tea-bag-teaWhen buying tea, you are faced with a choice: tea packed in tea bags or loose-leaf tea? Let’s start with tea bags. The little paper sachets of tea are undeniably convenient. Storage is very easy. Making a cuppa is very easy – just drop the bag into your cup, add some boiling water, give it a quick stir, take the bag out, add your milk if that is your preference, and away you go! Or if you are the outdoorsy type, they are perfect for camping or a picnic. Flat, light, and easy to pack in a poly bag – what could be better. But in terms of getting any health benefits and flavor, they are not a patch on loose-leaf tea.

We Brits are renowned for enjoying a cuppa, but the bulk of tea consumed in the UK is black tea, produced in India and presented in tea bags. This sort of tea is inevitably taken with milk added and often sugar. Fifty years ago as a lad I remember that it was a different story. Virtually every house had a tea caddy with loose-leaf tea. It was still the same old black tea, but not so crushed up and placed into bags.

Serving it was a bit of a ritual. The pot was warmed with a little boiling water. This was poured away and one teaspoon of tea added per person with “one for the pot.” Boiling water was then added and the leaves were given a quick stir before being left for 3-5 minutes to “mash.” A final stir and the tea was poured into the cup, usually with the milk already there. Allegedly, this practice arose when cups were of such poor quality that they would crack if the hot tea was poured in.

So why do teabags mash so much faster? Simple – the leaves are crushed up very finely so the water can penetrate them to extract the flavor and goodness much quicker. Good idea I hear you say. Not really, as it means that the air can also get to the interior of the leaves much more easily. This oxidizes the components of the tea, reducing the flavor and destroying the antioxidants (once they are oxidized they no longer function as such).

loose-leaf-teaI first started drinking green tea because the girl behind the counter had been talking to another customer about how good the stuff was for you. So I went away, read up a bit more, and decided to give it a go. Armed with a box of clipper green tea bags, I made my first few cups. They were so disappointing. The tea had little flavor and tasted just like English Breakfast Tea, even when left for several minutes longer than recommended. So I got hold of some loose-leaf green tea. I can’t remember the brand, but it was from my local health shop. It was slightly better, but nothing much to write home about.

So that was that, at least for a few years until I came across some green tea from a company called Adagio. What a huge difference! Their loose-leaf green tea had an incredible flavor, very different from the everyday black tea bag tea and certainly much better than the green tea bag tea. Gourmet-quality tea was the way forward for me. After trying out several brands, I eventually settled on In Nature teas. For me, the flavor is the nicest and I really like their other teas, particularly their oolong teas, which have a sweet and faintly nutty flavor.

Although I am no tea connoisseur or tea snob (I still like the traditional British cuppa made with a tea bag and find it refreshing), for anything other than the everyday cup of tea, I prefer loose-leaf tea. Based on my experience of the health food shop loose-leaf green tea, I spend a bit more and go for gourmet quality, as I believe it is worth it.

How about you?

This post first published on the blog 18 June 2013.