Can You Eat Tea Leaves?

The question of eating tea leaves, either before or after steeping, pops up now and then. And opinions are hot both for and against.

2010 Spring Handmade Imperial Shi Feng Long Jing Green Tea
– leaves that look good enough to eat

Health Concerns

One school of thought that seems quite sensible is that if you can steep the leaves and drink the liquid, then you should be safe eating the leaves. Others think that some non-water soluble elements remain in the leaves after steeping, and that these elements are not safe. No clinical studies were showed to support either side. One thing that is well-established through scientific studies is the release of healthful substances such as anti-oxidants (catechins) and theanine during steeping. If you eat the leaves before steeping, you will likely not see a benefit from these substances.

There is also the claim that the pre-steeped leaves may have various unhealthy substances on them, such as bacteria and insect droppings. However, many teas are subjected to high heat by steaming or roasting to stop oxidation, and this process would also kill off bacteria. And since a lot of the moisture is removed from the leaves, bacterial growth is also lessened.

Lots of ideas floating around out there.

Some Tea Leaves Good for Eating

Green teas seem to be the best candidates for eating both before and after steeping. The reason seems to be that virtually no oxidation has occurred. It’s like eating any other leafy green such as dandelion leaves, various lettuce varieties, etc.

Gyokuro, a Japanese tea, is very sweet, but bland and a little fishy.

Some in Taiwan deep-fry Alishan leaves:

(Photo source: screen capture from site)

Matcha is not strained by many imbibers, so the “leaves” are eaten. Yes, they’re in powder form, but they’re still leaves. This is probably the most common type of tea leaves eaten. The powder is becoming increasingly popular in recipes, too, such as chocolate truffle balls coated in matcha (an item seen posted on Facebook awhile back).

Popular uses are also rubs and marinades for meats before grilling or barbecuing. Lapsang Souchong with its strong pine smoke aroma and taste is used a lot for these. Combined with a bit of grated orange peel, it’s great on turkey and salmon. Use green tea with roasted sesame seeds for shellfish. Having duck? Try some Earl Grey with salt and pepper. Just a few ideas found online. Lots more out there. Just use the search term “cooking with tea leaves.”

What Some Tea Leaf Eaters Have Said

Some comments found online show that tea leaf eating is not all that rare.

One tea leaf eater remarked (presented word for word as it appeared): “In most people’s mind, tea just can be drank, so when they heard that tea leaves also can be ate, this is may a big surprise to them. According to Chinese people’s habit, many people usually drink tea instead of eating tea leaves. However, tea do can be used to make moon cake or dessert. Meanwhile, in Hangzhou, there is a delicious dish, which made by Longjing tea and shrimp, the tea leaves can be ate with the shrimp. In Japan, a tea named matcha, also can be ate. Some materials said that the nutrition of the tea contains two parts, soluble and insoluble components, we can completely absorb it through eating tea leaves. If we just drink tea, we can only get the soluble components that contains in the tea. On the other hand, eating tea leaves also has its disadvantage, tea maybe contain pesticide and heavy metals, these element are very harmful to human’s body health, duo to they are hardly dissolve in the water, so if we eat, more harmful ingredient will be absorbed, so when you prepared to eat tea leaves, you must be cautious.”

Another one said: “…Chai Mate makes an amazing seasoning for chicken and pork. A little garlic salt and chai on each side and bake….Yum and let’s talk about Lapsang there are so many uses for it it’s not even funny. …3 spice rubs with tea that are all excellent. …chai pu-erh…to season short ribs…”

Still another said: “Tea leaves are definitely eaten some in Yunnan province in China, and in parts of SE Asia (some of the same ethnic groups in some cases). Sometimes fresh and steamed, and also fermented in bamboo tubes (this is the type used in the Burmese style tea leaf salad, which is quite delicious). I have had the fermented tea leaf salad, though because of some scares a few years back, it’s hard to get in the US now, and so the amount of actual tea leaf in the salad is usually small. It’s an unusual taste, but I really like it.”

Let us know…

… if you eat your tea leaves, whether before or after steeping, and which type of tea you like to eat best.

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
This entry was posted in Tea Info for Newbies and Up and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can You Eat Tea Leaves?

  1. Crystal says:

    I have started snacking on my loose-leaf Chinese green tea. It started out of boredom and curiosity (as I'm trying to eat healthier) and now I like to add steeped leaves to what I'm cooking. I let mine steep for a very long time and I find it no different to any other cooked leafy green.


  2. I eat pu erh tea leaves. They are so very yummy! the only side effects I have are positive. weight loss, and a yummy snack that energizes me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s