We all know that the mighty loose-leaf tea is meant to be ‘better’ than a teabag that has been twirled around in a mug for a few minutes. However, few of us know why. Is it really true that loose leaf tea is better than teabags? After all, a bag in a mug is definitely the quick and easy option and it’s never failed us before! And if the loose-leaf tea does make a better cuppa, why don’t more of us drink it?
Back in 1968, less than 5% of British households used teabags. The teabag was invented by New York merchant, Thomas Sullivan, some years previously. On the other hand, loose leaf tea has been around for thousands of years and it is an important part of world history.
In our latest post, you can learn about the differences between tea bags and loose-leaf tea and decide what works best for you.
Loose leaf tea
It may be obvious to us but loose-leaf tea is essentially tea that is not brewed in a teabag. The whole unbroken buds and leaves are steeped in boiling water in a teapot. This is the traditional way of making tea, made fashionable by Catherine of Braganza over four hundred years ago.
Inside the teapot, loose leaf tea absorbs water and expands as the leaves infuse. The boiling water flows freely through the whole leaves, releasing a plethora of vitamins and minerals, as well as the all-important flavour and aroma.
Loose leaf tea can also be infused several times and still release deliciously delicate flavours so if you are looking for more quality but with less cost, then loose-leaf is actually the ideal choice – though many people think teabags are cheaper! In China, the second or third brew of loose leaf tea is considered to make the best cuppa.
The flavour profile of loose leaf tea varies year on year and can subtly change throughout the seasons. Speciality loose leaf teas often come from specific regions or estates, where processing methods differ, producing distinct flavours and aromas. Conversely, tea bags are produced to maintain a standardised flavour but people know what to expect – so it’s all about your own preferences!
Loose leaf tea requires significantly less processing and energy to prepare compared to tea bags and as such, it is also more environmentally friendly. One study found that loose leaf tea has one tenth the carbon footprint of teabags. There is also the packaging to consider. Loose leaf tea doesn’t need the nylon, or the paper bag, or the string, or the box, or the plastic wrapper …
In terms of health benefits, loose leaf tea is packed with antioxidants, which can help with our immune systems, hearts, eyes, memory and mood. It also has a number of other benefits, from decreasing blood pressure to reducing the risk of cancer.
Arguably, loose leaf tea gives tea drinkers greater pleasure than the standard tea bag. The 100% natural ingredients cause an explosion of flavour and generally, loose leaf tea is fresher than the tea bags which have been in transit for months.
Teabags are known for being quick and convenient but they are made from dust and fannings, which is the lowest grade of tea. Dust and fannings are smaller in size than loose-leaf tea leaves and as such, have a larger surface area. The larger surface area means essential oils evaporate quickly, usually leaving teabags with a one note flavour.
Teabags have become increasingly popular in the UK since the 1970s. It quickly became clear that the majority of consumers were more concerned with convenience than the quality of the loose-leaf tea they were drinking. As such, tea manufacturers turned to the crush-tear-curl method of production, also known as CTC, to keep up with the prevailing tea bag demand.
In CTC, whole tea leaves are crushed, torn and curled into small brown bits to fill tea bags. This is usually done with larger and more mature tea leaves. However, the resulting teabags are still good enough for your average “milk and sugar” tea drinker.
When steeping tea in a teabag, its infusion is limited by the size of the tea bag. Tea bags can restrict the tea leaves and prevent them from expanding fully, which means the tea cannot release its full flavour and aroma. This can leave the tea tasting or smelling dull and stale (and none of us wants that!)
However, in recent years, tea merchants have adapted teabags to the tea and we have seen higher grades of tea making their way onto the market in plus-size tea bags, called tea pouches, tea socks and pyramid bags. These new teabags give the tea more room to expand, resulting in a more full-bodied flavour.
Nevertheless, tea bags release all of their flavour after a single infusion and cannot be reused. Often, they are often bleached for aesthetic purposes which has a negative impact on the environment.
Benefits of loose leaf tea
- Better aroma and flavour
- Greater variety
- Health benefits
- Fresher and better quality
- Environmentally friendly
Benefits of teabags
- Simple, quick and convenient
- No mess
- Less equipment needed