When you think of tea, the first thing that usually comes to mind is tea bags. However, a large portion of tea connoisseurs prefer their tea loose, carefully steeped in a teapot. Ultimately, the pleasure of drinking tea is in the satisfaction of a good cup, and whether your preference is the Earl Grey you buy in bags, or the Lapsang Souchong you buy loose from your specialty tea store, if you enjoy what you have, then that is what matters. Tea snobs will tell you that the only good tea is loose tea, and while generally speaking, the higher quality (and more expensive) tea is reserved for sale as loose tea, this is not to say that tea bags are bad. It is all about personal preference, so feel free to stay with what you enjoy. But the basic differences are:
- Tea Bags
Generally speaking, the tea in tea bags is either dust or fannings. This serves two purposes, the smaller pieces have a greater surface area and steep quickly and efficiently in a bag, and it also provides a market opportunity for tea that will not be accepted in the primary market for “loose tea” due to the size of the products. While many consider these grade to be low quality, even the highest quality tea can break up and be rendered into dust and fannings. The only real issue with tea bags is that due to the nature of the grades, they infuse rather quickly, and it is easy to over steep the leaves and produce an astringent or bitter cup of tea. Tea bags were also traditionally limited to only a few varieties, limiting choice, however this is beginning to change as tea becomes more popular and more interesting teas are beginning to be bagged and sold as “specialty teas.”
- Loose Tea
Loose tea is whole leaf or broken leaf tea that is sold loose, and not bagged. It tends to be more expensive, and there is much greater variety available. These teas infuse more slowly, and are appreciated by connoisseurs for the control they have over their own cup. There are also many teas that are only available loose. Loose tea requires some kind of infuser unless the drinker is making a cup gongfu style.