If a picture is worth a thousand words I could just end my post here... Premium cuttings vs crushed and powdered debris. Now if only you could smell and taste it through your screen. It tastes as drastically different as it looks!! Im not saying that there is anything inherently bad for you with tea leaves themselves being crushed and powdered to get them into a tea bag (the tea bag paper itself is a different story), but I definitely think there can be a better way! And there can absolutely be a tastier way!
Let's take a minute to break down the differences between loose leaf and bagged tea. But before we look at the differences, There is 1 similarity - Both black tea.I tried to make them as similar in origin as possible and the only variable being the bag and the contents.
Lets take a look at some of the differences.
1 - Appearance - The above picture is of two black teas. It is very obvious visually that there is a difference. The loose leaf tea is large and full leaves which allow more of the beneficial properties to remain locked in the leaves. On the other hand, the tea leaves that came out of the bagged tea is crushed and powdered to make a finer grade of tea so it will fit through the machine and into the tea bag. This process of crushing and powdering the tea leaves looses a lot of the beneficial properties as well as flavor. Which brings me to my next point...
2 - Flavor and Aroma - If you haven't ever tried a good cup of premium loose leaf tea, I highly recommend giving it a try. You will be amazed at the flavor difference from the bagged tea that typically gives a stale and bitter taste. The crushed and powdered teas that make it into most tea bags on the market are the "dust and fannings", basically the leftovers. This process is what looses most of the essential nutrients and aroma as compared to the loose leaf tea. This process won't kill you, but it may kill your tea experience.
3 - Brew - The actually brewing of the tea will produce a much different result. The flat paper filter bag constricts the tea leaves from being able to expand and release optimal flavor. Whereas using an infuser and loose leaf tea, the tea leaves are able to float through every bit of the water and are able to open up and expand to their full potential. I discuss that more in a different post about ways to brew loose leaf tea. With bagged tea, the tea leaves are so crushed and powdered that you can typically only use the one serving one time. However, with loose leaf tea, you have so much flavor potential that you can easily brew the leaves twice if not 3+ times. Meaning, when you are done brewing, you remove the strainer and sip and enjoy your cup of tea and then go back and put the infuser back in your cup with the same tea leaves and add more hot water. It is fun to see the various flavor profiles you will find from additional steepings of the same tea leaves!
4 - Filter Paper - Definitely avoid the fancy see-through plastic mesh tea bags because of the dangers connected to boiling water and plastic. But lets talk for a minute about the paper tea filter bags. Thinking "paper" makes you think that its basically safe! But many paper bags are treated with a compound called epichlorohydrin. Epichlorohydrin is used to produce epoxy resins and acts as a pesticide! So as with any food or beverage, "Know what you are putting into your body!". I'll explain how these paper tea bags are made. The material is a flat sheet, rolled onto a big giant roll of filter paper (basically it looks like a giant roll of toilet paper) and that is put onto a machine that feeds it through, folds it, fills it with tea, seals it and spits it out the other end as a complete tea bag ready to brew ...at lightning speed (it really is impressive machinery)! So since these machines are all calibrated to accommodate different size tea bags, they have to cover ever square inch of the filter paper with the epichlorohydrin so it will seal on the sides as well as wherever the seal is necessary to make the correct size bag. So even though the seal is only the smallest fraction of the bag, the entire bag is coated with the epoxy resin pesticide chemical. So when you brew your tea in the tea bag, you are also releasing all of the chemicals into your cup! Hey, the more you know right? I have spoke with many companies over the years trying to find a safe filter paper and I have heard a number of reasons and some people who honestly have no idea what's on the paper. But the reality is that more people are becoming aware of the components that make up the tea bag and are seeking a better option.
So there are some variables to consider about bagged teas vs loose leaf! And maybe you are now thinking "So now what? I want to switch to loose leaf tea, but I have no idea where to start? Click here for my post on "The Easy Way to Switch to Loose-Leaf Tea".