Tea can be consumed in different ways. The most popular one worldwide continues to be the infusion of the dried leaves, however, solid tea consumption is growing remarkably, especially due to the new matcha (powdered tea) consumption trend. Actually, tea was firstly consumed as a whole leaf instead of simply as an infusion. The leaves were not strained and tossed as we do now, and this allowed the consumers to take advantege of all of the nutricional aspects of the tea leaf, both the water soluble and the insoluble ones.
We might say that we are still in the leaf infusion Era and regarding this matter many questions usually arise. Which one is the best? To use loose leaf or tea bags?
Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Comparing tea quality
Generally loose leaf tea is of better quality than tea sold in tea bags, especially reagarding cheap tea bags, which contain mostly tea dust and tea fannings resulting from the tea leafs processing. However, there are many good quality tea bags which use either tea sourced from cut loose tea leasf instead of the byproducts of the tea industry and some top quality brands that even sell tea bags containing full tea leaves. I usually advise loose leaf tea for heavier tea drinkers as the tea sold in this fashion is hermetically sealed until use, unlike tea bags which can lose flavour and absorb smells very easily.
A common habit, even at speciality stores, is to open the tea container and give it to the client to smell. This is not hygienic at all and should be avoided. In this regard hermetically sealed tea bags can better preserve their flavour than frequently opened tea containers. If you can afford good quality tight containers or are a rather heavy consumer of loose leaf tea this shouldn’t however pose as big as a problem.
An advantage of brewing loose leaf tea is that you can see the beauty of the leafs unfold in hot water, admire how they look like before and after brewing and how they smell. You can also play with the amount of tea you wish to brew making it lighter or stonger. When using tea bags you can play with the flavour only by modulating either the water temperature or the infusion time.
When brewing loose leaf it implies you to have more specialized tea paraphernalia and time. Usually people more inclined to loose leaf teas invest more time in tea education and look for the perfect cup.
Regarding tea bags a lot of debate has been made about the type of tea bag. Many advocate that the pyramidal tea bags are the best as they allow more room for the leaves to expand. While some say this is more of a marketing stategy, there are a few scientific reports regarding the loose leaf vs. tea bag “battle”. A recent study compared single, double and circular tea bags with loose leaf tea. What was found was that indeed leaf swealling is higher for loose leaf, followed by double chamber tea bags, single tea bags and circular tea bags. In another study, researchers found that, althought the kinetics of goodies, i.e., polyphenol content had a faster release time in tea leafs, and independent of infusion time, when adressing tea bags, the polyphenol content was dependent on the infusion time, probably due to the swelling rates verified by the comparing research group. At the end of the day, it all boils down to tea quality.
Would you rather have low quality loose leaf tea or good quality bagged tea? Common sense is always the key? What is you way of brewing tea?
CFER Labs is your partner in food and drinks R&D. Obtain your free of charge workplan by clicking here.
J Food Sci Technol. 2017 Jul;54(8):2474-2484. doi: 10.1007/s13197-017-2690-9. Epub 2017 May 18. “Swelling and infusion of tea in tea bags.”
Avicenna J Phytomed. 2016 May-Jun;6(3):313-21. “Effect of different brewing times on antioxidant activity and polyphenol content of loosely packed and bagged black teas (Camellia sinensis L.).”
PhD in Biochemistry and professional researcher, with focus in metabolism and toxicity. Head of tea education at CFER. Expert in the service, tasting and production of tea, focusing on the study of its functional and sensorial characteristics. Tea sommelier by the International Tea Masters Association. Advanced knowledge in Chinese and Japanese teas, with expertise in tea handling by the Intertee Academy.