Knowing the origin and authenticity of a product has never been more important — certainly with tea. As coffee orders went from clarifying whether or not you wanted milk, to whether you wanted a cascara macchiato or a caramel macchiato, tea evolved beyond its breakfast tea confines.
Today, tea is a serious and varied business. Of course, it always was to those in the know, but your average customer is now savvy to the wide ranging tastes of oolong and pu-erh in a way they’ve never been. Home kitchens are now stocked with tea-making utensils. Crucially, food cupboards contain loose leaf tea.
Loose leaf tea was, of course, the original way of consuming the world’s most popular beverage but after tea leaf samples were sent in silk packets to customers in New York in 1904, bagged tea became the norm. And why wouldn’t it? It’s faster and tastes pretty good. But it’s missing the nuances of its loose form.
Below is a quick run-down on why loose leaf tea is better, and why you should try it.
What’s the difference between loose leaf and tea bags?
The most crucial difference between loose leaf tea and bagged tea is that loose leaf offers a stronger flavour as the leaves tend to be fresher and less crushed. Tea bags are a far easier option for casual drinkers whereas loose leaf tea needs such utensils as an infuser. In order to find a wider variety of loose leaf tea, you may also need to seek out a tea specialist.
Just one species of tea leaf can produce different teas if the leaves are fresh or steamed and broken so there’s a greater scope of loose leaf tea to enjoy as opposed to bagged tea, which mostly contains broken and powdered tea leaves.
Why do they do this? Because your average tea bag can only hold so much, producers have to whittle their tea down to dust so that a small amount of tea can create a strong flavour. Though in the process, most of the specifics and nuances of the profile are destroyed.
Another difference between the two are caffeine content. Bagged tea releases more caffeine than loose leaf, so choosing the latter can help your health in the long run. Loose leaf tea can be steeped more than once, meaning it’s possible to make six or seven cups from the same leaves.
Does loose leaf taste better than bagged tea?
Bagged tea has been ground down to a powered state so it can fit more tea per bag. While this may seem like a wise choice, it actually has a negative effect on the taste by ridding your brew of all the nuances. For a more legitimate experience in terms of taste and aroma, choose loose leaf tea whenever you can.
“Tea bags have a consistent but one-dimensional taste (bold and astringent) and limited flavour expression,” Suk-Yi, founder of Caffeine Trifecta, an online retailer specialising in tea and coffee, says. “Due to the undiscerning power of machine harvesting, bagged teas may include stems and seeds that can make the tea bitter.”
Is loose tea better for you than bagged tea?
The chemicals responsible for the health benefits of green tea in particular, catechins, have the highest concentration in fresh leaves. Tea also boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are known to improve your overall wellbeing, so get more bang for your buck by opting for loose leaf!
“Once exposed to the ambient environment, catechins degrade rapidly,” Suk-Yi says. “The highly processed nature of ‘dust and fannings’ in tea bags degrade faster due to the higher surface area for exposure. It’s best to drink green tea as fresh as possible, as loose leaf tea, to enjoy the potential health benefits of these phytochemicals.”
What are the best loose leaf tea brands?
Everyone has different reasons for choosing the type of tea or band that they do. This could be to do with healing properties, culture or just for the sheer taste. Twinings is one the most well known and beloved brands. Their loose leaf offerings boast the likes of chamomile and Darjeeling , along with newer, zestier additions like exotic mango and ginger.
Stash Tea, with their whopping 72 different loose leaf options, is another great shout. Founded in 1972 by Steve Lee, Dave Leger, and Steven Smith, the Portland-based company produces tea with a modern twist. They exclusively sell their product in compostable packaging and non-GMO ingredients. Some of there more exciting options are dragon’s pearl and the Portland blend.
Atlas Tea Club was founded in 2020 but they’ve made a big impact on the tea scene. Functioning like a club or an app, when you sign up for Atlas you’ll choose your preferences for the types of tea you like. You will then be sent a box of single-origin, high quality teas every month along with steeping recommendations, flavour notes and a postcard from the country your box is based upon. A monthly subscription costs $14.
And then there’s Verdant Tea. Founded in 2011 after David and Lily Duckler Weiwei Ren and Wang Humin on a trip to learn about tea folklore, these options are truly rare and vivid teas you won’t be able to grab on your local supermarket shelf. These wide ranging leaves are sustainably and responsibly sourced so you can drink and sleep well! Their online store has everything you could want from a modern, sleek tea retailer. Though they might set you back a bit. One bestseller, the Introduction to Craft Black Tea comes in at $44. Still, you get five 25g bags for your troubles.
How do you make loose leaf tea?
Correctly measure your loose leaf tea and water by starting with 5g of tea, or 2 teaspoons, for every 400ml of boiling water. Black tea requires 100 degree water to brew properly, while green teas require 85 degree water. To be on the safe side, you could pour a quarter cold water first before the boiling water.
Brewing time for black teas is between 3 to 5 minutes and 3 to 4 for green teas. Like normal teabags, do not fuss about with the brewing process. Don’t feel tempted to stir or squeeze anything. Be patient and the results will show. After that, it’s up to you what you do and whether you wish to add anything!
Is loose leaf tea better for the environment?
Teabags may look harmless and biodegradable but that isn’t quite the case. A 2019 study into bagged tea at McGill University in Montreal found that a single tea bag can release over 3 billion nanoplastic particles and 11 billion microplastic particles into your cup during a steep. Put simply, those are plastics that cannot be seen with the human eye.
Even though tea bags are made to look like paper, many companies use plastic in other ways. For example, the crimped edges used on pressed paper tea bags are sealed with a plastic melt, and that accounts for 20–30% plastic. Silky tea bags are made from plastic, too, while we’re on it, and while the string on bagged tea is secured by a staple, they usually have plastic fibres added for extra strength, as well as glues.
The microplastics inherent to tea bags may seem like a drop in the ocean but it’s actually more like twenty-five Eiffel towers. The ocean is now teeming with over 5.25 trillion macro and microplastics, weighing around 270,000 tons. And this is only going to grow. Tea is, after all, the most popular beverage in the world.
Yes, loose leaf tea comes in packaging, but not nearly as much as bagged tea, which can often feel like a game of pass the parcel. First the tea is placed in a tea bag, then placed in a second wrapper for freshness, then placed in a cardboard box. If that wasn’t enough, that cardboard box is then wrapped in cellophane. This makes the carbon footprint of tea bags 10 times higher than loose leaf tea.