Tea Bags vs. Loose-Leaf: The Great Tea-bate

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If you’ve spent any time around tea drinkers, you’ve probably heard us babbling about loose-leaf tea. The flavors! The aromas! The depth!

For most Americans, though, tea bags are all they know. More than 65 percent of tea in America is brewed with tea bags. In fact, the tea bag is an American invention.

For beginners who may not know, “loose-leaf” means exactly what it says: the leaves are loose. It’s useful to think of tea bags and loose-leaf as briefs and boxers. Tea bags are the briefs, tightly packing everything in. Loose-leaf is the tea world’s boxers, allowing for more airflow and letting it all hang loose.

Recently, tea bags and loose-leaf met up in my kitchen for a thrilling throw-down to decide which one is ultimately better.

Tea Bags

Pros: The tea bag’s biggest strengths in this match-up are its speed and ease of use. The tea bag’s convenient packaging results in a quick, easy cup of tea—all you have to do is add the bag to hot water. Tea bags are also easy to obtain; they can be found in any grocery store, and the selection continues to grow.

Cons: The tea bag’s weak point is flavor. Generally, tea bags are less flavorful than loose-leaf because they are made of “tea dust,” which is the leftovers of the tea plant. Tea dust is like the last crumbs in a bag of potato chips—still tasty but not as good as the first chips. Loose-leaf tea has actual leaves, while a tea bag has small fragments.

See the difference between these fierce competitors for yourself.

tea bags vs. loose leaf; Chai Tea Chick

The bowl on the left contains a loose black tea called Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea (drinking it makes you feel like Kate Middleton by the way). On the right is Bigelow’s English Breakfast Tea from a bag. As you can see, the loose-leaf tea is vibrant with large leaves, while the bagged tea is more granular.

Although the tea bag is a speedy competitor that can throw a quick jab, it’s lack of flavor is a significant weakness.

Loose-Leaf Tea

Pros: Loose-leaf has a lot more variety and flavor, making it a dynamic player. While tea bags have limited variety, there seems to be an endless array of loose-leaf tea blends. Nearly everything exists, from Mayan Chocolate Truffle to Winter White Chai. In addition, loose-leaf’s fresh leaves and ingredients create a much tastier brew.

Loose-leaf also contains more healthy minerals and vitamins because more nutrients can be extracted from whole leaves rather than tea dust.

Cons: Though it packs a flavor punch, the major problem with loose-leaf is that it can be hard to find in America. Because tea is not as popular here as coffee, there is not a large market for loose-leaf. For tea drinkers, nothing is quite as depressing as running out of a favorite loose-leaf tea. You scrape at the bottom of your canister, desperately trying to cobble enough leaves together to make one last cup.

To find good loose-leaf, you have to do a little more hunting than just visiting your local grocery store. With shops like Teavana and The Spice & Tea Exchange becoming popular, though, we may just be entering the golden age of loose-leaf.

The Winner?

After a rather eventful showdown, in which tea bags threw quick jabs and loose-leaf swung back with taste and variety, a winner has been selected.

Drum roll. 

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Loose-leaf is our champion! Its flavor, diversity, and health advantages make it the ultimate winner. Tea really is all about flavor. To find the boldest and most interesting teas, you have to go with loose-leaf. I’ve noticed most serious tea drinkers eventually transition to loose-leaf and rarely look back.

With that said, I do think tea bags and loose-leaf can peacefully co-exist. I, for example, prefer loose-leaf tea but keep bags around because they are convenient. The most important point is that you’re drinking tea, and that is a wonderful thing. So, what do you prefer: tea bags or loose-leaf?

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5 Reasons Why You Should Be Drinking Tea

Tea is finally having its time in America. More people are picking up kettles and brewing tea than ever before.

Tea has long been considered a British beverage, consumed only by little Irish ladies knitting by a fireplace and stodgy businessmen wearing monocles and top hats, but Americans are now warming up to the second most popular beverage in the world. The American market has grown by four times in the past two decades, and the amount of tea Americans drink has increased by about 20 percent since 2000.

Not sure what all the hype is about? Or how you should get started? Over the next six days, I will kick off my blog with a “How To Tea” series that will cover everything you need to know about the basics of tea. But, first, why should you even drink tea, the signature beverage of little Irish ladies and stodgy businessmen?

Chai Tea Chick; reasons to drink tea

1. It has many health benefits. Drinking tea can reduce the risk of heart disease and neurological disorders, boost bone strength, increase endurance, and provide several other benefits.

The key to why tea is good for you is antioxidants. A cup of tea, especially green or white, is filled with them. That’s probably why your mom forces chamomile down your throat whenever you have a cold, but don’t be fooled by mom. Tea is more than just a beverage for when you’re sick. Incorporating it into your daily diet can result in long-term health advantages; or if you’re feeling guilty about skipping the gym, you can always brew yourself some green tea and feel a little better.

2. It’s easy (and inexpensive). When you boil it down to the basics, tea is pretty simple. Essentially, it goes like this: tea leaves, meet hot water. Tea has a reputation for being somewhat fussy, but making it requires no fancy machines, tools, or devices. As long as you have tea and hot water, you can brew it.

Not only that, drinking tea instead of other beverages can result in serious savings. Most importantly, tea usually costs about half the price of coffee. People buy $5 Frappuccinos at Starbucks daily, and I’m walking by them holding a cup of tea that costs me about 40 to 65 cents.

3. It’s tasty. When I try to persuade people to start drinking tea, the hardest myth to debunk is that tea simply doesn’t taste good. “It’s bitter,” I hear. “It’s gross,” they tell me. My response: “You’re probably not doing tea right.” Sure, some people just don’t like it, but I’ve noticed many of these naysayers will avoid hot tea but happily drink iced tea all year round. 

If your main experiences with drinking tea involve three-year-old tea bags in the back of your grandma’s cabinet, then I have news for you: tea is actually delicious. With several tea varieties and blends, everyone can find the perfect one. In one of my next posts, I will go in depth about the different types of tea.

4. It’s cool. Imagine yourself at a small French cafe on a crisp autumn morning. The sun is gentle; a slight breeze lightly tousles your scarf. You have a book in one hand, and you’re stirring a cup of tea with the other. You look up (you’re wearing designer sunglasses by the way), watch passersby with a mysterious gaze, and slowly sip your tea. You may look something like this:

Chai Tea Chick; reasons to drink tea
From viintage.com

You’re telling me that’s not cool?

In addition, famous people have been drinking tea throughout the ages. Today, some of the most famous tea drinkers include Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham, and President Barack Obama. There’s even an entire Tumblr page and several Pinterest boards dedicated to documenting celebrities drinking tea. I say if it’s good enough for the Queen, then it’s good enough for all of us. 

5. It’s the ultimate best friend. Tea is always there for you, and like a friend it knows just what you need in any situation. I could go on about this, but I think former British Prime Minister William Gladstone summarized it best:

“If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed, it will cheer you; if you are excited it will calm you.”

Join me tomorrow as I delve into the different ways to drink tea!

An online tearoom for tea drinkers and beginners