I’ll never forget the Valentine’s Day when my mom bought me a micro mesh metal tea strainer with a cannister of sakura tea. My life was changed forever. I had gotten my first loose tea experience, and it changed my expectations for tea. The strainer is over fifteen years old now, and I still use it nearly every day to make a soothing cup to begin my day.
I still have plenty of tea bags in my cabinet… like Ramona Flowers does…
But, I don’t judge! I won’t tell anyone how to enjoy their tea (the tasty kind and the gossipy kind)! I will, however, share why loose tea is worth trying out, especially if you’re a major tea drinker.
Basic Tea Grades
Tea companies use a grading system to identify the overall quality of the teas they manufacture. There are four tea grades:
- Whole Leaf – Whole leaf is literally made of dried whole leaves. The leaves are considered the highest quality due to their strong flavor profile and ability to be steeped more than once. Loose teas are typically made with whole leaf grade leaves.
- Broken Leaf – Broken leaf consists of leaves that have been crushed, but they still have the nuanced and full-bodied flavor of whole leaf tea. Loose teas are also made with broken leaf grade leaves.
- Fannings – Fannings consist of leftover leaves and pieces from the curl manufacturing process. This grade is often used in tea bags. It is typically only good when steeped a single time.
- Dust – Dust is literally tea dust collected from the curl manufacturing process. They are added to tea bags along with fannings. Although the quality is the lowest, the caffeine content is the highest.
Tea bags are small filter bags that are filled with broken leaves, fannings, and dust. Sometimes, these teas come in satchels, which are typically of higher quality than standard tea bags.
- Easy to use.
- Shorter steeping time.
- Contains more caffeine.
- Easy to clean up.
- No special utensils required.
- Accessible in most supermarkets.
- Poorer quality than loose tea.
- Can typically only be steeped once.
- Plastic may be in the tea bags.
- Weaker flavor profile.
- Fewer varieties available.
Loose Leaf Tea
Loose leaf tea is tea made out of the whole leaf or broken leaves. It is steeped in hot water without a tea bag. A tea infuser or strainer is used to encase the loose leaves while the tea is steeping. Once the tea is finished steeping, the strainer is removed.
- Higher quality than tea bags.
- Robust flavor and taste.
- More varieties available.
- Can be steeped multiple times.
- Require straining tools.
- Longer steeping time.
- Usually available in specialty stores.
- Contains less caffeine.
Why Loose Tea is Better
I do enjoy both tea in bags and loose tea. However, I mostly drink loose tea because I enjoy its stronger flavor, often accompanied with complex flavor notes. I usually only drink tea in bags when I am looking to brew a beverage quickly.
In addition to loose tea having more complex flavors, the varieties available are endless. Specialty shops offer unique flavor blends that are unavailable in supermarkets. Some shops allow you to smell the jars to get an idea of how the teas taste. Some unique flavors I have come across include Black Chocolate Tea, Bourbon Chestnut Herbal Tea, Honeybush Herbal Tea, Lady Grey Tea, Ashwagandha Chai, and African Antlers.
Green Child Magazine, (2022). Plastic in Tea Bags (and all the brands that don’t contain it). Green Child Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.greenchildmagazine.com/plastic-in-tea-bags/
O’Malley, Bryan Lee. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Fourth Estate, 2004-2010.
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