Monday, September 18, 2006

To Tea-Bag, or Not to Tea-Bag?

Greetings, Readers!

As you may or may not have stemmed from the title, this entry is, in fact, about tea bags and wether or nor one ought to use them. This is a topic of much debate among drinkers of tea (unless, of course, you ask a real tea Connoisseur, who will inevitably vote for loose leaf.)

Overwhelmingly, it is the case that most Americans would choose the tea bag, mostly because they've not known any other way to do it, and it seems the most convenient path. While the whole convenience bit may be true, it's certainly not the only thing you ought to consider when you're thinking about tea.

Let us consider the benefits of both methods of tea preparation, and then let you make the judgement for yourself.

Tea Bags

Easily the most convenient way of brewing a cup of tea is to use a tea bag, which makes this the obvious option for some. It takes a bit more effort to make a good cup of loose-leaf tea.

Here are some points to be made about bagged tea:

Positive Points (Pros):
  1. Tea bags are small and convenient to carry with you wherever you go.
  2. Tea bags are a quick and effective method to brew one cup of tea.
  3. Tea bags eliminate the need for other brewing equipment
Negative Points:
  1. The leaves in teabags are often broken up into incredibly small bits, causing some of the essential oils and chemicals to evaporate, leaving a dull, tasteless tea.
  2. Most tea bags do not allow sufficient room for the tealeaves to expand, which is important to extract the ful flavor from the tea.
  3. There is often less variety to choose from in bagged teas vs. loose.
It's also important to note that often, with many commercial teabags, you are left with something of the flavor of the sack in your tea, which is not the most pleasant flavor to experience. Lower grade leaves are also typically used in bagged teas vs. loose. Additionally, it is often the case that bagged teas are poorly packaged, allowing the bags and leaves to dry out too much, diminishing the flavor of the beverage. If you're going to keep bagged tea around, store it in a tin or some other airtight container!

To use a teabag, you would simply boil some water, pour it in a teacup, pour it back into the heating pot (it is essential to warm the teacup), place your teabag into the cup, and the pour the boiling water right on top of the teabag. Allow it to steep for 3-4 minutes, press the teabag against the side of the glass a few times, and enjoy.

And here are some points to be made about loose tea:

Positive Points (Pros):
  1. Typically made from whole leaves, or at least large sections of leaf, allowing more flavor to be extracted from the tea.
  2. Typically made of higher grade materials.
  3. Allows for optimal water circulation, which is important to extract the flavor and nutrients from tea.
  4. Tastes better, and is more satisfying!
  5. More selection often available with this method - you could even harvest your own plants!
  6. Is more likely to ensure a proper cup of tea.
Negative Points (Cons):
  1. More difficult to carry or brew away from home (although there are some great ways of doing this!)
  2. Takes a bit more time and effort to make.
  3. Can seem complicated at first (even though it isn't).
With loose tea, it's also important to note that there are a number of ways to brew it. You could simply pour boiling water over the leaves, allow it to steep for 3-4 minutes, and then pour it through a strainer. Or there are many portable infusers, such as tea balls, infuser spoons, and other similar devices. There's also many different types of teapots.

With loose tea, my favorite method of brewing is the French Press. This invloves a glass beaker in some kind of base, with a plunger device usually made from two layers of fine mesh that comes down from the top of the beaker, filtering the tea.

To use a french press, you would bring some water to a boil, put some in the press, swill it around, and pour in back into the heating pot (it is essential to first warm your pot before you brew in it.) You would then bring the water back up to a full boil, and pour it directly on top of your leaves. Then you would simply allow it to brew for 3-4 minutes, and press the plunger device down on your press, locking in the flavor (don't let it brew too long, or your tea will become bitter!)

Some people like to compromise between bagged tea and loose tea, or just happen to have some bagged tea around and decide they want to try loose leaf, so they open up their tea bags and attempt to brew loose leaf that way. BAD IDEA!!! Not only will you be left with a less-than-wonderful tasting cup of tea, you'll also have a fair bit of grit floating around in it (because of the much, much smaller leaf sizes in bagged tea), which is a very unpleasant thing.


As we conclude our discussion, it does seem that there is merit to both methods of tea preparation. The tea bags seem to be much quicker and easier, but the loose method seems to do a much better job overall. Also, there seems to be much more selection and versatility with loose leaf. You don't just have to deal with what is available in pre-packaged store boxes.

As far as portability, there are great portable options for both. Tea bags are naturally portable, and there are a great number of portable french presses (called travel presses or press mugs) around, as well as the afforementioned tea balls, infuser spoons, and other portable infusers.

My personal choice is to go with the loose leaf, for reasons of flavor, ritual, and pure tea quality (not to mention that I'm very choosy, which is hard to do with bagged teas). What's your choice? (please comment).

Signing off,


  1. A well balanced article from a fellow loose tea lover! I think Americans are coming around to the idea of loose leaf tea in ever greater numbers.

  2. I'm glad that you mention that, Jeep. Many people, upon tasting a properly brewed cup of tea, find that the reason that they have not enjoyed teas in the past has been mainly because it was weak, or brewed from low-quality teabags, rather than loose-leaf in free-flow, such as you would get with the Ingenui-Tea brewer.

    Thanks for the comment!