Impediments to Better Tea: Five Misconceptions

Loose Leaf Tea
Loose Leaf Tea
Loose Leaf Tea
Loose Leaf Tea
Drinking a cup of tea
Drinking a cup of tea
Two leaves and a bud
Two leaves and a bud

It's universally known that tea is good for you. It's also universally known that loose tea is better than bag tea. Yet, in the United States, teabags are still far more popular than loose tea. Are you among the many drinking teabag tea? You are? I had a feeling. Don't worry, I think I know what the problem is, and I can help.

Flashback four years: I walked into a friend's cubicle and saw several canisters of loose tea. I immediately inquired about them, as I had long been interested in loose tea but was still using teabags because they were oh-so convenient. I distinctly recall telling her, “I've always wanted to try loose tea, but it seems so . . . hard.” And that, right there, explains why so many people rely on the bag: loose tea seems inconvenient.

Like many of the people to whom I now preach about ditching teabags, my misconceptions about the logistics of loose tea prevented me from trying it. It seemed inconvenient in 4 ways: expense, handling, time, and equipment. I don't know about you, but when I want a cup of tea, I don't really want to work that hard to get it. So I can sympathize with folks who are afraid to try anything that might make their tea routine more complex. But I also sympathize with them because they are silly, they are drinking subpar tea, and they need to see the light! Is this you? Is this someone you love? I was lucky that my friend took 2 minutes to correct my false impressions. So, take a lesson from yours truly, consider my misconceptions and some facts about loose tea, and set yourself free from the bags for good.

Misconception #1: Loose tea is expensive
One of the most pleasant surprises I had when I first forayed into the world of loose tea was that it wasn't nearly as expensive as I expected. Sure, there are pricy teas. And, OK, the cost of loose tea is typically more than the super-pack of 10,000 teabags you buy at the grocery store. But keep one thing in mind: when buying any higher-quality product, an increased cost is expected and not unreasonable. Overall, the cost of loose tea isn't as high as you might think, especially compared with the price of other artisanal products. The price-per-cup of loose tea can be less than $0.10. Good luck finding a cup of coffee or a piece of cheese or chocolate for that little! Also, if you typically buy your tea on the go, you're likely paying at least a couple bucks for hot water (which is free at home) and one low-quality teabag. Paying $0.10 for what will be a better cup of tea is a much better deal.

Misconception #2: Loose tea is... loose... and that's a pain
Perhaps the tidiness of the teabag offsets the decreased quality of the tea for some, but I bet they just don't know about the flavor they're sacrificing (see Misconception #5, below). Loose tea is no more difficult to manage than is bag tea. Yes, you have to measure it yourself, and yes, it may take a few tries to find the perfect leaf:water ratio to suit your taste, but it's not rocket science. The rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of leaves per 6-ounce cup of water (Note: Many mugs are 10 to 12 ounces, so measure accordingly). This rule mainly applies to black teas; oolongs, greens, whites, and herbals may require 2 or even 3 teaspoons. And it's no harder to scoop the leaves into an infuser (ie, strainer or filter) in a teapot than it is to drop a teabag into a cup. Many teapots come with fitted infusers, which contain the leaves quite nicely. After steeping, dump the leaves in the trash (or better yet, compost heap) as you would a teabag, and put the infuser back in the pot. No muss, no fuss!

Misconception #3: Loose tea takes too long
First, the number of steps you follow when preparing bag or loose tea is the same: six. Boil water, put tea in pot, add water, steep, remove tea, enjoy. Voilà.

Second, regardless of the form your tea comes in, recommended steeping times are approximately the same: 2-3 minutes for green, 3-5 for most other varieties.

Misconception #4: Loose tea requires a lot of special equipment
You don't need any special equipment if you want to get technical, but a teapot/cup with an infuser does make things easier (skip the metal tea-balls. They don't allow leaves to fully expand). The pots can be pricy, but they certainly don't have to be. The PersonaliTEA teapot, for example, is $9. I bought one when I first got into loose tea and seriously, it was the best $9 I ever spent. I use the thing daily, despite now having many different, fancier teapots to choose from. Of course, there are all kinds of cute accoutrements that you can buy too, but do you need them? Not really.

Although most people seem to know better, there is one more misconception to address, just for good measure.

Misconception #5: There really isn't a significant enough difference in taste between bag and loose tea to warrant the effort
There is, of course, a huge taste difference. Teabags generally contain bits of tea leaves (typically fannings and dust), not whole leaves, and these leaf fragments brew up a nice cup of blah tea. As any tea expert will tell you, one of the essential requirements of brewing tea is giving the leaves enough room to expand so that their flavor is properly extracted. Because space is limited in a traditional teabag, the size of the tea leaf is smaller to compensate. Thus, the quality of the flavor is decreased. Thus, loose tea reigns supreme.

And there you have it! Did I conquer your fears? Did I inspire you? Say yes and try some loose tea. It won't be long until you see that it really isn't as tough as you thought it would be, but it is just as delicious.

Still not so sure? Share your own reasons regarding your reluctance about switching to loose tea by commenting below. I just may have an answer for you.

For additional general information about tea, check out the Tea Info page.