The debate around which is better, loose leaf tea or tea bags has been raging for decades. Personally, I love to spoil myself with a nice cup of loose leaf tea after selecting the fragrance myself from a small tea emporium, however, this takes time and patients. Despite loving our tea, we don’t always have that kind of time and there are such lovely tastes and combinations available in tea bags today. It’s difficult to choose the one over the other.
Most people know that the tea bag was discovered by mistake, but I wanted to know more about the differences between these two ways of having your tea.
I turned to my trusted World Atlas of Tea by Kirsti Smit. This book has taught me so much about tea and tea brewing so I was sure it would have some information about loose leaf tea and tea bags.
History of the Tea Bag
According to the Atlas, until the 1950’s the tea bag was not generally accepted by tea drinkers outside of America because of the notion that tea drank as loose leaf tea was of a better quality.
The tea bag itself was in fact invented by mistake by Mr. Thomas Sullivan who distributed samples of his loose leaf tea in little silk bags. However, the bags, which were about the same size as the common infusers of the time, were mistaken by some to BE the infuser. Sullivan soon realised that he had invented a new way of distributing and essentially drinking tea. He modified the bag and tea bags soon became very popular in America.
Lose Leaf vs. Tea Bags
When one steeps tea (lets it brew), the leaves need space to absorb the water, expand and infuse the water with its flavour. Tea in tea bags are limited by the space in the tea bag and thus can only infuse up to a certain level.
For this reason, most teas used in tea bags are of a lower tea grade. Full leaf teas, which are generally used as loose leaf teas, are exactly what the name says, unbroken tea leaves. Most teas used in tea bags are however particles, broken or crushed smaller pieces of the tea leaves. Tea manufacturers soon realised that using full leaf teas in tea bags made for less fragrant tea, and thus the use of smaller pieces.
In some ways, the thought that tea in tea bags are of a lower quality is thus true. Some companies have started compromising for this by rather using silk bags than paper bags, such as the Tony Glass Teas and others have adopted pyramid style tea bags to allow the leaves more room to expand, such as the Lipton range.
Which is Better
You can ask every tea drinker on the planet and each will have their own opinion on which is better, loose leaf or the tea bag.
Because tea today has expanded to not only include traditional tea leaves but also fruit and flower particles, which are smaller than the leaves, tea bags are still a good choice for your tea cup.
Personally, I am a fan of both, but each in its own time. I love special loose leaf blends which I can give time to steep and sip on relaxingly. But, in the mornings when I have my tea with breakfast, I need something quick and easy to dispense, then I need my tea bag.
Loose leaf might be a better quality tea, but there is a reason why the tea bag became so popular so quickly, and that is for its convenience and also price.
It will stay a personal choice but I recommend you try both options from time to time, even if loose leaf is only for those special me-moments.