Posted by: Lauren | June 2, 2011

Tea Bags vs. Loose Tea

Somewhere in my blogging, I may have mentioned the differences between tea bags and loose tea, but I thought it was time for a refresher.

Since my discovery of the world of loose leaf tea, I have avoided drinking (most) tea bags. By most, I mean, those which are not high quality – and usually tea bags are not. By just looking at loose tea or a tea bag, it’s very easy to tell the difference (see the below pictures). One has large leaves, the other, well, it usually looks like dust. The leaves in the tea bags are actually known as dust – or fannings. Most tea bags (those you’d normally find in grocery stores) are filled with tiny leaves, whereas loose teas have whole or large leaves. Though there are still different grades of ‘fine’ tea within loose tea, on average it is okay to say that loose tea is superior to tea bags.

Tea bags constrict the steeping process. When steeping with a large infuser, you will see leaves expand – allowing room for more flavour. However, this is not possible with a tea bag. Though tea bags often give a faster brewing time, the flavour is still negatively impacted.

You’ll also steep more health benefits from the higher quality leaves find in loose leaf tea.

A fun little interesting side (though related) tea fact: Orange Pekoe – one of the most commonly bought types of tea bag – is not a type of tea. Instead, it is a grading system for black teas. Though it is often used as a description for generic black teas, it is actually meant as a basic medium grade black tea. Furthermore, the term orange itself does not refer to the colour of the tea. Instead, it is thought to be the colour of the Dutch Royal House of Orange-Nassau, since the Dutch East India Company played a large role in the tea trade. Also, though commonly pronounced as “Pee-ko”, it is in fact pronounced Peh-cko”. Next time someone offers you a cup of Orange Pekoe – make sure you tell them there is no such thing!

As per the above, Orange Pekoe is actually an inferior graded tea. As you can see, one of the most popular tea bags on the market is one of the worst quality black teas.

Though there are still many tea bags on the market that are high quality, I still recommend sticking with loose. If you are looking for tea bags though, be sure to look for ones that are unbleached, preferably in silk bags, and full leafed. Often, you’ll find these are higher priced than their loose leaf twins as you’ll be paying for the convenience factor of the bag.

Worried about the price of loose leaf tea? Don’t be. Most high quality tea bags can be re-steeped during the same day (up to 5+ times), and some actually taste better the second time around.

Choose loose leaf tea over tea bags.

Tea bags were an accidental discovery. New York importer Thomas Sullivan shipped his tea in silk bags. Instead of removing the bag, customers steeped the tea in the bags.

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