Can I use loose-leaf tea in a single-serve "pod" coffee maker?

I get this question every now and then, regarding those single-serve coffee pods and using loose-leaf tea in them.  Below is my response, which is backed up with an experiment I conducted here, at Blue Heron Tea Traditions.

There are several problems with this method of "brewing" loose-leaf tea:

  1. Coffee makers have a drip system which allows water to flow through the ground coffee. In contrast, tea needs to be infused (sit in water) from 1-8 minutes, depending on what type of tea or herbal tisane you are making.

  2. The temperature of the water from a single-serve coffee maker is typically 180° F; which is not ideal for black teas or heavier oxidized oolongs and is too hot for most green teas. (see picture #1 below)

  3. Inside a pod, loose-leaf tea does not have enough room to expand and release flavor (picture #4 below). Have you ever looked inside a single-serve tea pod? Nothing but teeny tiny specks of leaves! (picture #5 below)

  4. When you use single-serve beverage makers, oils from brewing coffee are left behind to taint the flavor your tea.

Here’s the experiment:

Before making the tea, I had to run a whole carafe of water through the machine, to clean the chamber, so I wouldn't have coffee grounds in the tea.  I used paper towels to dry the pod chamber. I could not get the left-over oils out of the chamber. (see picture #2 below)

I compared high quality Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls loose-leaf, scented tea with a brand which supplies pre-made, flavored tea pods (see picture #5 below). I decided on Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls, because it has a relatively short steep time (2 minutes) and is a very flavorful tea.

The lighter tea liquor is our Jasmine, the darker is the branded (picture #3 below). To be fair, neither were very good when made this way, but our Jasmine had a cleaner flavor and you could "re-steep" it again, and we did, but the flavor just was not there because it didn't have a chance to properly steep.

Bottom line, if you want your loose-leaf tea to taste good, use a tea infuser or teapot and follow the package directions, or those of our Tea Sommelier at How Do I Make the Best Tea?

Georgia Rayna, Certified Tea Sommelier