When entering the world of tea, the first thing you will come across is the age-long question; which is better, bagged or loose-leaf tea? The majority of tea-lovers usually choose one over the other, but for a regular consumer, this choice doesn’t make much sense. Bagged tea is readily available, more convenient to prepare, store, and it is usually very cheap. Loose-leaf, on the other hand, can be quite intimidating. In order to prepare it, you will usually need a whole lot of tools, time to assemble and clean everything, and also, you will have to pay more. So, why is it that we are still debating this topic; of course, bagged tea is the right choice. But, is it really?
In the following paragraphs, we are going to look at these two forms of tea. Because there is a lot to talk about, we will focus on the broad generalizations and other factors that make the primary difference between these two tea forms. This wonderful, globally enjoyed beverage will undergo a close inspection, and we will finally see which is better; tea bags or tea leaves?
Let’s start with the most obvious difference; the quality of the tea. The quality is definitely one of the most important factors when it comes to making the right choice. The leaves you choose have undergone a certain process in order to get into your cup. Other things that always need to be considered are as following; where does the tea come from, how was it processed, how old is it, it is a blend and what is the brand?
When it comes to loose-leaf, you always know that you’re in for a good treat. This form is obviously higher in quality for numerous reasons; it contains full leaves, that have undergone minimal processing (they are usually dried, rolled, sometimes cut into pieces for more convenient delivery). Because you’re dealing with loose leaves, your tea will also have a rounded, full-bodied flavor. The leaves are also free to expand and unfold during steeping, so you will also get more of the tea’s natural oils, as well as antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, but more on that later.
Now, when it comes to tea bags, obviously, they are made of lesser grade tea. It is a not so well-kept secret that tea bags are made in either one of these ways; sometimes the machines pluck and process the leaves, which is in itself not an accurate process. A machine doesn’t know which leaves and buds to pick, hence the poor quality of the end result. And then, there’s this; the majority of companies tend to scoop out the loose-leaf leftovers to make bagged tea. The dust from the loose leaves is collected, put together, usually additionally flavored, and there you have it. That might be one of the main reasons why these bags are a cheaper choice. Not to mention that the tea in the bags is completely constrained, is steeps right away and usually has a more bitter taste.
Comparison and Importance of Quality
|Tea Grade||Brewing Time||Flavor||Shelf-life||Price|
|Loose-leaf tea||Usually high-grade||Usually between 3 to 8 minutes||Rounded, full-bodied, smooth||When appropriately stored, 12 to 24 months||Usually more expensive|
|Bagged tea||Usually lesser grade||Short, less than 3 minutes||Bitter, requires sugar or milk||Usually 6 to 12 months||Usually cheaper, commercial price|
As presented in the table, we can conclude that the quality is definitely important when choosing your tea. For example, loose-leaf is pricier, but it has almost twice as long shelf-life and is, of course, high grade. On the other hand, with bagged tea, you will get a lesser grade of brew, more bitter flavor as well as shorter shelf-life. In the long run, loose leaf tea simply pays out. Not to mention that the importance of quality also refers to the very compounds in the tea, as well as its health benefits, or even health risks.
Health Benefits and Risks
Now, the chemical composition of bagged and loose-leaf tea is basically the same. However, the type of processing of the tea usually strips is of its health benefits, especially in the case of bags. Studies have shown that loose-leaf tea is undeniably more successful in its release of antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds when compared to bagged tea. And this is just one of the arguments; let’s look at some more;
Loose-leaf tea comes to you as it is; dried, rolled up, twisted or rolled into little balls; either way, the leaves are untouched. On the other hand, the tea in bags is simply dust and loose-leaf leftovers, which are usually broken. Now, when the leaves are broken, they lose their natural oils, which usually make the beverage tastier and healthier. And, during the brew, not only is it harder for the tea to steep in the bags, but it also becomes more astringent. The reason for bitterness simply lies in the fact that broken tea releases more tannins.
The material of the bag
Chances are you’ve never even questioned the bags in regards to their materials and safety. That is ok, as people rarely contemplate such things; of course, tea bags are safe, otherwise, they wouldn’t be sold. Well, we have bad news for you, unfortunately. These bags are actually made from food grade nylon or viscose rayon, which are basically plastic. Therefore, when you pour hot water over the bags, they usually release certain toxins into your beverage. If you think that paper bags are safer, well, they aren’t really a better alternative. They are usually covered with compounds which helps the bag stay whole, without breaking. These compounds are usually carcinogenic.
Toxic element contamination
One study has performed a toxic element test on 30 different teas (in bags). The results showed that 73% of the teas contained lead, and when they were brewed more than 3 minutes, these numbers increased to 83%. In 20% of the tested teas, there were worrying levels of aluminum. The study has shown that toxic element contamination in bagged teas is very much possible, and can pose a health risk for regular consumers. Some samples were even considered completely unsafe for consumption. Therefore, it is advised to use naturally-occurring products, like loose-leaves.
General health benefits
Generally, loose-leaf tea is considered healthier for the following reasons; the leaves and buds, when steeped, release compounds that are of great medicinal value. Alongside the antioxidants and natural oils, loose-leaves release enzymes, vitamins, and minerals which are effective in lowering the risks of cardiovascular diseases, preventing the development of cancer, encouraging weight loss and much more. Bagged tea, however, because of its constraints and lack of actual leaves doesn’t have the same properties.
The Ritual of Tea Making
Now we come to the part where things can get tricky. A regular consumer wants its tea ready quickly. People nowadays don’t really have the time to prepare their teas for 20 or 30 minutes, and that is understandable. Our days can get pretty hectic. But, because of the daily stress, we should be actually taking some time to relax and do something that will bring us peace and harmony.
The ritual of making loose-leaves might be the answer to the modern way of stress-induced living. Sure, to prepare loose-leaf tea can be intimidating, especially for beginners. You need special tools, like infusers and strainers, or kettles, special cups, measurements spoons, etc. However, that perfect cup of this incredible beverage is definitely worthy of your hard work. Consider investing in some high-quality teaware that will last you a lifetime. Visit shops or online stores and choose some loose-leaf tea you would like to try. Take baby steps and you will quickly realize that bagged tea is nowhere close to its bagged form.
What else to consider?
In the debate of whether bagged or loose-leaf tea is better, it is important to consider some other things;
- It is possible to find high-quality bagged tea. If loose-leaf is not your thing, make sure to check brands like Harney & Sons; they use the same content for their bagged and loose-leaf packages. The flavor, aroma, and taste are the same, and the prices come close as well.
- If you still want to purchase tea in bags, make sure to at least pay attention to the shape of the bags. For example, if a bag is larger, and has a triangular or pyramid shape, chances are the tea will be better in flavor and quality. Since tea needs more room to infuse and expand, these bags will allow the tea to do just that.
- Just as there are high quality bagged teas, there are also low-quality loose-leaf teas. This isn’t a regular thing, but still, pay attention to the shops and brands you order from. Best loose-leaves usually come from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and other countries that have certified and globally renown tea manufacturing standards.
Loose-leaf teas are in general high in quality and have a superior taste and aroma. They are also healthier and the preparation ritual is very calming and relaxing. However, this doesn’t mean you should give up tea bags; it just means you should buy premium ones instead of the cheap, supermarket ones. It is important to learn about tea and to learn how to enjoy it. So, make sure to educate yourself about different types, variations and preparation methods. This way, you will get the best from tea, not only quality-wise but also health-wise.