“There’s a time and a place for everything.” I’ve heard this saying all my life and it really does apply when considering the use of either tea bags or loose leaf tea. Bags are more convenient. Loose leaf preparation requires a bit more care. You have got to take a bit more time when preparing it. Here’s some information to help you make the right decision depending on your situation.
Tea Bags - Loose leaf was originally the standard, but then, the tea bag became the easy way to brew tea and people embraced it’s ease and convenience. While it is easy (stick a few tea bags in your purse/backpack/car console), the quality of the tea found in many bagged versions is not always as good as it’s loose leaf counterparts. For some herbal teas, it doesn’t matter – but for other teas like oolongs –it’s simply a space issue. Tea manufacturers cannot fit large leaves in their bagged versions…so the tea becomes a lesser quality as it’s broken down (literally broken bits and pieces of otherwise large leaves) to fit inside the tea bag. Usually only the tea fannings make it to the tea bag. The fannings are the lowest quality rating for a tea leaf. Take a look at a tea bag and you’ll notice how small the fragments of tea are inside the bag. Basically, it’s tea “dust.” For whites, greens and oolongs…tea dust is a bad thing. For rooibos, or even some herbals, tea dust is okay. Rooibos tea is very fine (texture) anyway. Many whites, greens and oolongs need to have a proper space to spread out and infuse. These are also beautiful to look at while infusing. There are some really good bagged teas out there…if you like herbals – try celestial seasonings.
Loose Leaf – Loose leaf tea is free to move and infuse in your infuser. This allows all of the flavors to fully develop. There are some convenience factors, however that a tea bag lover will possibly miss if he or she switches to loose leaf. First and foremost, loose leaf tea requires investing in the proper brewing and preparation equipment. Also, loose leaf tea requires a bit more babying than tea bags do. Before you begin, I would highly recommend investing in a thermometer and a timer (or use the timer on your microwave!). Then, you will essentially need to figure out a way to replace the tea bag. There are a number of different ways to do this. I have a Teavana Perfect Tea Maker that I use everyday of my life. The tea infuses inside the tea maker and the particles are held in by a built in strainer that you hold over your tea cup. I would be lost without it! Adagio Tea also has a version of this called the IngenuiTEA. It’s the same concept. My first tea infuser of this nature was from Adagio. I used to sit it on my desk at work and drink tea all day! When my coworkers went for their smoke break…I’d take my tea infuser to the break room for a hot water break! Then, I would infuse my tea at my desk! I really don’t think one is better than the other. We have a Teavana at two of our local malls so it was more convenient just to stop by the store when it was time to get another infuser. Aside from this type of tea infuser, there are several other ways to brew loose leaf tea — tea ball, teapot with built in infuser – removeable basket, placing the leaves directly inside the pot and then placing a filter over your cup while pouring, even cheesecloth works in a pinch! One thing you must pay attention with when working with loose leaf tea is the temperature of your water as well as the steep time. This can be very tricky as most loose leaf teas in the white, green, black, oolong family require close attention to these factors, otherwise they taste bitter and astringent.
I prefer loose leaf tea over bagged tea. I think for the most part, it’s fresher and tastier (although I do think Tazo and Celestial Seasonings Herbals are pretty good). I also think that there is a much larger selection if you are willing to consider drinking loose leaf. After investing in a few key brewing and prep items, you can easily make loose leaf tea in your own kitchen every day!
Whether you have the time to experiment with loose leaf tea or simply want to steep a few tea bags…I encourage you to at least have a little bit of both types on hand in your pantry. However you decide to prepare it, tea is an extremely versatile beverage that is healthy, low calorie, and most of all…fun!