Teabag or no teabag, that is the question!

Updated: Apr 19

The use of teabags is a controversial topic that might lead to heated debates between teabag lovers and those who 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 teas 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.

What's the definition of a teabag? A rather small pouch, made of a porous material used to infuse teas and 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. Originally, teabags were made of hand sew 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, Thomas Sullivan a tea and coffee importer from New York, marketed the teabags (unknowingly) around the world. He used silk pouches to ship the teas, customers were supposed to remove the silk wrapping before brewing the teas. But customers loved the ease of tea brewing leaving the tea leaves encased in their silk enclosure. This is how teabags became a hit among the tea lovers at the time.

The teabags are used in replacement of an infuser, mainly for convenience. It is super easy, just boil water at 100 degrees Celsius, grab a teabag and toss it unceremoniously inside the cup. However, how good is the taste of a tea brewed using a teabag? By my own experience, rather poor I would say.

Tea leaves need space to open, breath and release their components, they cannot do this 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, yet by moving out from teabags into teapots we are already improving our brew. Other reasons to take into account against the use of teabags in tea brewing is the amount of unwanted chemicals such as bleaches and small particles that could affect the taste of the brewing plus could be damaging for our bodies. In 2019, a group of Canadian scientist 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 it is advisable to skip using plastic teabags altogether.

Some people would argue that teabags can be recycled. This is also a hot topic since 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 bags. According to the manufacturers, this helps to make the teabags stronger and less likely to break down during the brewing. Some teabags might contain up to 25% of polypropylene, if we take into account the amount 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 should contain zero plastics. Many companies raced to change the materials used in their teabags production since then. 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 of a low quality and a large amount of waste is generated. Have you ever wondered what goes into your cup? How good is the tea contained inside the teabags? How much waste your tea brew generates? I am surprised when I talk about tea with yoga teachers, people who look after themselves, those into wellness, well-being and sustainability and 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 teas quality, the farmers or the manufacturers. I must confess I am guilty, I used teabags in the past for my teas. I started drinking tea of a dubious quality, at the time there was nothing better around. I was twelve, I did not work, I was dependent from 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. It did not know how to brew it so it really sucked. I continued drinking teas in teabags for quite a while, yet I always tried whole leaf loose teas as soon as I had the chance. I used to go to have tea with my friends and use my own tea in my own paper tea bag instead having the ones available in the coffee places in town. Around 6 years ago I stop using teabags altogether. I only drink whole leaf loose teas brewed as they should be. Sometimes, I might try a tea outside to analyze how they brew it and figure out how this 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. Specially for high quality teas that yield incredible flavours if brewed with love and care. Some people may use teabags since they are not sure where to start with loose teas brewing. I can understand that and I can also relate to this. There was a time when I did not know neither and I only changed my mind 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 tea brewing the proper way annoying. Actually, brewing tea should be a pleasure, a time of the day reserved to prepare a cup of tea 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 teabags or loose tea? Share your comments below!

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