Billie is a freelance writer, full time reader and avid tea drinker. She graduated from UCL twice (BA in History, MA in Gender Studies) and now works on multiple writing projects as well as in her role in an educational charity.

 

Why I’m Switching to Loose Leaf Tea For Good.

 

You’ve just got home from a long day’s work. You’re tired, you want to relax, unwind. You put the kettle on, peer at your selection of teas. Now you’re faced with one more decision to make today: bag or loose leaf?

You feel inclined towards the bag… it’s quick – you can plop it in the cup, wait a few seconds and the tea is ready to drink. But there’s something holding you back.

Why grab a McDonald’s when you can have a lovingly prepared steak? Why order instant when you can have a properly made coffee? So why settle for a quick cuppa when you can relax and savour the best quality tea?

Some things are worth waiting for, meant to be enjoyed. And choosing luxury over convenience in this case doesn’t just give you a better cup of tea, it’s better for your health, your mood, and the planet.

Not convinced? Let’s have a look into the differences between loose leaf tea and a tea bag.

The history of tea

Tea is the drink of legend. Literally. One popular Chinese legend tells of Emperor Shennong, who was drinking boiled water one day when a few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his water, changing the colour. After taking a sip, Shennong was amazed by its flavour and restorative properties. One variation of this legend even tells that the emperor tested the medicinal properties of various herbs on himself and found that tea worked as an antidote to those which were poisonous. These legends illustrate an understanding of the importance of tea in China. We know that tea was drank in China as far back as the 2nd Century BCE, used as a medicine by people in the Han dynasty. So even two thousand years ago, people knew of the incredible healing properties of tea.

As the world became increasingly connected throughout the centuries, tea spread all over the world – from Japan to Italy, from India to Turkey people learnt of the healing properties and great taste of this plant.

It wasn’t until thousands of years later, in the 17th Century, that tea was brought to the UK. It quickly became a success amongst the British and by the 1750s had become the national British drink.

Tea was fully enjoyed for the next couple of hundred years. Then, in the early 20th century, tea was sewn into small silk bags to allow for ease in packing and shipping across the world. As the drive for cheap production grew in the mid-20th century, these bags began to be made from paper. Nowadays many also contain plastic.

Tea bags and the environment

Unless you’ve been stubbornly blocking out any communication channel in your life, you’ll likely know that plastics are hugely detrimental to the planet .You’ll also know that humanity is currently waging a war against plastics, aiming to reduce the use of them to protect the oceans, wildlife and future of our planet.

You may not know that teabags have recently been brought into the limelight for their use of plastics. Many tea brands (including PG tips, Twinings and Yorkshire tea) all contain polypropylene in their tea bags. Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer used to heat seal teabags and finds its way into most tea bags. That means it’s finding its way into our soil and our oceans, taking thousands of years to break down – poisoning wildlife and destroying nature. Campaigners are currently working on forcing tea companies to give up using polypropylene in their teas, which some companies have achieved. However the process is slow and at this time, polypropylene continues to be used in the majority of tea bags.

Plastic is beginning to be phased out of tea bags; however the main component of the tea bag, paper, is not going anywhere. Whilst not in the climate change limelight at the moment, we have all known for years the damage paper does to the environment. As paper usage continues to increase, deforestation rises worldwide. According to WWF we’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute. Paper production continues to account for a large proportion of this deforestation.

The Health benefits of loose leaf tea

The plastic in tea bags is broken down when encountering hot water, becoming part of the liquid you drink. Many tea bags are also chlorine bleached. That means that the more tea bags you use, the more chemicals you put into your body.

With loose leaf tea you avoid all of these nasty chemicals, keeping your tea pure and natural.

You not only avoid harmful effects. By drinking loose leaf tea you also enjoy a range of health benefits. As people in China knew thousands of years ago, tea has incredibly restorative properties. Recent studies have confirmed this with various tea studies showing that tea can:

  • Reduce cholesterol, minimising the chance of heart disease (green and rooibos tea)
  • Help restore the PH in your mouth, reducing the chance of tooth decay (all black teas)
  • Help your digestion (particularly camomile, peppermint and ginger tea)
  • Act as an inflammatory (rooibos, peppermint, green and ginger tea)
  • Calm nerves and reduce anxiety (peppermint, camomile, and green tea)

All teas are also antioxidants making them good for your heart health and lowering your risk of infections and some forms of cancer.

Whilst the same tea plant is used in tea bags, these benefits are often diminished. This is because the tea in tea bags is dust or fannings – the left over bit from when the tea leaves are taken for loose leaf tea. This is cheaper to produce and fits easily in a tea bag. However, this means that that the tea cannot infuse as successfully. The larger surface area of loose leaf tea allows the plant to diffuse into the water properly meaning that you are able to pick up all the benefits from the tea plant when you drink your tea.

Taste is important

People don’t just drink tea for its extensive health benefits. It’s also a treat, a way to relax and unwind, to really savour something. Loose leaf tea can give you a full tea drinking experience: pleasant aromas and a full flavour mean that you can truly appreciate this amazing plant and the drink it creates.

As tea bags cannot properly diffuse due to their low quality tea and lack of surface area, the taste is stunted – not fully developed or complex. Once you start drinking loose leaf tea, you really notice how tea bags can make tea taste bitter and unpleasant.

Now what?

I used to be a tea bag user, and occasionally, when in a rush or visiting a friend who doesn’t have loose leaf, I still have a tea bag cup of tea. But the difference has become stark since I started drinking loose leaf tea. The quality is just not as good.

Now, whether I’m appreciating some time to relax by myself or enjoying a catch up over a cup of tea with a friend, to make the experience worthwhile loose leaf is the only proper way to go. And I know that whilst enjoying this cup of tea, I’m helping to save the planet and treating my body well.