Although tea bags offer convenience, they are usually filled with poor quality tea. There is some whole-leaf tea available in bags, but as a rule of thumb the best quality tea is only available in loose tea form.
Why is loose tea better than tea bags? The main reason is that loose tea is made up of whole leaves rather than the powder that is used in tea bags. When tea leaves are broken up their essential oils are exposed to the air and quickly evaporate. The essential oils of tea leaves account for most of the taste, so loose tea almost always has more flavor than tea bags.
Another reason loose tea is more flavorful is that the leaves have room to expand in the tea pot. The loose tea leaves will unfurl when steeped in hot water, and if they can unfurl completely there is more surface area which is exposed to the water, thus allowing the full flavor of the tea to come out.
Despite the inferiority of tea bags, they account for the majority of the tea sales in the United States. Is it any wonder, then, that in the US tea is less popular than coffee? Worldwide, tea is the second most popular drink after water. Obviously, Americans are missing something.
Can Loose Tea be Convenient?
Tea bags offer convenience, and that is the one factor that tea merchants are trying to address when they are promoting loose tea. A number of products are available that make loose tea more convenient to the consumer. These include tea pots with integrated filters. Simply put the loose tea in the basket and add water. Since the basket is at the top of the pot, the loose tea leaves will stop steeping as soon as the first cup or two of tea is poured.
Cleaning up with a pot like this is a snap – just empty the filter basket and rinse the pot with water. This is a much more convenient way to use loose tea than the old-fashioned tea egg or by simply putting the loose tea in a pot.
Another innovation that is being explored by some tea merchants is to package loose tea in high-quality tea bags. Nylon sachets that contain whole tea leaves are now on the market. These combine the convenience of tea bags with the quality of loose tea. The loose tea leaves are loosely packed in a nylon sachet so that they have room to expand and release their flavor. Cleanup is as simple as removing the sachet from the tea pot and throwing it away.
Despite all these attempts to make loose tea convenient, the fact remains that loose tea is slightly more inconvenient than bags. What do get in exchange? Full, wonderful flavor – the reason why tea is such a popular beverage around the world.