Thursday, March 14, 2013

Loose Leaf Tea vs. Tea Bags

Some of the strongest resistance I've encountered from people trying loose leaf teas surprisingly doesn't come from avid coffee drinkers (they know the value of quality), but instead comes from people who drink tea... ~gets on my high horse~ or should I say: drink tea made from tea bags.

Now I'm not saying that tea bags don't have their uses, they have lots of practical applications:
  •  Get rid of eye dark circles
  • Used to dye paper and make it look really old
  •  Twirling it around your head and competing who can throw it the furthest
  •  Tea bag nunchucks
  • Quick steep on the go

 I digress, I won't get into bashing tea bag drinkers (heck, I do it too once in a while), but instead will present the facts plain and simple and let you decide.

Loose Leaf Vs. Tea Bags

Round 1: Steeping

Multiple steeps (value): Consumers now a days are quite concerned with getting the most for their penny and saving where it counts. With the higher price tag on loose leaf teas, one would be inclined to save a bit and pick up bagged tea but in fact, I would like to propose that you would be loosing money!
Tea bags do not provide great multiple steepings and are at most a 2-3 time use (3 is pushing it  but I guess it depends how strong/weak you like your tea). On the flip side: some loose leaf teas can be steeped up to 6 or 7 times and, if you're really in it for value, the leaves can even be munched on after! Talk about value.

Steep Control: A selling point for many products is presenting personal choice and having it "your way". Tea is no exception to this rule and loose leaf tea offers a great amount of customization in your cup. Being able to control the amount of leaves in your cup lets you control the flavour and intricate aromas. While you could argue against this and say that you have just as much control over aroma and flavour by playing with steeping time, I would have to disagree. Increasing steeping time increases the risks of releasing the bitter undertones, while keeping the steeping time the constant and increasing the quantity of leaves will simply increase the concentration of flavour without risks of ruining the brew.

~ding ding ding~ Round 1 goes to Loose Leaf

Round 2: Qualitea (sorry, I had to)

Knowing what you're getting: While the ingredient list on the box of bags can provide some insight to what is contained in them, ultimately knowing what's inside a tea bag relies heavily on faith. Tea bags contain a blend of leaves (and anything that might be included) and even if you open the bag and look inside, you won't be able to ascertain much more. Sadly aside from leaves, tea bags also contain a high proportion of stems (which do not contribute greatly to the taste) and I would dare say any unlucky little bug that made it's way through the cleaning process (don't spit out your tea, I'm sure it's very very minimal).
Loose leaf, on the other hand, is fully transparent and exposed. You can smell and see the tea before committing to a cup. There is no hiding any stems or extras as it would be revealed upon initial inspection, steeping, or the after drink scrutiny. Before steeping, you can examine the leaves and determine the general quality off the bat (future post!). Once finished, you can examine the unfurled leaves for markings, rips, and consistency. You know what you are getting, and more importantly, what you're drinking.

Closer to nature: Loose leaf teas are more natural and truly offer what I like to refer to as "The leaf, water, and you" experience. A quality loose leaf tea will have no added essential oils (you can determine this by looking for little oil pools floating on top) and will be prepared straight from the tea bush to your cup (some new tea chains popping up add essential oils to their leaves. watch out!). Tea bags are more synthetic and go through a longer process between being picked and being steeped. Being chopped up into little pieces exposed the leaves to oxidation and alters their original intended flavours.

~ DING~ Round 2: Loose Leaf

Round 3: Elitism

A Cooler Collection: I've never seen someone be proud of their tea bag collection...just saying.


~Dismounts high horse~

 Don't get me wrong, bagged tea can be quite good and practical when in a bind. It is easier to grab on the way out the door in the morning, and less of a hassle to deal with (though you can always bag your own tea). Some of the 'classier' brands offer quite passable and pleasant tea experiences, but I still prefer a loose leaf to a bag any day. If you haven't already tried loose leaf, send me an email to and I'll be more than happy to send a little sample your way along with a little how-to guide.

Any thoughts?

(also...I've never heard of loose-leafing someone!)

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