Loose Tea Leaves vs Tea Bags

Why are tea purists, especially Chinese tea purist not drinking from tea bags, steadfastly insisting on the oft more expensive, and troublesome loose tea leaves.

After all, for sheer convenience, nothing comes close to the humble tea bag.

1) Put the tea bag in a mug

2) Add boiling water

3) Drink

4) Dump the used tea bag

That would be the greatest invention since toasted bread, if not for the fact that tea brewed from tea bags taste horrible.

If you disagree, I can only conclude that you have not tasted tea brewed with loose tea.

There are a variety of reasons why tea bags is vastly inferior to loose tea leaves:

1)  Lower Grade Tea Leaves are Used in Tea Bags

Sounds like I’m making a general statement? In fact I’m being kind by using a relative expression. I should say that low grade tea leaves are used in tea bags.

Most tea leaves packed in tea bags, particularly for black tea are what is known as ‘dust’. Not literally, the ashes to ashes variety but tea dust- residues from the higher grade tea leaves.

From the image you can see that they are mere particles, where as tea leaves release flavor when the tea leaves unfurl and expand. Which brings us to the next point:

2) Tea Bags Don’t Allow The Tea Leaves To Expand Fully

For oolong tea and green teas especially, the brewed tea leaves unfurl and expand to many times their original size. By doing so, the full flavor of the tea leaves are infused in the water.

Small infuser balls and cups have been frowned upon by tea lovers because they constrict the expansion of tea leaves. What more a smaller receptacle like a tea bag.

3) Tea Bags Add Additional Packaging Costs

Intuitively you would think this is not your concern, unless your surname is Twinings or Lipton.

However given that tea bags are generally cheaper than tea leaves, it stands to reason the disparity in cost and naturally quality of core materials (i.e. tea leaves) would even be more marked.

4) Tea Bags Encourage Over-Steeping of Tea Leaves

Not that it does so directly but where else are you going to put the tea bag? On the table and risk your hosts wrath?

Over-steeped tea leaves then taste bitter (hence the common perception) and a lot of the health benefits are gone.

5) Tea Bags Detract From The Chinese Tea Experience

The experience of drinking Chinese Tea expands beyond merely consuming it. However, that warrants an entire post of its own.

Without doing it justice, summarily I will say tea bags don’t allow you to enjoy

i) The joy of observing the unfurling of tea leaves

ii) Inhaling the satisfying aroma of freshly brewed tea

iii) The satisfaction of brewing it right

iv) The act of servitude towards your guest

To put it simply, tea bags are merely functional. If you are withholding affection for Chinese Tea because your past experience with tea bags don’t exactly woo you, its time to give this relationship another shot.

Insist on brewing Chinese Tea with loose tea leaves, not tea bags.


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