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Dump The Bag! Loose Tea Is The Way To Brew

Many people prefer tea bags to loose tea, but the final product is typically much better when brewing loose tea. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cindy Chen

Is there truly a difference between teas sold as loose tea and those prepared as tea bags? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, among tea enthusiasts, tea bags typically aren’t considered the same type of tea and are not generally of interest.

Here’s a look at why loose tea is superior, along with some other tea basics. The information here mainly relates to black tea, which is an oxidized version of Camellia Sinensis, although some of the same ideas also apply to tisanes, or herbal “teas.”

Tea dust in tea bags

Tea bags typically contain a mixture of tea dust and finely chopped tea leaves, or sometimes are just ground tea. The finer the grind of leaves, the faster a tea brews and the more flavor it releases. One problem with this: It also makes a more bitter tea (astringent, really, but bitter works for a loose description). Most commercial tea is made using an automated process called “crush tea curl,” or CTC, but other types are made through the more manual process of orthodox processing. In general, if you are looking for a good-tasting tea that isn’t bitter, whole-leaf tea is better than broken-up versions, and broken leaves are better than ground-up tea.

Better tea in tea bags

What about products sold as higher-quality tea, typically in pyramid-style tea bags? These are often good, and the exact same loose tea leaves placed in a tea bag would be about the same. When tea is available both loose and in bags, buying loose leaves provides more options for sourcing different types and better-quality tea, and it typically costs less. Storage can also affect quality: Conventional tea in tea bags might already be stale when purchased because storage in the box tea bags come in is not ideal. A better bet is well-sealed packaging that completely restricts air flow.

Ease or difficulty of brewing loose tea

Brewing loose tea is not a difficult task and should not be a deterrent to opting for it over tea bags. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cindy Chen

Brewing loose tea is not a difficult task and should not be a deterrent to opting for it over tea bags. Credit: Copyright 2016 Cindy Chen

Brewing loose tea is easy and worth the effort. Any reasonable, inexpensive loose tea dropped into hot water can provide better results than almost all tea sold in tea bags. Several brewing techniques exist, and you can try many different types of gear, but using one mug to strain into a second mug results in the most positive results. Setting a saucer on top of the mug to seal it is a more sophisticated technique and requires more equipment. It’s not so different functionally than using a traditional English-style ceramic tea pot. A French press also works well.

Sourcing loose tea

What if your local grocery stores don’t sell loose tea? This can make finding quality tea more difficult, but many grocery stores do sell loose tea, and you can also shop at tea shops and countless online sources. When opting for loose tea, your first concern should be what to try. The blended black tea typically found in tea bags represents only one style. Single-type teas are more popular than such blended teas, which mix different types together. One concern about loose tea sold in bulk relates to storage: Tea stored in a large jar reopened for each cup of tea would be exposed to a lot of air over time. Just as spices in a spice rack can go completely flat over time, so can tea. For storage at home, consider storing teas divided between smaller jars or in sealed bags. Consider, too, that this problem of storage may also relate to vendors who aren’t specialists. Make sure you buy tea that is stored properly.

Cost

Decent loose tea is inexpensive, generally ranging from $5 to $10 for 2 ounces (50 grams) — enough to brew at least 25 cups of tea. Moving toward $15 opens a broad range of options, including many different types from around the world. A box of 100 tea bags can sell for $5 or less, for 8 ounces of tea, so those are a better value based only on cost. But a better tea is more equivalent in quality level to a Starbucks brewed coffee, about $2 per cup for the smallest size, although this is not a direct comparison because you would prepare the tea yourself.

Caffeine

Tea naturally contains less caffeine than coffee. Credit: Copyright 2016 Teapedia

Tea naturally contains less caffeine than coffee. Credit: Copyright 2016 Teapedia

Tea is a natural source of caffeine, with the jolt offset by theanine, an amino acid that has a calming effect. Tea contains slightly less caffeine than coffee, although several factors affect the amount of caffeine, so references vary related to amounts. The Mayo Clinic cites the range of caffeine content for 8 ounces of coffee at 75 to 200 milligrams, and 14 to 70 milligrams for the same quantity of tea. For more caffeine, you simply need to drink more tea or drink stronger tea, making sure you still enjoy the taste.

The takeaway is that loose tea is inexpensive and easy to prepare and comes in a broad range of varieties – more than you can find in tea bags.


Zester Daily contributor John Bickel is the author of teaintheancientworld.blogspot.com, a blog he has maintained since 2013, and is a regular contributor to the TChing tea education site. Originally from the U.S., John has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, since 2007 and travels throughout Asia.

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