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Tea Bags vs. Loose Leaf: Advantages of Each

Even though it’s often portrayed as a competition–tea bags vs. loose leaf—there are advantages of each approach to brewing tea. Let’s explore this issue!

Most Americans (and Brits!) prepare tea using tea bags (or tea sachets), not loose leaf tea. It was definitely in this category growing up.

Loose leaf vs. tag bags--dish of loose leaf tea and a white teapot on one side and a glass teacup with a tea bag and tea bag wrapper on the other

Habit vs. Exploration

As I got into drinking and exploring a wider range of teas, I switched to primarily steeping loose-leaf tea. I usually couldn’t get the kinds of tea that I wanted to try in tea bags. And, for teas where I could buy grocery store sachets or loose leaf at a tea shop, I noticed the loose leaf teas were usually different. The tea leaves were bigger and more intact. The tea steeped more gradually. I could notice a greater range of flavors. For a while, I started to assume that loose leaf teas were always higher quality. But, now I know better. 

Quality is a Complex Issue

While it’s still true that the tea from the camellia sinensis plant (tea with caffeine, not herbal teas) sold in most U.S. groceries stores aren’t usually the highest grades of tea, it’s a much more complicated story. For example, I may want a brisk and hearty cup of tea made with fannings if I want a tea that infuses quickly and has a robust flavor that won’t be lost after I add milk. Or, I may just love a brisk cup of tea. I firmly believe THE BEST tea is the tea that speaks to your heart (and taste buds). 

loose leaf tea in a beautiful pattern, looking almost like Japanese calligraphy

Importantly, some tea companies now sell a wider range of teas in sachets, including some with larger, more in-tact leaves (which isn’t always a plus for every kind of tea, by the way) that make it easier to customize how you steep them. Some tea companies sell some of the same loose leaf teas in sachets. These observations have me reflecting on some of the advantages tea bags vs. loose leaf tea.

Advantages of Each: Tea Bags vs. Loose Leaf Tea

Accessibility of Tea Bags

The question of whether to use tea bags or loose leaf is personal and can turn on any of the advantages raised above (or others). We have to weigh the trade-offs. And, our choices may vary.

One important thing I’d like to underscore is the importance of tea bags for accessibility. Many of the advantages of tea bags spelled out it in the chart above point to how tea bags can be easier to buy, to prepare, and to dispose of.

In other words, tea bags can make tea preparation and clean-up tea easier and, thus, enable more people to enjoy tea. That’s a great thing!

Questions & Follow Up

I’m curious what makes you lean toward tea bags vs. loose leaf tea. You’ll notice the list in the chart above is numbered. I’d love to hear which numbers you tend to value most. Although #2 leads me to keep a tea sachet in my backpack, #6-10 have me more often drinking loose leaf teas.

Thinking about this post has encouraged me to run some experiments that I have been thinking about for a while. I am exploring the question of whether I can taste the sachet material when I prepare tea using tea bags. So, check back on the blog if you’d like to see my results!

Interested in more on this topic? You might enjoy these posts!

Previous posts from me:

Interested in some tea history? Nicole Wilson shared a very interesting post “Who Really Invented the Tea Bag?” on her blog. The answer surprised me!

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