Updated: Sep 2
Would you like to read this post in Spanish? Click here! The use of teabags is a controversial topic for some, that might lead to heated debates between teabag lovers & those who like me, are whole leaf loose tea advocates. Not only because the teabags are seen as a source of waste generation, but also because the tea leaves cannot be brewed properly encased inside the little pouches.
In addition, generally speaking, the tea commercialized in teabags is not usually of the highest quality. Teabags are for the most part rather cheap, in order to be profitable, the tea contained in the teabags cannot be that expensive. Otherwise, there is no profit to be made.
What's the definition of a teabag? A rather small pouch, made of a porous material used to infuse teas & other types of tisanes alike. There are different types, sizes, shapes and models of teabags to choose between, manufactured using several types of materials such as food-grade plastics, filter papers, cotton or silk. Where did the teabags come from? Originally, tea bags were made of hand-sewn fabric, the first patent ever made for a teabag can be traced down back in 1903. They started to be commercialized in 1904.
By 1908, it is believed that Thomas Sullivan, a tea & coffee importer from New York, marketed the teabags (unknowingly) around the world. He used silk pouches to ship the teas he sold, the customers were supposed to remove the silk wrapping before brewing the teas. But the customers loved the ease of tea brewing leaving the tea leaves encased in their silk enclosure. This is how teabags became a hit among tea lovers at the time. Why are they being used?
Teabags are used in replacement of an infuser, mainly for convenience. It is super easy, just boil some water, grab a teabag & toss it unceremoniously inside the cup. That's it, done! However, how good is the taste of a tea brewed using a teabag? Judging by my own experience, rather poor I would say. What are the disadvantages of using teabags?
Tea leaves need space to open, breath & release their components, they cannot do this efficiently when brewed inside a narrow enclosure such a teabag. While how good a brew tastes doesn't only depend on where it was brewed, the quality of tea is a really important factor, by moving the tea out from teabags & brewing it in teapots we are already improving our brew considerably. Another reason to take into account to support our argument against the use of teabag is the number of unwanted chemicals such as bleaches & small particles contained in the materials used to manufacture the teabags themselves. These undesirable chemicals could not only affect the taste of the brew but could also be damaging our bodies if ingested. In 2019, a group of Canadian scientists found out that plastic teabags shed billions of micro-plastic particles into the brew. These particles could be harmful to the human body. While more research is needed on this topic, it is advisable to skip using plastic teabags altogether.
Some people would argue that teabags can be recycled. This also became a hot topic since, tea bags in 2017, a farmer in Wales noticed that a white substance was present in his compost. Upon further investigation, he found out it was the polypropylene that was being used to seal the teabags. According to the manufacturers, the use of such chemical substance helps to make the teabags stronger & less likely to break down during the brewing. Some teabags might contain up to 25% of polypropylene, if we take into account the number of teabags used around the world, this is a lot. In fact, even 1% would be too much since something used to brew a beverage that will be consumed by living beings should contain ZERO amount of plastics. Many companies raced to change the materials used in their teabags production as soon as the research got published. However, by improving the materials, or by making the teabags bigger, the taste of the brew doesn't improve. The tea leaves still do not open properly cramped inside the teabags, the tea contained inside the teabags is for the most part still of low quality & also, a large amount of waste is generated. Do you really know what's in your cup? Have you ever wondered what goes into your cup? How good is the tea contained inside the teabags? How much waste your tea brews generate? I am surprised when I talk about tea with yoga teachers, people who look after themselves, who are into wellness, well-being & sustainability & also with those who watch what they eat. Most of them still use teabags. They don't know what they are consuming, they don't know where their teas come from, they don't know about the tea's quality, the farmers or the manufacturers. Therefore they are oblivious about what's in their cups.
Aren't you also guilty? I must confess I am also guilty, I used teabags in the past for my teas. I started drinking tea of dubious quality, at the time there was nothing better around. I was twelve, I did not work, I was dependent on my parents. When I started working at the age of 14, I had some money so I purchased loose tea leaves, gunpowder. It wasn't cheap but it was high quality. I did not know how to brew it so it really sucked. Therefore, I continued drinking teas in teabags for quite a while, yet I always tried whole leaf loose teas whenever I had the chance. I used to go out to have tea with my friends. I carried & used my own tea inside my own paper teabags instead having any of the teas available at the coffee places in town. I always wondered what the waitresses & baristas working on those establishments thought about me asking for a cup of tea with the teabag on the side. Around 6 years ago I stop using teabags altogether. I only drink whole leaf loose teas brewed as they should be. Seldomly, I might try a tea outside to analyze how they brew it & figure out how their service could be improved. I am not a fan of teabags. I understand why they are being used, I understand their convenience yet I am not an advocate for teabag brewing. They are especially damaging when used for brewing high-quality teas that yield incredible flavours when brewed with love & care. Some people may use teabags since they are not sure where to start with loose teas brewing. I can understand that since I can also relate to this. I have been there, I have done that. There was a time when I did not know how to do it neither. I only changed my mind about the use of teabags after several attempts, after many trials and errors. It is not always easy to find reliable information, tools, teas...
Many people use teabags since they find brewing tea the proper way annoying. In my eyes, brewing tea should be a pleasure, a time of the day reserved to prepare a cuppa while reflecting on life occurrences, on our inner life, on ourselves. A time to relax, to enjoy, to savour our tea brew, to be present in this moment.
And you? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer the use of tea bags or loose tea? Share your comments below! PLEASE READ! The aim of this blog is to help you to improve your Japanese tea knowledge one article at a time. If you enjoyed this post don't forget to hit like (the little heart bottom right) & consider to subscribe to the blog so you don't miss any of the future posts. You can also find me on Instagram (daily Japanese tea-based pairings plus occasional giveaways) & Tik Tok (Japanese tea-based drinks.) The Spanish version of this article should be released at some point on the Spanish blog. And if you haven't done so, subscribe to the newsletter and get 10% OFF from your first order. Shipping within the EU currently.
Keep sipping on great organic whole leaf Japanese teas! Until next Monday!