The general perception is that loose leaf tea is always better than teabags. But is that true? What’s the difference between the two in terms of quality, what are their pros and cons, and which one is actually better? For an amateur tea drinker, these questions can be confusing.
Here, we will attempt to clear some of these questions for you today and help you make a more informed decision the next time you are out buying tea.
A brief history of teabags
Did you know that teabags were invented only at the beginning of the 20th century? For thousands of years before that, tea was only available in loose-leaf, powdered, or compressed form. Then, in 1908, a tea merchant was looking for a less expensive way to package tea for his customers and began wrapping his loose leaf tea in silk pouches. However, the customers had no idea they were supposed to unwrap the bag before brewing the tea. They simply placed the pouch in hot water instead of removing the loose leaves as originally intended. This is how the tea bag was born.
In the years to follow, the popularity of teabags kept increasing, and today, teabags are a common way to brew tea all over the world. Despite the rising popularity of teabags, however, loose tea leaves continue to be the preferred choice among tea enthusiasts. So, what are the differences between the two?
The differences in terms of quality
Most tea experts believe that loose-leaf tea is usually of a higher quality. This is simply because loose-leaf tea is picked by hand. Thus, its quality is controlled. Since almost no machines are involved in the production of loose-leaf tea, it is believed to retain more antioxidants.
The teabags we buy at the grocery store, on the other hand, are usually filled with "dust and fannings" leftover from broken tea leaves. This type of tea is picked, processed, and packaged by machines. Even if the tea itself is high-quality, the standard tea bag material is often not, which prevents the brew from diffusing evenly in the cup.
Moreover, the bags usually contain non-compostable plastic that releases high amounts of microplastic and nanoplastic particles into your tea. Silken pyramid tea sachets filled with full leaf teas were introduced in recent years and have found great popularity. However, they, too, tend to be made out of plastic.
This is not to say that loose tea leaf can never be of inferior quality. Tea quality depends on numerous factors, such as the growing conditions, the tea plant, and even processing techniques.
Then again, with loose tea leaves, you can tell the quality of the tea from its appearance, namely, by looking at the color and shape of the tea leaf. That’s not possible in teabags.
Differences in terms of taste
The average tea drinker won’t find much of a difference in terms of quality between loose tea leaves and teabags, at least not from their appearance. But is there a distinct difference in taste between these two forms of tea?
Tea connoisseurs will tell you that loose leaf tea will give you a better-tasting cup. As the water flows through the loose tea leaves, it extracts their flavor and aroma properly. On the other hand, tea leaves don't have much space to expand and move inside a teabag, which limits their ability to develop their full flavor and aroma. This is why many brands try to add extra flavors to teabags to make them tastier and more attractive to consumers.
Next, tea experts also say that the smaller the leaf particle, the faster it is likely to deteriorate. Since most teabags contain small leaf particles, they lose their freshness and flavor very quickly. So, if you can’t do without teabags, make sure you store them properly - individually-wrapped packages are the safest option.
Also, you will have more control over the end flavor with loose leaf tea, as you can brew it the way you want. That option is limited to teabags. That being said, today there are many high-quality teas and herbal blends packaged in teabags, so the difference in taste is less apparent, especially for average consumers.
So which tea should I choose - loose-leaf tea or teabags?
The kind of tea you choose depends on your taste and the convenience factor. Decide the reason why you are drinking tea before choosing between loose-leaf tea and teabags.
For example, if you drink tea to enjoy its health benefits, then loose tea is a better option for you, as it has more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But if your priority is to make tea as fast as possible, then teabags are the better choice for you because you can make them quickly with just one cup and hot water. You can also carry teabags around with you when you travel.
If you are looking for the best flavor, then ultimately, the choice between loose tea and teabags will depend on your personal taste. We have already mentioned that a cup of tea brewed with loose tea leaves tends to be more flavorful. Some loose-leaf teas also contain citrus peels, dried fruit pieces, and even flowers like rosebuds and lavender for added flavor. But it’s not necessary you will enjoy that taste. A cup of herbal tea bag might be much more pleasing to your palate, after all. If you like having your tea with milk and sugar, though, then flavored loose leaf tea may be the best choice. The rich taste of flavored high-quality loose tea will be further enhanced by adding milk or sugar to it.
The Bottom Line:
Just to sum up, loose-leaf teas will provide you with more flavor, aroma, and antioxidants than the tea in teabags. Having said that, teabags have their own advantage - convenience.
All said and done, the golden rule of tea is to keep trying things and pick the tea that best suits your taste and lifestyle. So the type of tea preparation you choose boils down to your personal preferences. The great thing about tea is versatility, which makes it the favorite beverage of so many people. At the end of the day, what you enjoy the most is exactly what matters.
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