When you start shopping for loose leaf tea, the price can seem like a significant drawback. After all, why buy a messy tin of leaves at a higher cost when a simple teabag will do? But here’s what makes loose leaf tea easily worth the price.
As a general rule, loose leaf tea is more expensive because of the quality of the leaves used. Teabags are filled with mass-produced, crushed tea leaves, and more than a little flavourless dust. Loose leaf tea, on the other hand, tends to use better quality leaves and therefore tastes better.
There’s more than just the quality of leaf that contributes to the price, including how the tea is sourced and packaged. However, you might be surprised to learn that – in many cases – buying loose leaf tea can actually be more cost-effective than store-bought teabags. Read on to find out more.
Loose leaf tea uses higher quality tea leaves
There’s no question that tea is big business. According to a 2018 study by Tea USA, more than 3.8 billion gallons of tea are consumed yearly in the USA alone, with 2.9 million tons of tea being produced per annum globally. While that’s good news for tea drinkers, meaning that you can walk into almost any store and find a new tea to try, that level of production comes with drawbacks.
Due to high levels of demand and time constraints, large tea companies can’t possibly produce the best tea possible – they can only produce the most tea possible. As a result, they use crushed leaves, sometimes so crushed that they’re little more than dust, to fill their tea bags.
With loose leaves, you’re buying the raw, unprocessed ingredient. All the flavor is ready for your brew, not the factory floor.
Loose leaf tea is more often produced ethically
While it sometimes seems like products arrive on shelves and our doorsteps by magic, the reality is obviously more complicated. Tea must be grown, often in climates distant to the consumer, harvested, transported, packed, shipped, and finally sold. This is hard work; it’s sometimes dangerous, and it’s frequently underpaid. The cheap prices of household brands come at a cost, and often it’s the ethics of the operation that first get thrown overboard.
According to a study by ethicalconsumer.org, PG Tips – a hugely popular brand in the UK – scored only 1.5 out of a possible 20 when analysed for its environmental impact and treatment of its workers.
While you might pay more for loose leaf tea from a smaller company, you’ll typically find that the tea was produced more ethically and sustainably.
Loose leaf tea has more inventive flavours
Sometimes you just want a no-nonsense cuppa: a hearty Assam to wake you up in the morning or soothing chamomile before bed. That said, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried a Rhubarb & Custard-flavoured tea, or had a brew that tastes like banana bread – and that’s something you can only really get from loose leaf tea.
Blends in store-bought tea bags are designed for mass appeal and that means, frankly, they can be a little boring! Of course, the upside to mass appeal is that they can be sold for a cheaper price than their eccentric, loose leaf counterparts.
What’s more, a boom in e-commerce has led to thousands of plucky tea blenders to sell their wares online, coming up with all sorts of flavours. They might be themed on Alice in Wonderland, or nostalgic desserts, or American cities – while you’re likely to pay more for loose leaf teas from a boutique, one-person online store, you might well find a new favourite flavour combination.
The market for loose leaf tea is still growing
While tea-drinking itself is at least 2,700 years old, the market for loose leaf tea is surprisingly new. During the 20th century, the convenience afforded by mass-produced teabags was hard to deny; in the 21st century, however, a renewed focus on sustainability – and the ease with which exotic flavors and ingredients can be obtained – has led to huge interest in loose leaf teas.
In fact, according to JING Tea, 24% of British tea drinkers have increased their consumption of loose leaf tea in the last year, citing environmental issues and taste as factors for making the switch. When you consider that 61 billion teabags are used annually in the UK, that’s an enormous shift in consumer intent. Plus, with 94% of people who tried loose leaf tea stating that they’ll drink more in the future, it looks like a shift that’s here to stay.
Snowballing interest in loose leaf teas is likely to spur lower prices, increased choice, and a veritable loose leaf golden age. So, while loose leaf tea might be more expensive right now, there’s reason to think it could end up cheaper in a few years’ time… unless, of course, it’s actually been cheaper all along?
Is it cheaper to buy loose leaf tea or tea bags?
It’s reasonable to think that loose leaf tea is more expensive than tea bags. After all, buying loose leaf tea in relatively small volumes can quickly add up. But what if you bought in bulk instead?
There are reasons to think it’s cheaper to buy loose leaf tea than tea bags. While loose leaf tea typically costs more per cup, buying loose leaf tea in bulk uses far less packaging than teabags. Buying less packaging alongside your tea can make buying loose leaf tea more cost-effective overall.
That’s not even accounting for loose leaf tea’s secret weapon: reusability. Typically, loose leaf teas are of a high enough quality that you can infuse them a second time while maintaining flavor. This is in contrast to teabags, which often contain lower-quality tea that – if reused – results in a watery brew that’s not fit to drink.
Considering that much of the cost of buying teabags is spent on packaging you don’t need, and which is bad for the environment, you can certainly make the argument that buying loose leaf tea results in a higher-quality brew when measured weight-for-weight against the tea inside those pesky bags. At the end of the day, you’re buying tea – not boxes!