This post was submitted by a reader named Dakota who wanted to share their thoughts about loose leaf tea, and some strong opinions about tea bags. We thought it might start a discussion, both with people who agree and disagree with certain points, so here it is!
One thing we want to point out is that there are many delightful brands of tea that are putting out excellent quality bagged teas and they don’t fall into the criticism of this post at all.
It’s a curious thing that the good old English cuppa actually comes mainly from Kenya and Uganda. It’s another curious thing that we put up with sub-standard tea for the sake of convenience. I’m calling for change. Tea lovers, did you know that the leaves used in most tea bags are actually ‘dust and fannings’ from broken tea leaves? Tea fannings, by the way, refers to fragments of tea leaves.
Aren’t you horrified to learn that the mighty British Tea bag is essentially low-grade dust? I am.
Growing up, we always had leaf tea at home. I loved the special tin we stored it in and the special spoon that stayed in the tin. Waiting for the tea to brew was all part of the magic.
I’m not just being nostalgic. If you love a decent cuppa, it’s time to make tea leaves fashionable again. Let’s start with tea terms and grades, tea storage and finish with reasons why loose leaves are better than bags.
Tea terminology and grades
Tea is graded first and foremost by its leaf size, and also by the type of leaves included. While leaf size is an important quality factor it isn’t the only one. Climate, location and processing methods also denote the quality of a particular tea. Teas are mostly designated as OP (Orange Pekoe) or FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe), which refer to the leaf size and the amount of tip in the tea.
See more about the grades of whole leaf tea here. I’m intrigued to try FTGFOP – Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe leaves. Cool name! I’ll have a cup of that please. Whole leaf teas take longer to brew, but can be used for 2 or 3 infusions.
Broken leaf teas are teas made from broken leaves (obviously). Unlike fannings, the pieces are big enough to be recognisable as parts of the whole leaf. Fannings, as already mentioned, are fragments of leaves, and dust is, well, dust. Most of the tea sold in teabags is the lowest grade dust.
Air exposure is bad for tea. Storing tea in a jar or tin isn’t always the best idea as when the vessel is half full, the other half is air, and that means air will be damaging the quality of your tea. Storing tea in a bag inside a jar or tin is fine, because you can roll the top of the bag down and secure with a peg to minimise the tea’s exposure to air. Multiply bags with resealable plastic zippers (like these ones from The Bag Broker) are best.
Other factors that affect quality when it comes to storing tea are light, heat, moisture and odour. Don’t buy loose leaf tea from shops storing tea in glass or plastic containers. Definitely don’t store tea in the fridge, next to the oven or on a sunny window sill.
10 reasons why loose tea leaves are better than tea bags
- The tea in tea bags is low-grade dust
- Low-grade dust tea has lost its essential oils and aroma.
- Low-grade dust tea releases more tannins than whole leaf tea giving a more bitter brew
- Tea is restricted in tea bags; tea needs room to expand and release flavour
- The tea in tea bags is generally stale (the tea has often been sitting in a warehouse or on a shelf for a long time before you buy it)
- Some tea bags are bleached
- Loose leaf tea is better because it has a larger surface area to release flavour from
- Loose leaf tea has more antioxidants and health benefits
- You can have a nice tea pot with loose leaves
- You get to meditate while your tea brews
How to make the perfect cup of tea (with leaves)
- Place a heaped teaspoon of loose leaf tea into your infuser or one-cup pot. If using an infuser place in your cup or mug.
- Fill mug, cup or one-person pot with freshly boiled water. Always use filtered water in your kettle rather than water directly from tap.
- Leave to brew for desired time (at least 4 minutes for black tea).
- Remove infuser or pour from pot, add milk and sugar if desired, and enjoy.
So, there you have it. I’ll put the kettle on. It’s time for a proper, good old-fashioned brew.
Let us know what you thought of this format, would you like to see more submissions in the future? If you have some tea thoughts of your own that you’d like to share, whether they’re more opinionated, or with the aim of spreading knowledge, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!