There is something of an ongoing debate in the tea world over Loose Tea vs. Bagged Tea (see what I did there with the title?). While a good portion of tea aficionados will rage against the concept of the tea bag (I’ve even seen tea bags burned in a video on “how to make tea”), I think it’s important to note that not all tea bags are bad!
Before I proceed, I’ll state something that I will probably repeat frequently on this blog – the only way to tell if a tea is “good” or not is to taste it. If you like it, then it must be good!
This holds true for any tea you may drink! Needless to say, just because a tea tastes good doesn’t necessarily mean it’s of high quality. I find the same to be true of beer and wine. For example, I know people who legitimately enjoy the taste of Coors Light (eugh!). Just because they like the taste of it does not suddenly make it a quality craft beer. Also, I have a penchant for cheap wines from Trader Joe’s. While their cheap wine is better than other cheap wine, well… it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cheap wine! So keep that in mind when you are enjoying that cup of tea brewed from a teabag.
Despite the fact that I’ve been talking up tea bags just now, there are some drawbacks to the concept. Tea has a lot of great health properties, not least of which being a host of antioxidants and, in particular, the amino acid theanine. Theanine helps reduce stress and allows your body to use the caffeine in tea in a more sure-footed manner (slow and steady, without the customary crash after a cup of coffee or an energy drink). When you drink a loose leaf tea, you’re able to get all of these benefits in full force, especially when you brew the tea in a space large enough for the leaves to fully expand in the water.
Tea bags, on the other hand, restrict the flow of water to a certain degree. Not all of the antioxidants and other nutrients present in the tea can pass through some of the heavier paper bags and, in some cases, the leaves in the bag just don’t have enough space to expand, further limiting the benefits. This also means you don’t even have a chance to get the full flavor the tea could have to offer.
Plus, and here’s the real kicker with most tea bags, the vast majority of the tea bags you will find are filled with just the dust and fannings (basically when you take a barrel filled with tea leaves, take out all the full leaves, and then just use all the detritus left at the bottom). To be fair, they are not purely made of this, but it’s definitely part of what they use to fill many tea bags. Not the most pleasant part of the leaf.
There has been a relatively recent movement of full leaf teas inside a silk pyramid bag. This negates basically all of the issues with tea bags while adding the convenience of not having to measure your tea, use an infuser, or any of that. Adagio Teas and Two Leaves and a Bud are two of the main tea companies that come to my mind when thinking of these nice pyramid bags.
However, part of the magic of a good cup of tea brewed from loose leaf is the process of making it and enjoying the benefits. The tea has naturally calming attributes, but the act of brewing in a nice teapot, a gaiwan, or even a french press can achieve many of the same results.
Personally, I find that taking the time to thoughtfully measure my tea, heat my water, and brew the liquor allows me to separate my mind from whatever pressures it may be under outside of this tea brewing experience. And when it’s time to drink the tea, I like to focus on the flavor and the heat of it suffusing throughout my body. It’s an extremely pleasant way to collect myself and enjoy a few moments mentally apart from the rest of the world.
All in all, I guess I really do prefer my tea loose (allow me to interject now that loose women are not to my personal taste). But when I am down to the wire, travelling, or simply a bit limited in space or time, a tea bag will set me up nicely!
All photos by Briana Morrison