All tea fanatics have their own way they like their tea. Some like sugar, some like sweetener. Some like whole milk, and some like soya. There really is no right or wrong when it comes to tea, it’s all personal preference. However, the way tea is served is just the beginning. There are dozens of different tea brands out there, from Yorkshire to Tetley. Different strains and types of tea present a whole other range of choices. The age old argument though is that of loose leaf vs. tea bags. Some claim loose leaf tea is higher quality than tea bags, but are they right?
Loose leaf tea is different to tea bags. Loose leaf is made up of whole unbroken leaves of tea. Tea bags, however, are small bags of broken “dust-like” leaves, but does this difference in leaf size mean a compromise on quality?
Regular tea bags comprise of the dust and fannings of tea leaves. Due to the tiny pieces of individual leaves, tea leaves in tea bags have a larger surface area. This is mainly where the difference in quality stems from between loose leaf and tea bags. The large surface area of tea bags means that each individual particle of tea leaf is exposed to the air. When this happens, the essential oils and aromas that flavour tea evaporate. This can lead to tea that is dull and stale. However, if tea bags are stored properly with freshness in mind when packaging, they will taste better. This is owing to the fact that when tea leaves lose their oils and aromas when the tea is brewed, it can lead to a bitter taste.
When tea is steeped in tea bags, its infusion is limited by the size of the tea bag. Small, paper tea bags do not allow tea leaves to unfurl properly. This has lead to the creation of artisan “pyramid tea bags”. These higher quality tea bags use larger leaves. The larger leaves have the ability to unfurl properly in the pyramid shape. This means that when steeping the tea, the water can flow through the leaves and extract more flavour. These tea bags are starting to give loose leaf tea a run for its money. More convenient, higher water flow through the bags meaning more flavour, and packed with premium full leaf tea.
Often perceived as the highest quality and most flavour rich tea, loose leaf can also be more expensive. When compared to the bags of dry dust like tea that is mass produced and packaged in cardboard, it’s clear to see why. Though initially, loose leaf is more expensive, the leaves can be steeped more than once. This ultimately means you are not sacrificing money for quality.
According to “The Daily Tea” the recommended amount of loose tea is one teaspoon per cup of water, making many loose teas less expensive than bagged. Using more tea leaves will create a stronger mug of tea, but make sure that you have enough room in your infuser for the water to circulate around the leaves. This circulation of water is what leads to the richer flavour. Also remember, the wet leaves are more than double the size of the dry leaf, so don’t over do it!
Loose leaf tea is served out of the bag and doesn’t contain bitter tasting stems or seeds like tea bags can. A great advantage of choosing loose leaf over bagged tea is your ability to see and smell the product before purchasing it. Generally, it’s better to buy tea with larger, more intact-looking leaves; a lot of tiny bits of leaf can indicate rough handling, excessive processing, or stale tea. Smelling the tea will tell you about the freshness and richness. The richer the aroma, the fresher the tea.
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