The act of drinking tea has often been viewed as elegant, sophisticated, meditative and tranquil. Little does the average person know that in the world of tea fans, a brutal battle has been waged for decades. Friends become enemies, and the competition can be ruthless. Today, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of this epic struggle.
Throughout North America and Europe, the average person will tell you that tea bags are the best thing to happen to tea. Clean and convenient, a tea bag will give you a reliable tea flavor each time without the mess of measuring and dumping out the tea laves like “ye olden dayse”.
Not so fast, say the tea afficianados. What many call convenient, they call the murder of a proper cup of tea. Since tea bags need to be produced quickly and cheaply, the quality of the tea itself can suffer, creating a weaker tea overall. The only true way to enjoy tea, they claim, is through the tried-and-true method of loose-leaf tea.
Both sides have merit to their argument, but the issue may not be quite as black and white as they present it. We’ll take a closer look at the pros and cons of each method to find out if there truly is a clear winner.
Arguably the most important point, the quality of the leaf will set the foundation for your entire experience. It’s also the big sticking point for most loose-leaf proponents. So, how do the methods compare?
Since the tea leaves have to be packed into a small space, the leaves are cut or shredded to fit in the bag. These are typically small, broken-leaf particles known as “fannings”, and some use even smaller particles known as “dust”. While they don’t need room to expand like whole leaf, fannings and dust usually can’t impart as strong and complex a flavor as a whole tea leaf could.
The biggest advantage to loose-leaf is that the leaf doesn’t need to be cut before it is steeped. Whether folded, twisted or curled, once steeped, the leaf unfurls and provides a strong, powerful flavor. Most loose-leaf purists claim that this means a loose-leaf tea will always have a better flavor than a tea bag.
If you compare the same leaf steeped with both methods, it’s true the loose leaf would win. However, one thing loose-leafers tend to forget is the quality of the leaf you’re starting with. If a tea company prepares their tea bags using high quality leaves, the flavor will be stronger in spite of the cut leaves. On the other hand, if the tea is poor, it won’t matter if it’s loose-leaf; the tea just won’t be able to compete.
In terms of convenience, the tea bag wins out for sure. You never have to think about measuring the proper amount – simply heat the water, throw in the tea bag, steep as desired and remove it. Simplicity itself.
However, each tea bag is only good for a single steep, which means you’ll go through tea bags rather quickly if you’re a regular tea drinker.
Steeping a loose-leaf tea is certainly a more complex effort than a tea bag. You have to measure out the proper amount each time, and if you don’t pay attention, it could significantly affect the end result.
Loose-leaf does have an advantage, though, in its versatility. You’re free to use as much or as little as you want, customizing it to your own taste. You can do this somewhat in a tea bag by changing the steep time, but you don’t quite have the same amount of control. Loose-leaf tea will also provide flavor even if steeped multiple times, so you could effectively brew several cups throughout the day easily.
Let’s be honest – when summer comes around, there isn’t much that’s more thirst-quenching than a great big pitcher of iced tea. With tea bags, making large or small amounts of tea is a simple process: just add more water, more tea bags and steep longer.
The loose-leaf method doesn’t fare as well here. It’s true that you can make several pots of tea from the same batch of leaves, but unless you have several tea pots, it isn’t something you can do all at once. It works well enough for someone drinking tea throughout the day, but if you need to make a large amount to store for later, you may need to get creative here.
This one may seem obvious. All you need to clean up is to dispose of the tea bag and the pot and cup you’re using. If you’re also the sort of person who loves life-hacking tricks, you can also take advantage of the tea bags and try one of these uses for used tea bags. What’s better than recycling, right?
Cleanup is more involved when it comes to loose-leaf tea. Tea strainers have made this job easier than it used to be, but it means there is an extra piece of equipment involved. On the plus side, the tea leaves make a great addition to the compost pile, while not all tea bags may be compostable.
Finding inexpensive tea bags is very easy to do, in spite of the fact that there’s much more machinery and processing involved in preparing them. The downside is that this often means the tea is of inferior quality. You’ll usually need to shell out a bit more to get a tea of a higher quality, but the difference will be reflected in the taste. Also bear in mind that each tea bag is only good for one use. If you drink a lot of tea, those numbers will start to add up.
In general, you’ll pay more for a package of loose-leaf tea than you would for a box of tea bags. However, you’re also getting a whole tea, and you have the option of buying in bulk, which means the price evens out to be a lot less per cup than you’d expect.
Since you can get multiple steeps from loose-leaf, this also factors into your savings. If you’re willing to pay more up front, you may find yourself saving money in the long run with a loose-leaf tea.
The Final Tally
As you can see above, each method has its good points and bad points. So, who is the real winner in this competition?
Ultimately, you are! Because we have access to different options like these, you can choose the one that suits your preference. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you enjoy the purity of loose-leaf or the convenience of tea bags. Either way, you’re still enjoying tea – completely with all its beauty, all its history and all its health benefits. Go ahead and brew up a cup, just the way you like it!