Tea–drinking rituals and histories remind us that tea is much worldlier than people sometimes think. Without these cultural differences, we might not think of tea as more than something to keep us warm or quench our thirst. Tea is one of the highest consumed beverages after water in the world.
Health research and lifestyle trends have of late given tea new importance. Increased understanding of the role antioxidants play in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease has positioned tea as the ideal health beverage. Tea is now thought of as a stylish, healthy alternative to coffee and soda. It is fat and calorie–free, natural and untainted by additives. Manufacturers of cosmetics, perfumes and skin–care products are also developing new products that integrate the benefits and pleasures of tea. There are many varieties of cosmetics with tea infused in it such as green tea creams, soaps, perfumes and much more.
History of Tea
According to Chinese legend, tea was born in 2727 BC, when the Emperor ShenNong was purifying water in the shelter of a tea tree, and several leaves blew into the pot. The resulting brew, of superb fragrance, color and taste, made the emperor rejoice. Tea soon became a daily drink in Chinese culture.
In India, another legend tells the story of Prince Dharma, who left his homeland for China, to preach Buddhism. He vowed not to sleep during his 9–year mission. Toward the end of his third year, when he was overtaken by fatigue, he grabbed a few leaves of a tea shrub and chewed them up. They gave him the strength necessary to stay awake for the remaining 6 years of his mission.
The Japanese version of this story has the exhausted Bodi Dharma falling asleep, however. Upon awakening, he was so disgusted with himself; he tore off his eyelids, to ensure that they would never inadvertently close again. The place where he threw them on the ground produced enchanted (tea) shrubs with leaves having the power to keep eyelids open.
The two most popular forms of tea – loose leaf and bagged
Before we compare loose leaf tea with tea bags, let us first look at the different grades of tea as that can be the key differentiator. When teas are produced, they are graded by size and quality. In order of highest to lowest, the grades fall into four basic groups: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.
- Whole leaf
Whole leaf tea refers to tea where the leaves have not been broken or torn during production. They take the longest to infuse and can be used for multiple infusions (normally upto 2 to 3 infusions).
- Broken leaf
Broken leaf tea refers to tea where the leaves are broken, but the pieces are still large enough to be recognised as parts of whole leaf. While whole leaf tea is generally considered to be the best, there are broken leaf teas which are better than some of the whole leaf teas.
Fannings are finely broken pieces of leaves which still have a recognisable coarse texture.
Dust is what remains after the tea has passed through the grading machine. It is powdery in texture and is often swept off the floor. Dust is considered the lowest grade of tea. Please however note that tea that is made by pulverizing larger tea leaves, such as Matcha is not considered Dust.
Now let’s understand, what is Tea Bag?
A tea bag is a small, porous, sealed bag containing dried plant material, which is immersed in boiling water to make a hot drink. Classically these are tea leaves (Camellia sinensis), but the term is also used for herbal teas (tisanes) made of herbs or spices. Tea bags are commonly made of filter paper or food-grade plastic, or occasionally of silk. The bag contains the tea leaves while the tea is steeped, making it easier to dispose of the leaves, and performs the same function as a tea infuser. Some tea bags have an attached piece of string with a paper label at the top that assists in removing the bag while also displaying the brand or variety of tea.
In countries where the use of loose tea leaves is more prevalent, the term “tea bag” is commonly used to describe paper or foil packaging for loose leaves. They are usually square or rectangular envelopes with the brand name, flavour and decorative patterns printed on them.
Tea bag history and discovery
Most modern day commercial tea bags that contain CTC tea are made of bleached paper fiber and contain heat-sealable plastic. But the very first tea bag was made of hand-sewn silk and contained whole leaf tea.
Thomas Sullivan and an accidental American invention
In around 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, started to send samples of tea to his customers in small silken bags. Sending samples in silk tea bags was an inexpensive way for Mr. Sullivan to get his newest teas into customers’ cups without having to pony up the cost of packaging and shipping in tea tins.
The whole leaf tea was supposed to be removed from the silk bag to be brewed, but customers found it easier to just brew the tea contained in the bag.It was thus by accident that the tea bag was born!
Dominated by machine
As the popularity of and demand for tea bags grew, tea merchants and producers looked for ways to cut costs and increase production. Since customers proved to care more about the convenience of the tea bag than the quality of the tea, commercial tea producers moved to the machine-driven CTC method of tea production to keep up with tea bag demand.
Tea producers typically sourced lower quality tea and shredded the leaves to fit into small tea bags that could be machine produced, sealed with plastic or glue, and packaged with tags and strings for a more grocery-store marketable packaging design than loose leaf tea.
What differentiates teabags from leaf teas
The differences between loose leaf tea and traditional tea bags are numerous, and it goes far beyond the surface. The leaves used in most bags are actually the “dust and fannings” from broken tea leaves. This is a huge compromise in quality from full leaf tea. Finely broken tea leaves have lost most of their essential oils and aroma. Most tea bags constrain the tea leaves, keeping them from expanding to their full flavor and aroma potential.
The reason why whole leaf tea tastes better is because the larger surface area allows it to release significantly more flavour and aroma without introducing as much astringency into the tea. That is why, to enjoy all the goodness of premium whole leaf teas, loose leaf is still considered by many as the way to go.
Here are the biggest differences between loose leaf tea and commercial tea bag tea:
|Loose Leaf Tea||Tea Bag Tea|
|Produced by orthodox method||Produced in the machine-driven non-orthodox or Crush-Tear-Curl (CTC) method|
|Whole leaf, high-quality grade tea||Cut leaf, low-grade tea dust and fannings|
|Subtle nuances and flavor extracted from whole tea leaves that are allowed to expand fully in hot water||One-dimensional flavor profile meant for a strong brew that can stand up to milk and sugar|
|Packaged loose in airtight containers to seal in freshness and flavor||Often bagged in bleached paper material that can add chemicals and off flavors to your brewed cup|
|Produced seasonally in small quantities in an artisan method that involves hand-picking and hand-sorting quality tea leaves||Machine-produced in high volume to be warehoused and stored for long periods of time|
|The same leaves can be steeped multiple times for several cups of tea||Flavor is fully extracted after just one steeping|
The bottom line is that the loose leaf teas provide you with more flavor, aroma, antioxidants, and pleasure than the tiny leaf bits and stale tea dust in most mass-produced tea bags. Typical tea bags are produced on an industrial scale and may sit in a warehouse or on a shelf for a long time before you ever get them.
In this area, teabags win out, without a shadow of a doubt. Loose leaf tea is expensive, and teabags are cheap. Loose leaf tea leaves are brewed three (and sometimes four) times, but even taking this into consideration, loose leaf tea is an expensive drink.
Tea is brewed using about 2-3 grams of leaves, and the leaves are infused three times, so 50 grams will make you 50-75 cups of tea. But although the same 3 grams of tea leaves are used for 3 cups of tea, once they are used to brew the first infusion, the other two infusions must be made the same day, within about 6-8 hours. So if you drink tea every day, 50 grams will last you about two to three weeks, depending on the amount of leaves you use.
Green and white teabags can’t be used more than once in all the brands. So if you have the recommended 3 cups a day, you’ll need about 40-60 bags to last the same amount of time as 50 grams of loose leaf tea.
|Loose-Leaf Green or White Tea||Loose-Leaf Black Tea||Teabags – Green or White||Teabags – Black|
|Taste||Beautiful and unbeatable; soft and smooth||Wonderful array of varieties||Stale-tasting and bitter||A nice and pleasant cuppa|
|Aroma||Stunning and gorgeous||Fragrant varieties are a delight||Little aroma||Most have very little aroma|
|Health Benefits||High in catechins, theanine and antioxidants||High in antioxidants||Thought not to be as high in healthful substances as loose leaf counterparts||Quite high in antioxidants|
|Convenience||Less than 5 minutes to make||Less than 5 minutes to make||Less than 5 minutes to make||Less than 5 minutes to make|
|Price||Fine quality is very expensive||Fine quality can be quite expensive (although there are lots of cheaper and still-delicious loose black teas available)||Can be very inexpensive||Usually very inexpensive|
All tea contains some amount of these, and drinking any green, white or black tea regularly, whether loose leaf or teabags, will have a beneficial effect on health. But with that said, these substances are lost over time – degrading and disappearing as the tea gets older and staler. Most tea experts think that tea should be less than about 12-18 months old when it is used, and that it should be stored in airtight bags or other protective containers like well-sealed tins. Now, whereas loose leaf tea is usually sold within a year of harvest, and the date of harvest is given, with teabags no such information is provided, and the leaves in teabags are often (and perhaps always) broken and less cared for, letting much of the ‘good stuff’ escape before it ever meets the boiled water of your kettle. The main advantages of tea bags are convenience. They are easy to store, quick to brew and ideal when in the office or “on the move”.
The Best of Both Worlds?
Now you may wonder: is it possible to combine the full flavors of loose tea with the convenience of tea bags?
Yes. The answer is tea filter bags.
Simply place your whole leaf tea in the disposable bag and add hot water. A bag can be used and re-used again in the office for the entire day. These bags are usually large enough for loose leaves to expand. That’s all!!! Enjoy
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