What Are Tea Bags?
Tea bags are small bags filled with crushed or broken tea leaves that are used for brewing tea. Higher-quality tea bags use silk or cotton for their bags, but more affordable ones are often made with filter paper. Tea bags are popular because they are easy to use, and can be found at most supermarkets and stores. Tea bags should be placed in a teapot or individual cup full of hot water and left to steep for a few minutes to infuse the flavor into the tea.
What Is Loose-Leaf Tea?
Loose-leaf tea is made with whole or broken tea leaves that are steeped in hot water without the protective seal of a tea bag. After your tea is steeped, the loose tea leaves are removed from the water using a strainer or tea infuser. Whole leaf teas, like loose green tea, usually yields tea with a stronger flavor than bagged teas.
The 4 Grades of Tea
Tea gradings are subdivided into many nuanced categories, but there are four overarching grades for all tea:
Whole leaf: Whole leaf is the highest grade of tea, made up of whole, dried tea leaves. Tea made with whole leaf tea has the highest, strongest flavor profile, which will last through multiple steeps.
Broken leaf: Broken leaves are typically darker and have been crushed, but maintain plenty of the flavor of full-leaf tea. Broken-leaf tea will maintain its flavor after multiple steepings. This grade of tea is often sold as loose-leaf teas.
Fannings: Fannings are fragments of leaves collected during the crushing process and are considered of lesser quality than whole or broken tea leaves. The tea in tea bags is primarily made up of fannings, and much of this tea does not retain its flavor after more than one steep.
Dust: The lowest grading of tea, dust is also collected from the crushing process of broken leaves, leaving only tiny tea particles which make a dust. Tea bags often have tea dust inside their sachets and usually, they don’t retain their flavor for multiple steeping
Tea Bags or Loose-Leaf Tea: What Are the Differences?
Here are some of the main differences between tea made with tea bags or loose tea leaves.
Flavor profile: Loose-leaf tea offers a stronger flavor profile than bagged tea because the tea leaves tend to be fresher, and less ground-down. Also, tea bags separate the warm water from the leaves, which can dull the flavor of the tea.
Ease and efficiency: Tea bags are an easier option than loose-leaf tea for everyday tea drinkers, because they do not require other tea-making utensils other than hot water and a mug or teapot. Tea bags can be bought at most grocery stores. Loose-leaf tea requires other tea-making utensils such as a tea infuser and is often a little more difficult to clean up than tea in a bag. Also, you may need to go to a specialty tea retailer in order to find a large selection of loose-leaf teas.
Caffeine: Bagged black tea and other high-caffeine teas release more caffeine than their loose-leaf counterparts.
Uses: Tea bags are typically intended to be steeped once, but you can often make six to seven cups of tea using the same loose leaves.
Leaf varieties: Certain teas have variations depending on the way that the tea leaves have been prepared. One species of tea leaf can produce different teas if the leaves are whole and fresh or steamed and broken, meaning that loose-leaf tea offers greater variety and specificity of your tea. Tea bags mostly contain broken or powdered tea leaves, limiting your options.
Infusion: A standard tea bag can only hold so much tea, so tea bag producers had to refine their tea down to a dust so that the infusion of a small amount of tea would create a strong enough flavor profile. In order to grind the tea to fit in a bag, much of the nuance of the tea leaves are lost.