Another work week has just wrapped and while most are heading to their local pubs for a big happy hour pint, I am eager to brew myself an aromatic pot of loose-leaf tea – yes, everything about tea makes my heart swoon. Whether you drink tea to energize or relax, here are some tips for sustainable tea drinking that can also increase your enjoyment of this ancient beverage.
Stop using tea bags and go with loose-leaf teas. Each time you use a teabag, the bag, string, tag and wrapper become another addition to your local landfill. Loose teas require minimal packaging, are stored (and brewed) in reusable containers, and are usually re-steepable.
There are some other great perks to drinking loose leaf as well:
- Loose-leaf tea simply tastes better. Tea bag tea is usually very small and includes broken particles of leaf. While this tea dust infuses quickly, it tends to produce a very one-dimensional tea. Quality loose-leaf tea, on the other hand, gets to infuse and expand in your cup, resulting in a richer, tastier brew.
- Loose leaf is more fun. While there are plenty of convenient loose-leaf tea infusers that make brewing quick and easy, using traditional teaware is a lovely ritual to incorporate into your day.
- Loose tealeaves can be a great addition to your compost pile. In fact, a compost pile is the best place for your tealeaves: Never put your tealeaves in a toilet or sink, as they can cause clogs.
- One warning: Many loose-leaf tea retailers offer quantity discounts. While these can appear to be a good deal, keep in mind that tea typically does not age well. Flavored teas (particularly if they have bits of dried fruit in them) can get stale within a few months, while unflavored teas will last year or two if stored properly (airtight containers, kept from sunlight, moisture, heat and strong smells). Buying a lot of tea just to get a discount – only to end up tossing much of it out – isn’t a sustainable practice!
Infuse, Infuse, Repeat!
As noted above, loose-leaf teas can usually be re-infused several times. Reusing tealeaves saves you money and reduces resource consumption. Some teas stand up to multiple infusions better than others do, and fortunately, they tend to be the teas that connoisseurs like most!
Here are some tips for choosing re-steepable teas:
- Avoid flavored teas. The flavor usually fades dramatically after the first infusion.
- Seek out high-quality oolong teas. Jade oolong and Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) are two green oolongs that are famous for their staying power. Each infusion unveils a different layer of flavor. You can get as many as eight steeps (and sometimes more) from one spoonful of leaf!
- Pu’erh teas can be an acquired taste, but they too can offer you many cups of tea from the same leaves. Pu’erh teas are specially processed and are often aged. They have intense flavor that varies from decidedly herbal to something akin to a barnyard.
- Black teas tend to give up their flavor in the first steep or two, though a very high quality black tea is often good for two or three rounds.
Look for labels that certify that the tea is organic or biodynamic. Don’t be afraid to ask a tea company about its organic policy. Any tea company that is committed to sustainable tea production will be happy to tell you about the steps they take to ensure the integrity of its production.
Drink Closer to Home
While most tea grows in China, Japan, Africa and South Asia, a few intrepid tea growers are farming tea in the west. There are tea farms in Hawaii, Washington state, and South Carolina. Tea drinkers in the UK can even enjoy teas that are grown in Cornwall. When we drink tea that is grown closer to us, we can enjoy fresher tea that required fewer resources in its journey to us.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Lainie Petersen, a tea enthusiast who is committed to both sustainable living and sustainable theology. You can follow her personal tea blog here.