Loose leaf is considerably more expensive than most bagged teas. It is also less convenient, you have to measure out the required amount with a spoon and place it in a strainer of some kind, then you have to wait several minutes to wait for the tea to brew and remove the strainer from the tea and clean it out. Whereas if you use a tea bag you can just put it in your cup and the tea will be brewed in seconds.
So why do some many people prefer loose leaf?
I imagine due to the nature of this blog it will attract an audience of tea lovers who are already loose leaf converts but for the benefit of those newer to tea I shall explain why I prefer loose leaf.
So here is my list of reasons why loose leaf teas are worth the extra cost.
Bagged tea is often low grade tea dust and fannings from broken tea leaves. Broken leaves loose most of their aroma and most of their essential oils. They also release more tannin than whole leaf tea, this results in the tea being more bitter (and is also the reason very few people in the UK drink black tea as the black tea in tea bags has a bitter taste). Loose leaf leaves have a larger surface area which not only improve the aroma and taste of the drink but also means they have more antioxidants.
The size and shape of tea bags also gives the leaves little room to expand meaning the full flavour of the tea cannot be released (this is also a problem with loose leaf tea if you use an infuser ball, loose leaf tea should be made using a “basket” infuser to allow the leaves to fully expand).
Today in the West there is a wider variety in teas than ever before. However this still pales in comparison to the variety of loose leaf teas available. The tea bag industry is run on a large industrial scale so teas that sell easily are the priority whereas if you drink loose leaf you will have tea produced in smaller batches and in some cases teas that are only produced on one small farm in China or India for small scale operations they can never match the scale or compete on price with large companies so they must compete on quality and the quality of loose leaf is far superior.
For an experiment I went on the website of a large supermarket and looked for the teas available I have not counted fruit or herbal teas, I have only counted tea made from Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) with or without flavouring added, these are the options available; Non-specific “black tea” which is normally found in the tea bag industry of the UK, Earl Grey, Green tea (with no more specific information), Green tea with lemon, non specific white tea, Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Masala chai, Lady Grey, matcha in teabags, Jasmine tea, Green tea and mint, salted caramel flavoured green tea, mao feng green tea, ginseng matcha, cherry Bakewell flavoured green tea, chocolate tea bags, variations of the above in decaffeinated form.
This looks like a lot. But compared to the selection of loose leaf available on specialist sites it is a tiny amount. There is no oolong, pu-erh or yellow tea on this list at all. Themselves all huge category’s with massive variations (especially the first two). There is only one white tea and while there is more of a variety in green tea with the exception of the mao feng green tea and matcha most of those offered are mass produced with the idea of adding flavourings to the tea rather than bringing out the natural aromas of the green tea leaves and being vague about “green tea” leaves no room for choosing a Chinese, Japanese or Indian green tea (or Thai, Indonesian or Vietnamese for that matter there are many other countries that have green tea) based on their different characteristics.
Loose leaf tea can be used many times over and each infusion tastes slightly different to the one before it. By infusing the same leaves multiple times you get a full profile of different flavours from a few teaspoons of leaves. In some cases the taste of subsequent infusions of tea is very different from the first infusion. This can also help to offset the fact the cost of loose leaf is higher than bagged teas as each tea bag can only be used.
If you are used to tea bags getting loose leaf brewing right can seen complicated but all you need is a teaspoon to measure out the amount of tea, a mug or cup and a brewing basket to hold the tea leaves. It is really worth trying loose leaf for yourself.