Tea, the beloved beverage of the world was enjoyed primarily as loose leaf by the tea drinking population since time immemorial. However, in recent times, tea bags have paved their own way to the aisles of stores and people love them! Thence, started the great debate of loose-leaf vs tea bags.
Loose leaf tea as the name suggests are made from whole or broken tea leaves. Tea bags are porous bags that contain tea powder, dust or tea leaves which unfurl when steeped in water to make an infusion.
Is loose leaf considered better than tea bags?
Orthodox tea is graded depending on various factors such as leaf size and type of leaf. Leaf size affects quality of tea but, by itself, is not an assurance for quality. Grading of tea varies from country to country. The highest grade of tea is that which contains a greater number of buds. Whole leaf teas especially black are designated as OP (Orange Pekoe) or FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe). It refers to the number of buds and size of leaf. Pekoe refers to tea leaves plucked with a bud and 2 leaves. If there are no buds then it is called as Orange Pekoe. Flowery Orange Pekoe has longer leaves than Orange Pekoe and has some buds.
To understand this, one needs to know about the different grades of orthodox teas which are broadly as under:
1 Whole Leaf: This is considered as the highest grade of tea. These are whole tea leaves that are unbroken, thus prized above all. They are of highest quality, have a strong aroma and flavour profile, typically made from the best produce. Whole leaf teas can be steeped multiple times and it can retain the infusion strength better than other types of tea.
2 Broken Leaf: These tea leaves are of the darker shade and are broken because of crushing. It is a flavourful variety of tea which can also be steeped multiple times.
3 Fannings: Fannings are the remains of the whole or broken tea leaves which are collected post the crushing process. They are considered to be subpar to loose leaf teas and can be steeped only once.
4 Dust: The powdery remains of tea leaves after crushing process is referred to as tea dust. It is the lowest grade of all tea varieties. Tea bags are often filled with tea dust.
From these different grades of tea, we understand that whole and broken loose leaves are considered superior while tea bags are most often filled with fanning or dust. This might have been true in the early days of manufacturing tea bags. This does not however hold true today when Tea bags are also made with superior quality tea. This said there are a lot of differences between loose leaf teas and tea bags.
The big differences
Loose leaf teas can brew up a stronger flavour than tea bags because they go through the full process of unfurling in boiling water. There is enough room for the leaves to release the flavour. In tea bags however, the leaves have to work within the space of the bag to release flavour. This however has been addressed by pyramid tea bags which are way roomier than regular tea bags.
2 Ease of usage
Tea bags are easier to brew up on everyday basis as all it requires is steeping them in a hot cup of water and your tea is ready in a jiffy. Loose leaf tea has to be made traditionally in a kettle or vessel and takes some time. Tea lovers however enjoy the brewing process and find it to be therapeutic.
Tea bags can hold only a prescribed weight of tea; hence tea makers have to refine tea so that maximum amount of flavour can be released by a small quantity of tea. In this process, the infusion ability becomes limited.
Tea bags can be re-steeped only a couple of times, loose leaf teas can be brewed multiple times.
How different is the taste between both tea types?
Tea experts claim that loose leaf packs more flavour as tea bags limit the infusion ability. The average tea drinker might not notice the difference of taste. An avid tea drinker might however might prefer the better tasting one. If you are one such person with a refined palate, you could opt for pyramid teas that are roomy and hence brew a better brew. In any case, you must always go for a high-quality tea variety be it loose leaf or tea bag. That makes a world of difference.
Does it make a big difference cost wise?
A big misconception among tea drinkers is that tea bags cost less than loose leaf tea. A pack of 20 teabags may cost less than 30 gms of loose-leaf tea, however, most tea bags cannot be steeped multiple times. Loose leaf can be steeped a couple of times.
Benefits of Loose-leaf tea:
Loose leaf teas have the most authentic and premium quality taste and flavour
Loose leaf teas reduce the amount of packaging material hence more eco-friendly
Whole leaves allow better extraction of vitamins and minerals which in turn makes it a healthier brew
Whole leaves can be steeped a minimum of two times hence more value for money
Loose teas are made from fresh young leaves which makes it superior quality
Benefits of Tea Bags:
Teabags are easy to brew tea with and take just a few minutes for steeping
Teabags are travel friendly
Teabags that are premium is quality are packaged in eco-friendly material
New tea drinkers who don’t know how to brew tea might benefit from teabags
So, what is the final verdict?
Much has been said about loose leaf and tea bags. So, you might ask, “Just let us know which one is the best?”. Well, we leave that choice to you, go with the one that satisfies your palate and your schedule, or simply, stock both and use it based on your convenience. We for one love both the types of tea and can strongly say that both have their own special place. Tea is that versatile. So, enjoy the one that you like better!
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