I love telling people that most tea bags are literally made from dust. People think I’m using the word to indicate the incredibly low quality (which is correct), but dust is actually an official term in the tea lexicon. 

Here’s a bag of Tea Silver Cloud “CTC Dust” grade tea. I found this when I was in Coonoor in Southern India in May 2013.

Highfield Tea Estate (top right) and many other estates in Southern India and elsewhere in the world, produce several grades of CTC (crush, tear, curl) tea. It ranges from coarse to very fine. CTC is a method of manufacture where tea leaves are torn up several times through a series of machines. This tea is then left to oxidize (turn color from green to black) and then fired (baked). 

The James Norwood Pratt Tea Dictionary has an entry for dust too.

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


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.

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


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.


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.