Loose leaf tea

The big debate – Loose-leaf tea vs. tea bags

What is loose leaf tea?

Loose-leaf tea is any tea that is not brewed in a tea bag. Loose-leaf tea is the full dried tea leaves that are sold in a packet or container (sometimes tins). Whereas traditional commercial tea bags are just leaf dust and fannings of broken-off pieces of tea leaves.

When you steep loose-leaf tea, it usually has more room to absorb water and to expand as they infuse. This allows the water to flow through the leaves and extract a wide range of vitamins, minerals, flavours and aromas from the leaves. The surface area of loose-leaf tea is also larger, leading to a higher infusion rate and a more flavourful brew.

Of course, tea bags are quick, easy and convenient to use but loose-leaf Honeybush tea is 100% natural, unprocessed and contains various minerals and antioxidants, making it the healthier option.

So why is loose-leaf tea better than tea bags?

1) Loose-leaf tea is usually made up of buds, whole leaves or partially cut leaves. Harmony’s loose-leaf tea is produced from honeybush plants grown on the Balintore farm in the Ruiterbos area near Mossel Bay. In comparison, tea bags usually contain leaf dust or small broken pieces.

2) Although loose-leaf tea has a longer brewing time than tea bags it offers a fuller flavour with subtle nuances. The whole leaves are allowed to expand fully whereas the product in tea bags have restricted movement and usually has a one-dimensional flavour profile meant for a strong brew that can stand up to milk and sugar.

3) Some might argue that it takes too much time and effort to steep tea leaves but remember that loose-leaf tea can be re-steeped, offering more than one cup – which is not the case with tea bags. This means more quality product for less money.

4) It’s very unlikely that you will oversteep your loose-leaf honeybush tea and loose leaf tea doesn’t release as much tannins (makes tea bitter) when steeped compared to tea brewed with a tea bag.

5) If stored properly, loose-leaf tea will stay fresher for longer. The larger surface area of the loose-leaf tea means more opportunity for the essential oils (what makes tea flavourful and aromatic) to evaporate, leaving the tea dull and stale. Freshness can be a major issue with typical tea bags for this reason, especially if they are packed in a paper box with paper wrapping. Mass-produced traditional tea bags, produced on an industrial scale, can stay on supermarket shelves for numerous months leading to a less flavourful product.

6) Loose-leaf tea offers more variety as you are able to add other loose leaves to your infuser; creating exciting and unique flavours. Just be aware that if you brew two teas together, you will want to brew them at the lower of the two’s steeping temperature.

7) Loose-leaf tea is produced seasonally in small quantities using artisan methods that involve hand-picking and hand-sorting of only the best quality tea leaves.

8) Tea connoisseurs with expert palates have noted that they can taste the sensation of paper to produce tea bags. Whereas, when using an infuser with loose-leaf tea, you will enjoy the flavours and aromas of just pure, natural honeybush.

The Verdict

Everyone will agree that the invention of the tea bag has made life simpler. It has also helped to increase the scalability and economic viability of the tea-shipping process. On the other hand, it has also led to several product quality issues. 

For instance, it was found that there are not only environmental and ethical issues with the quality of the tea bags itself but also with the tea contained inside (lower-grade dust and fannings from broken down tea leaves).

During the production (and storage) of tea bags, the tea is exposed to air which can result in a substantial lack of flavour and the tea becoming stale quicker. Loose-leaf teas tend to be of higher quality and stay fresher for longer.

All ingredients found in loose-leaf tea are 100% natural which will give you a richer and fuller flavour experience. Not to mention the health benefits  you can reap from the countless antioxidants and minerals found in every cup. 
So, if you’re looking for a quick cuppa at the office, use your favourite tea-bag brand. However, if you’re looking for a first-rate experience with good taste, great aromas, and the best quality, loose-leaf tea is the only way to go

Infographic: Loose-leaf tea vs. tea bags

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