To be or not to be…that is the question. Well, how about a more appropriate question: loose leaf or tea bag? Yes…I think that is the question. When I first dabbled in tea, I did not stop to consider the differences between tea bag and loose leaf. I used to think it was a matter of convenience; it did not occur to me that it could actually mean a difference in flavor and quality.
First, look at the above photograph. To the left you have a mass produced tea bag and to the right you have normal loose tea leaves. Notice a difference? The tea bag consists of very tiny leaves that look almost like a powder while the loose tea looks…well…like loose tea leaves. By the way, there is a name for these smaller tea particulates. The official name of the tea found in tea bags is fanning. Anyway, when you’re drinking tea, it’s more than just the simple act of throwing these fanning leaves into bowling water; the size of the leaves is also important. Tea leaves contain essential oils and chemicals. If the leaves are broken up, these oils evaporate thus leaving you with tasteless and lifeless tea.
You must also take into account that when the leaves hit water they unfurl. This unfurling action is also what allows the flavor of the tea to be released. Some tea aficionados argue that tea bags restrict this unfurling action which, in turn, inhibits the flavor.
There is also the interesting fact that the tea found in tea bags is actually a mixture of different teas. In other words, companies will amalgamate different teas from around the world so that the taste will remain the same year round. On the other hand, loose leaf is more seasonal; usually a blend of loose leaf derives from a specific area at a certain time of year. To tea lovers, the latter is more precious.
I will admit, while I prefer the more subtle taste of loose leaf, there are a number of brands out there that make tea bags full of delicious tea. So what do you think, dear readers? Have you been converted to the ways of loose leaf?