As a business owner of premium loose leaf teas, I have been asked my opinion, on different occasions, regarding tea bags.
I ponder and pose the question, "What is so difficult about making a cup of tea with loose leaves?"
First of all, I will confess that I grew up on tea bags...never made directly in a cup, but always in a pot. I liked pouring tea from a pot and seeing the gentle splash and steam rising from the cup. I was introduced to loose leaf tea at my aunt's dining table one Sunday dinner in my so-called hippie days. She put it loose, right into the pot and while brewing, she poured a little milk into each cup and then she held a strainer over the cup to catch the swollen leaves and poured the tea, piping hot into her mismatched cups and saucers. Well, I think more than any other time, this tea moment became the moment when I associated the act of ritual with tea drinking.
It appeared that tea was something more than whatever grainy stuff was in the tea bags with which I had been familiar. What to do? Tea bag or loose? Back then, it wasn't always easy to find a can of loose tea on the grocery shelf. Tea bags had become such a matter of convenience. Instead of having to dump messy wet leaves from the pot, swirling lots of water around to get them all out while being careful not to plug the drain, one just had to remove the couple or more bags and throw them in the garbage. I went the convenience route for several years, knowing full well that when I did splurge and made 'real' tea with the loose leaf, I did enjoy it more, both the ritual and the taste. Tea bag tea just didn't taste as good.
I think it is fair to say that tea bags held a lower quality of tea called the fannings which are the left-overs after the large tea pieces are processed. But our generation was fine with that. Now, many companies see the benefit of bagging the whole leaf so that the consumer can appreciate the body of the liquor and more complex taste profile. Many consumers are better educated on the subject of tea!
Thomas Sullivan takes credit for the invention of the tea bag in 1908 when as a tea salesman he sent tea samples to potential buyers in small silk sachets. Misunderstanding his intention of providing an easy way to send loose tea, his patrons thought they were to pour water on the whole sachet. What a great invention!! But actually tea has been packaged in paper as far back as the 8th century in China.
Up until 2017, the modern tea bag left a residue of plastic when composting. A gardener in the UK, Mike Armitage, successfully petitioned several large tea companies to ban the use of plastics in tea bag production. Now, corn starch adhesive replaces polypropylene.
Though I thought I would never admit that the tea bag might be more convenient than my infuser that fits both my tea pot and favourite mug, I am putting myself in the place of the consumer who is not like me. I don't usually drink tea 'on the run' so I haven't felt challenged about the inconvenience. Even many to-go cups have infuser-style inserts but the tea is still loose and has to be discarded with a bit more effort than dumping a tea bag in the compost. I rather prefer the Tea Brew tea sacs for making my own tea bag if I must.
The dilemma for me was quality. Now, one can buy tea bags with the whole or slightly broken leaf inside and the sachet itself is fully compostable with no plastics. So here I am researching the best tea bags that will carry the best teas (the ones that I sell) for today's busy and conscientious tea drinkers.
Here I am, asking myself,
"To tea bag or not to tea bag? That is the question."
If you have read this blog to its end, I would love to have your thoughts about this subject. I love to hear from you, my tea drinking friends, around North America.