your own!
The most basic of all the brews, the hot cuppa' tea (or hot infusion) is likely the one you're most familiar with. It’s suitable for most dried or fresh leafy herbs and is the easiest and quickest method of making tea. The trick here is to be sure to COVER your tea while it steeps. Many medicinal plants carry their benefits in the volatile oils contained inside, and these evaporate from the tea when you leave the cover off.
To brew a hot infusion: Place 1-3 tablespoons of dried herb in a cup. Cover with 1-3 cups of hot water (just shy of boiling). Cover your brew and let it steep for about 20 minutes. Uncover, strain, and enjoy!
A little more advanced and better suited for heartier herbs, including seeds, pods, roots, bark, and even some leaves, a decoction is just the simmering of water and whatever plants you are using to make your tea. The simmering action helps break down the tougher cellulose in the plant matter and helps to extract the most out of woodier plants. Decoctions can easily be made in batches and kept in the fridge for a few days at a time. One great example of a tea I always prepare as a decoction is chai. We will be featuring this healing and carminative tea on the blog later this winter, so be sure to sure to check it out.
To make a basic decoction: Place 3 tablespoons of dried herb in a pot. Cover with 4 cups of cold water. Bring to a simmer and cover, continuing to cook on low for 20-45 minutes. Strain herb and enjoy! If you lost a lot of water during the simmering process, you can add more water to the brew.
Dried chamomile - great for cold infusions!
For the knowledgeable tea brewer who knows what they want to extract out of the plants they are working with, cold infusions can be an excellent method to add to your tool chest. Cold infusions are great for demulcent (slimy) herbs or herbs with delicate essential oils. This hands-off process is easy and hassle-free. I like to prepare my cold infusions at night so that I can strain and enjoy my tea the following morning. Some of my favorite herbs to do a cold infusion with are chamomile, marshmallow and lemon balm.
To make a cold infusion: Place 1-2 tablespoons of herb in a jar. Cover with 2-3 cups of cold water. Cover the jar, and let sit 8-10 hours. Strain the herb and enjoy!
By Anna Beauchemin
Anna is a Clinical Western Herbalist. She works and studies at the Ohlone Herbal Center in Berkeley, California. She also has a Bachelor of Science in Conservation and Resource Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked as a biologist doing research on native pollinators.
Photos taken by Anna Beauchemin
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.