Loose Leaf Tea vs. Tea Bags - Which is better?
“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.” ― Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living
What’s the difference between loose leaf tea and tea bags? Which is better?
There are two main differences between loose leaf tea and tea bags that, in turn, affect the tea’s quality and flavor: how the leaves are processed and how they’re brewed.
1. Tea Leaf Grades & Processing
Loose leaf tea and tea bags contain different grades of tea. Just like how different grape varieties are picked and processed to create different types of wine, the way tea leaves are grown, when they’re picked and the way they’re processed also leads to different styles of tea and flavors.
- Broken leaf: broken leaves that result in a strong and sometimes bitter brew
- CTC: “crush-tear-curl” style of tea with small broken leaves, usually used for black Assam teas (also sometimes called “cut-tear-curl”)
- Dust: the leaf particles left after producing tea that are so fine they’re like dust – this is often used in tea bags
- Fannings: small tea leaf particles left after producing tea – this is also often used in tea bags
- First flush: the first round of tea leaves picked for the season, usually used for Indian and Sri Lankan teas
- Second flush: teas harvested after the first flush, usually in late spring or early summer
- Whole leaf: usually the highest grade of tea that contains whole, unbroken leaves
Tea bags typically contain CTC leaves, dust or fannings (or a combination of all three). The fine leaves brew faster than whole leaf tea. The trade-off, however, is that the tea loses some of its flavor. When whole tea leaves are broken, cut or crushed, it destroys the leaves’ essential oils, which provide the tea’s flavor.
Though you can find high-quality tea bags, typically with mass-produced tea bag brands, the bags help disguise lower quality tea.
Whole loose leaf tea, on the other hand, preserves the original integrity and quality of the tea leaves, as well as the tea’s complex flavor. Brands also can’t skimp on quality when it comes to loose leaf tea – while it’s easy to hide dust or fannings in tea bags, you can’t mix in lower quality tea with beautiful whole loose leaves!
2. Brewing Methods
The second main difference between loose leaf tea and tea bags is in how the two require different brewing methods. For tea bags, you just pop the bag into hot water, let it steep then remove the bag before drinking.
Loose leaf tea calls for a little more effort...but is so worth it!
First of all, you need a brewing vessel, like a tea infuser or strainer, since you don’t have the built-in tea bag. The vessel needs to be spacious enough to allow the loose tea leaves to move in the hot water and completely unfurl. This unfurling creates maximum flavor, which is something you don’t get with crushed leaves stuffed into a tiny tea bag. (Ever wonder why fancier tea bags are always larger than regular ones? It’s to give the tea leaves more space to move in the water.)
Unlike using a standard tea bag, you choose how much of the loose tea to use, either by carefully measuring out your tea leaves or eyeballing it.
So, are tea bags or loose leaf tea better?
While there are pros to each style of tea, here at Lumo Tea, we’re naturally partial to loose leaf tea.
Whole leaf teas provide you with more flavor, aroma, antioxidants, and pleasure than the tiny leaf bits and stale tea dust in most mass-produced tea bags.
Taking the time to brew loose leaf tea allows you to not only savor better flavor, but the delicate way the tea leaves unfold in the hot water, the aroma that wafts through the air and a moment of respite before continuing your day.
Brewing loose leaf tea offers a more contemplative, tangible experience than simply dropping a pre-packed tea bag in a cup of hot water. Choosing loose leaf tea over tea bags also allows you to brew a cup of tea that perfectly suits your own personal preferences since you can easily adjust the amount of leaves you use per cup.
And, let’s be honest, it’s just cooler.