Tea Bags vs Loose Leaf Tea – Why Does It Matter?

By Kenny Lee | Herbal Tea

Jun 14

The argument of whether the convenience of tea bags triumph the superiority in the taste of loose leaf is likely to see a heated debate between experts. I have no intention in getting caught in such heated argument but as someone who’s fond of taking herbal tea, I feel it’s fair to share my thoughts on both options.

Personally, there was no specific preference of one over the other. While I appreciate a cup of tea brewed from fresh tea leaves, I have no problem drinking those that are steeped from tea bags. Is one really superior against the other?

Let’s get some facts straight.

Is Loose Leaf Tea Superior In Quality Than Tea Bags?

Tea Bags vs Loose Leaf Tea

Tea enthusiasts will argue that tea brewed from loose leaf has unrivaled aroma when compared to tea bags. In a sense, they are right. Loose leaf tea is made from whole leaves from the tea plant. As such, the tea leaves retain a high portion of essential oil, which is the cause of a stronger aroma and taste.

Tea bags are filled with dust and fannings, or in other terms, broken tea leaves which are usually considered lower grade. These fine pieces of broken tea leaves lose a great amount of essential oil and that explains the disparity in taste when compared to loose leaf.

Based on this reasoning, you can also expect tea steeped from the loose leaf is stronger in terms of health benefits than their tea bags counterpart. Of course, such generalization may not be true for all types of tea as some are naturally broken into small pieces when processed.

Also, you may have known that some tea is particularly high in L-Theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation. According to Emma Becket, a Senior Lecturer in Food Science & Human Nutrition, University of Newcastle, stems contain higher concentration L-Theanine than leaves, and therefore brewing from teabags may be more beneficial in certain cases.

Tea Bags May Increase Bitterness In Tea

Most types of tea contain tannin, a type of natural compound usually found in plants. Tannin is responsible for the bitter taste when your tea is brewed longer than it should be. The fine tea dust in tea bags release tannin faster than whole tea leaves, and that explains why tea made from teabags are relatively more bitter.

Of course, if you’re used to adding sweetener or milk in the tea, the fact that you have an overwhelming tannin in your cup of tea doesn’t matter. But for those who appreciate the art of tea drinking, the extreme bitterness ruined the enjoyment of drinking tea.

Besides tannin, tea bags may constrain the space for the broken tea leaves to spread out evenly. This may affect the flavor, or rather the lack of when you’re having a cup of tea steeped from a tea bag.

Environmentalists Naturally Opt For Loose Leaf

This may come as a shock but most tea bags in the market contain plastic. The plastic is used to seal the tea bag and prevent it from falling apart. For environmentalists, tea bags are a disaster for the planet.

Such an argument is valid, as the plastic in the teabag doesn’t decompose and eventually aggravate the pollution on our mother earth. The good news is, some major brands are opting for fully recyclable tea bags that cause no harm to the environment.

For example, Twinnings is using tea bags made of natural fibers and do not contain any traces of plastic.

Also, conventional teabags may be harmful to health if they are bleached with chlorine. Chlorine-bleached tea bags contain harmful chemicals that are linked to cancer.

Freshness: Loose Leaf Vs. Tea Bags

Loose leaf offers a perception of freshness while tea bags are often dismissed for the opposite reason. But how much of this is true?

Tea bags are processed and packed in bulk in the manufacturing facilities. Some tea bags are individually sealed to retain its freshness. However, others that are not sealed may have their freshness compromised.

But the issue with freshness is obvious when tea bags are stored in a warehouse or on the shelf for a while before they are being shipped.

Tea Bags Win Convenience Battle Hands Down

Tea Bags vs Loose Leaf Tea

The modern hectic lifestyle can take the fun out of the art of tea making. When you barely have 5 minutes to spare, brewing tea from loose leaves can be a daunting process. Also, you’ll still need to clean up the infuser after having your cup of tea.

There are moments when a cup of tea made from teabags is preferable for me. It takes less than a minute to pour hot water onto the tea bag. And when I’m done drinking, there are no messy leaves to clean up.

With that said, I’ll definitely go for loose leaf if I’m on a break and have all the time to spare. The process of tea brewing itself can be relaxing especially when you’re having a day off.

The Best Of Both World

It seems the debate between tea lovers and those prioritizing convenience has drawn the attention of tea brands. To deliver both convenience and freshness, some brands have been introducing whole leaf tea bags.

With such innovation, you’ll get the full depth of aroma from the tea leaves without the fuss of cleaning up after. For example, Mighty Leaf uses whole leaf tea bags for its tea products.

Ultimately, it isn’t fair to stress that loose tea leaf is better than tea bags and vice versa. It depends on individual preference. As for me, I’ll go for both rather than arguing over my cup of tea.

Do you prefer tea leaf over tea bag? Share your thoughts in the comment below.

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About the Author

I am an engineer-turned-writer who once struggle with social anxiety. After overcoming problems inflicted by low self-esteem and the fear of interaction, I realize the need for taking a holistic approach in developing our mind. I'm sharing my experience, remedies, and techniques that interest me in my quest to be a better self.

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