This comparison shows the difference in how tea bushes are grown and plucked depending on desired end product.

Left: “two leaves and a bud” make up the majority of good quality loose leaf teas from all origins. The bud and leaves are of similar size. Younger, smaller leaves will keep a greater range of flavor and aroma when processed.

Right: Leaves below the bud are allowed to grow larger so as to yield a larger quantity for CTC (crush, tear, curl) and “dust” grades of tea for teabags. Larger, older leaves, loose the fine flavors and aromas yet provide that deep, dark, black of black tea that is so often desired.

Images from my visit to Highfield Tea Estate, in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, India. May 2013.

Let’s get real about tea bags

Three problems with most ordinary tea bags:

  1. They’re full of dust
  2. Tea bags in pouches in a box generate a huge amount of trash
  3. The resulted brew tastes awful and looks cloudy

Dust

Yes. Most tea bags are filled with very finely ground particles of low quality tea, most of which is the end result from the production and handling of tea leaves.

Dust
The dust from a Lipton tea bag (center) sits next to real Chinese green tea leaves.

Waste

A tea bag made of paper sits in a foil or plastic pouch. Twenty of these sit in a box, sometimes wrapped in plastic again. It ends up being a very small about of tea dust and a huge amount of trash.

Packaging waste comparison
The pile of trash generated from 20 bags of Chamomile dust versus the amount of loose Chamomile you could buy for the same price.

Taste

The taste from tea bags poorly represents the true flavors and nuances you’d get in loose leaf tea. This is like eating the lowest quality of chocolate (tastes and feels like plastic). For many there is no comparison since loose leaf tea is not part of their routine. Another factor is how tea bags are packaged. A tea bag typically lives in a sealed foil or plastic pouch, stuffed into a cardboard box and sometimes wrapped in plastic again. The marketing speak indicates this preserves flavor, but there’s no real flavor to preserve from tea dust. All this packaging adds to the lame smell of tea bags.

Tea comparison
Left to right: Lipton green tea bag, Mighty Leaf tea bag, loose leaf.

But buying loose leaf tea is overwhelming and expensive!

There is a solution.