If you have ever immersed yourself into the exciting world of higher quality teas, you will surely have heard frequent recommendations to avoid tea bags in favor of loose leaf teas. This is sound advice, and there are many reasons for it.
One of the most pragmatic and somewhat obvious reasons for this is a basic quality issue. Generally, if a tea is stuffed into tea bags and sold in a grocery store for less than three dollars a box, it’s unlikely to be a good tasting or fresh tea.
With the exception of a few types of recently designed roomier and more transparent bag types, tea bags prevent seeing and smelling the quality of the tea and the tea used in mass market factory produced tea bags is the lowest quality you can find. It is often called “floor sweepings” among people for whom these cheap teas are held in contempt. Basically, if you want to be able to evaluate the quality of the leaf, you need to be able to see and smell it as well as taste what it brews into.
“The Agony of the Leaves” is the term used to indicate the unfurling of the tea leaf during steeping. This can be quite a dramatic and beautiful stage in the brewing of tea, and with some teas it is one that can be quite wonderful to watch if the tea is brewed in a glass vessel. This is an important element of the process, and one that is severely compromised if the tea is constrained in a tea bag. The tea is unable to fully expand and move in the hot water, limiting its potential for releasing flavor. One thing you never want to subject a tea leaf to is constraining its expansion during brewing.
Plus, do you really want to drink an infusion of paper, steel staple, tea and ink? I can’t cite any scientific studies showing that these non-tea elements have a significant effect on the taste of the tea, but they certainly compromise the purity of the brew. That said, there are some companies that use unbleached paper or other safer materials and do not use staples, but there are still materials mixed in with the tea that are not tea and they’re pieces of stuff that I surely don’t want it my tea cup.
While there are a few companies putting higher quality teas into tea bags that have been designed to allow for more room and enable the consumer to see the contents, it is a very good general rule to favor loose leaf teas over teas in bags. You’ll get a better product and better results and you’ll be more able to see and appreciate the brewing process itself, and I would always caution against sacrificing quality for convenience.
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