Cozying up at the end of the day with a hot cup of tea is not as easy as it used to be. Though popping into the grocery store and buying a box of tea bags may seem like the obvious choice, the recent popularity of specialty tea stores like Teavana and Argo have brought loose leaf tea into the spotlight. These brands insist that a loose leaf tea is a far superior product than bagged tea, regardless of the variety. But how much of the acclaim is really true? The following comparison of tea bags to loose leaf tea will help you choose which cup is better for you.
Loose leaf teas are typically sold in bulk at specialty stores. Unlike the leaves inside tea bags, which tend to be leaf fragments, loose leaf is sold in its full leaf. It is typically a fresher product because it has not been sitting on supermarket shelves for months on end. Because it is a higher-grade tea than those in bags, loose leaf also has more nutritional potency and produces stronger flavor and a more authentic tea experience. However, quality comes at a cost: loose leaf tea is not only more expensive than tea bags, but it also requires a variety of accessories to properly use and store it. Properly steeping loose leaf requires purchasing paper filters, a steel mesh tea ball or a teapot with a built-in strainer. Storage is no simple feat either; because this tea is purchased fresh, it must be kept in an airtight container and typically goes stale faster than bagged tea.
When it comes to convenience, tea bags beat loose leaf by a landslide. The small, portable pouches can be opened at your convenience and simply dropped into a cup of hot water. Tea bags typically have a longer shelf life than loose leaf tea, with maximum potency for six months to a year. Though price depends on the brand, boxed tea is also typically cheaper than loose leaf and is easily acquired; most grocery stores carry dozens of varieties. However, there is a tradeoff: a cup of tea made from a bag versus a loose leaf blend will not have nearly the same flavor factor. Tea bags are mass-produced; the leaves are incredibly processed and have likely sat on a shelf for a while. Not only does an older product have less nutritional benefits, but the bags containing the tea can actually filter out some of the vitamins found in the tea leaves themselves.
The argument comes down to quality over cost and convenience. If you are a regular tea drinker who is already willing to spend more money on higher-end bagged tea, it makes the loose leaf investment well worth the extra chunk of change. Loose leaf is fresher, brighter and makes for an overall better drinking experience. For the typical college kid just looking to enjoy a hot cup while studying in his dorm room, however, tea bags are always a cheap and easy choice.