Tea is an ancient beverage with proven health benefits. No matter which kind of tea you prefer- black, green, oolong, herbal, etc.- you're sure to be getting antioxidants and other nutrients that are good for your body.
As the tea industry has grown, selling tea in teabags has become standard. However, there are several important benefits to brewing loose leaf tea that makes it worth another look.
The Convenience of Tea Bags
The main benefit of tea bags is their convenience factor. The tea is already measured out into a bag that's easy to steep and remove. All you have to do is put it into your mug, add water, and drink your cup of tea a few minutes later.
Loose leaf tea, on the other hand, is often looked at as inconvenient to use. (In fact, it doesn't take much more time to brew a cup using loose leaf than it does to make one with a tea bag, but we'll get into that later.)
The downside is that tea bags typically lose many of the benefits that come with drinking tea. Here's a look at why loose leaf tea is often your best choice.
Benefits of Loose Leaf Tea
As the clean food movement has started to gain momentum, one of the things most of us have learned is that less processed food is typically better. The same goes for teas, whether they are made from tea leaves or herbs.
Tea typically has to be more processed in order to pack it into small bags. If you've ever looked closely at what's in your tea bags, you may have noticed it's made up of very fine particles and pieces inside. These are referred to as "dust and fannings", meaning broken, low-grade tea leaves.
Some tea companies do offer whole-leaf tea bags, but most store-bought varieties are very processed and use lower grade tea.
More Flavor and Nutritional Value
One of the major benefits of loose leaf tea is that it's usually more flavorful and keeps its nutritional value for longer than tea bags do.
Because the tea and herb particles in tea bags are so fine, they have a larger surface area that's exposed to the air. This means they lose their flavor and freshness much more quickly than leaves that are not as processed.
Both tea leaves and herbs retain antioxidants, essential oils, and other nutrients even when dried. Loose leaf tea keeps these properties for much longer and will give you a more aromatic and flavorful cup.
Infuses Directly Into Water
One of the reasons you might like tea bags is because they hold all the herbs and tea together for you. However, this does mean that the tea has a harder time steeping into the water.
Tea leaves and herbs need space to expand while they steep. Most tea bags are constricting and don't allow for much water to flow through.
This problem has been somewhat resolved by larger tea bags and the newer pyramid shaped ones, but loose leaf still has the advantage of being in direct contact with the hot water. This gives you a more flavorful cup and also allows the hot water to extract the most nutrients.
Avoids Plastic and Bleaching
Most consumers are unaware that the majority of tea bags on the market contain plastic. Most often it's a polymer called polypropylene that's used to help the tea bags seal and keep their shape when submerged in a hot liquid.
The amount of plastic is small, but it adds up quickly when you consider how big the tea industry is and how often people drink tea. One study found that one of these tea bags can release 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of tea. (1)
The same study highlights the growing concern over micro- and nanoplastics because they are potentially toxic and especially harmful to the environment. Tea bags that contain even small amounts of plastic won't decompose completely when thrown out (or composted), and the plastic ends up harming wildlife.
Paper tea bags are one alternative, but many of them are bleached with chemicals before being filled with tea. You can find companies that have non-bleached, plastic-free tea bags by doing some research. Or you can just opt for loose leaf instead.
Allows for Customization
One of the final benefits of loose leaf tea is that it allows you to customize your cup.
Tea bags are standard. They are pre-filled with a certain amount of tea leaves and/or herbs, and that's just how much you get. With loose leaf, you can choose to make a strong or weak cup of tea depending on what you feel like. You can also try blending different teas and herbs together to make your own unique blend.
Overall, loose leaf tea offers you more options and is more likely to give you the fullest health benefits of drinking tea.
How to Brew Loose Leaf Herbal Tea
Herbal tea is a great option because it's naturally caffeine-free and has an almost endless amount of health benefits depending on which herbs you use. It's also extremely easy to make.
You'll need: A heat-proof container (like a teapot or mason jar), a small fine-mesh strainer, your chosen herbal blend, and a mug to drink out of. You can also use a French Press in place of the heat-proof container and strainer.
(If you're on the go a lot, check out this travel mug that comes with a stainless steel infuser.)
Here's what you do:
- Place your herbs into your jar, teapot, or French Press. The typical amount for herbal tea is 1-3 teaspoons of dried herb per 8 oz. of hot water.
- Bring your water to a boil and pour over the herbs. Stir to incorporate the herbs and water, and cover with a cloth or a lid.
- Let your herbs steep covered for 10-15 minutes to really let the beneficial compounds infuse into the water.
- Once steeped, place your strainer over your mug and pour your herbal tea into it, letting the strainer catch the loose herbs. (Or just press down on your French Press.)
- You can compost the herbs you strained out or reuse them later to make another cup. Sweeten your tea with something like honey or drink as is!
As you can see, brewing loose leaf tea is not hard. All you really need is either a strainer or French Press to separate out the loose herbs before you drink your tea. For more details, check out these herbal tea tips and our video tutorial on Facebook.
Loose leaf tea is no longer a thing of the past. It's easy to brew and gives you the most health benefits, so don't be afraid to give it a try!