Is Loose-Leaf Tea Really Better than Tea Bags?

updated Dec 17, 2019
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I love loose-leaf tea — at least in theory. It’s fresher and more flavorful, not to mention the whole ritual of making tea feels more, well, like a ritual when you’re using tea leaves (especially if they come in a fancy tin). In practice, however, things often go a different way. The pre-packaged tea bags are more convenient — faster, cheaper, more portable.

So, is loose-leaf tea really worth it?

We checked in with a few tea experts, and they were unanimous in their response. Yes, loose-leaf tea is worth it. Here are three reasons why.

3 Reasons Why Loose-Leaf Tea Really Is Better

1. The quality of loose-leaf is superior.

Steve Schwartz, the founder and CEO of Art of Tea, says there’s a huge difference in quality between loose-leaf tea and those grocery-store tea bags. Consider, he says, a bag of potato chips. The chips at the top of the bag — whole, unbroken — are like loose-leaf tea; the crumbs at the bottom are like your grocery-store tea.

When the farmers sort through the leaves, he explains, “the dust flies in the air, falls on the ground, and it’s swept up — and that’s normally what goes into your pre-packaged tea bags.”

Heidi Johannsen Stewart, founder of Bellocq Tea Atelier in Brooklyn, agrees: “The tea used in teabags is most often filled with fannings, or dust, not to mention the low quality. Choosing a loose-leaf tea of quality makes for a better cup and overall experience.”

2. Loose-leaf puts you in control.

Another perk of loose-leaf is that you can use as much or as little tea as you like — and also that you can play mixologist. “Loose-leaf allows you to control the strength of your tea — everyone has their own preference for how they like their perfect cuppa — and to blend different types of tea to truly create your own taste,” says Deanna Moylan, global product director for the Australia-based T2.

3. Loose-leaf is sort of magical.

There is something to be said for the ritual of making tea the old-fashioned way. “It’s lovely to watch the loose leaves dance in the water as the tea infuses to develop a full flavor and aroma,” notes Moylan. Stewart adds, “It may be just a small detail, but the details add up to a larger picture.”

Considering the Other Side: Tea Bags

Of course, there are all the arguments in favor of tea bags (i.e., cost, convenience, and portability) to consider, but how valid are they really?

Cost-wise, you might expect to pay two to three times as much for loose-leaf tea — or more. But considering many of us fork out several dollars every day for our morning cup of coffee, the cost of a cup of loose-leaf tea (maybe 50 cents, probably less) isn’t outrageous.

In terms of convenience, Schwartz argues that measuring out a teaspoon of loose-leaf tea doesn’t really require that much more effort than tearing your tea bag out of the overbag. There are all sorts of disposable tea bags, too, like T2’s new cotton ones or Art of Tea’s biodegradable ones. You just want to make sure to give the tea leaves enough room, whether in the bag or in your tea pot to unfold and unfurl.

Schwartz is a fan of what he calls the “tall glass” method of brewing. Basically measure your loose-leaf tea into a tall glass, pour hot water over it, and drink it. We at The Kitchn have strong opinions on this matter (which seems to coincide with the pulp/no-pulp debate), but it’s certainly convenient.

On the final point, I think we have to concede that those pre-packaged tea bags have the upper hand. When it comes to transporting your tea, tea bags are definitely easier. Although, the challenges of portability are by no means prohibitive. Our Assistant Editor Sheela says she pre-fills disposable bags and brings those with her whenever possible.

What do you think: Loose-leaf or tea bags? Tell us in the comments.