You know me as a coffee guy. I love coffee.
I talk about coffee pretty much constantly. I’m trying to teach you everything I know about making great coffee.
Today, though, we’re going to mix things up a little. Did you know you can brew loose leaf tea in a French press?
Well, it’s true. Coffee is obviously superior to tea but it’s not always the right hot drink. Sometimes, a loose leaf tea is what you need and, fortunately, they’re easy to brew.
Here are some interesting differences between tea and coffee:
- Tea is thousands of years old, while coffee is only a few hundred years old.
- Tea comes in many, many more flavor varieties than tea.
If you’re interested in getting to know loose leaf tea and you already have a decent French press to hand, you can get started right away.
This guide to brewing tea in a press tells you everything you need to know.
The Many Varieties of Loose Leaf Tea
One common misconception about tea is that all products labelled as ‘tea’ must be from the same or similar plants.
In fact, herbal teas are not really teas at all, not in the truest sense or most accurate definition of the word. From a connoisseur’s perspective, tea comes only from camellia sinensis plants.
As herbal teas can be made from the bark, flowers or leaves of many different plants, they’re not really tea. Ingredients like chamomile, hibiscus and pine needles are what’s known as ‘herbal tisanes’ in the industry.
So, tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant.
Then, how do we get so many varieties and flavors?
It’s all down to how the tea leaves are treated and prepared after harvest and how much caffeine is left in the product.
Most of us know ‘black tea’ as tea served without any milk, but it has another definition. Black tea is also a specific variety of loose tea and the one you’re most familiar with. Let’s call it ‘normal tea,’ though the phrase doesn’t do it much justice.
It’s the variety we’re most used to drinking and the most commonly enjoyed tea in western countries. Black tea leaves are fully oxidized (dried) after harvest. They are allowed to darken and become stronger in intensity as they react with the air. This oxidation process causes deterioration of some antioxidants, but moderate amounts still remain.
Common flavors in black tea include aromatic spices (cinnamon, clove, etc), chocolate, malt and citrus notes.
- Brewing Temperature - 195 to 205°F
- Steep Time - 3 to 5 mins
- Volume of Caffeine - 20 to 80mg
Oolong teas are partially oxidized. It means the leaves have anywhere between 8% to 90% of their total moisture removed after harvesting. This is a big range, and oolong teas that have been oxidized by 15% taste different to those oxidized by 78%.
It gives this type of loose leaf tea a huge amount of variety and a wide selection of possible flavors. Light oolongs (low oxidation) tend to be closer in flavor to green tea with earthy, aromatic and citrusy notes.
Dark oolongs, on the other hand, have a deeper, woodier flavor profile. They’re not as sweet as light oolongs and are less fragrant, so they taste closer in nature to regular black teas.
- Brewing Temperature - 180 to 195°F
- Steep Time - 2 to 4 mins
- Volume of Caffeine - 15 to 60mg
Green tea has been a staple of the Chinese diet for many centuries.
In China, green tea (not black) is considered the most ‘normal’ variety and enjoyed habitually at home and while dining out. In recent decades, the trend has caught on in the western world too and green teas are now more popular than ever.
Green teas are minimally oxidized (2% to 8%) and, therefore, more fragrant with a relatively gentle flavor profile. They often have herby, nutty and citrusy notes that delight those who enjoy floral tasting teas.
To get the most out of green tea, avoid using boiling hot water and reduce the steeping time.
- Brewing Temperature - 170 to 180°F
- Steep Time - 2 to 3 mins
- Volume of Caffeine - 15 to 40mg
White teas are the least oxidized of all the loose leaf tea varieties (0% to 2%).
This means they’re as close to ‘fresh’ as you’re going to get as a tea drinker. In comparison with other varieties, they spend the least amount of time off the leaf drying and reacting with the air.
This makes white tea even more subtle and delicate than green tea. Often, white teas contain lightly fruity notes of orange and peach, as well as some flowery and herby flavors that combine to produce bright, refreshing beverages.
As white tea is delicate like green tea, you should add your water when it’s well below boiling and steep for only a short time.
- Brewing Temperature - 160 to 175°F
- Steep Time - 2 to 3 mins
- Volume of Caffeine - 10 to 30mg
As already mentioned, herbal teas aren’t teas in the truest sense of the word.
Rather than originating from the camellia sinensis plant (the tea plant), they are made up of things like fragrant herbs, flowers and leaves. They’re still natural and contain organic plant matter, but they’re not from the ‘tea tree.’
These days, it’s mostly a distinction of semantics. Unless you’re a tea purist, it’s not so important. The majority of herbal teas are robust and can tolerate high temperatures and prolonged steeping.
- Brewing Temperature - 195 to 205°F
- Steep Time - 5 to 10 mins
- Volume of Caffeine - (ingredient specific)
A Quick Guide to Brewing Tea in Your French Press
The first thing you should do is clean your French press thoroughly, really thoroughly.
It’s important to remove all traces of coffee because they will affect the way your loose leaf tea tastes.
After cleaning and rinsing, give the inside of your press a wipe with paper towels to remove as much leftover oil as possible.
One quick way to test if your press is clean enough is to give it a sniff. If you think you detect traces of coffee, clean it again. You could, of course, just buy a new French press and use it only for tea if you’d rather skip the hard work.
Also, try to adhere to temperature recommendations. I’m not suggesting you whip out a thermometer every time you want a brew, but don’t add boiling hot water to teas that cannot tolerate it such as green and white varieties.
It will impair any delicate flavors and leave you with a muddy, bitter version of what your tea is supposed to taste like.
The best way to control the water temperature, particularly when using low oxidized teas, is through gentle warming on a stove.
Start by warming your water in the kettle or on the stove. Once it has reached the desired temperature, set it aside. Take 2.5g of your chosen loose leaf tea - you may need to weigh it - and put them in the French press.
Add eight ounces of the hot water. Allow to steep for the optimum length of time.
Once steeping is complete, carefully pour the tea through a strainer and into a cup. There you have it: a perfect cup of loose leaf tea.
If you find the taste too bitter, reduce steeping time.
Bitterness is normally a result of over extraction and can be easily remedied by reducing time spent soaking in the water.