Why tea-bags and tea-infusers are bad

Tea bags are a product of convenience; they are easy, cheap, and clean. But if you’ve only ever drank tea that was a product of a tea-bag, you are missing out. Tea-bags used to only be filled with dust and fannings which are all the little pieces leftover from different processing methods. Through the years, tea companies have been putting higher and higher quality tea in bags. But no matter how nice the tea, or how innovative the bag is (see nylon bag below), they fail for one fundamental reason: tea leaves must be allowed to flow freely within the brewing vessel. Tea leaves expand while brewing, and being stuffed in a bag only allows them to expand a small amount.

nice_tea_bag

Tea bag before steeping

Same tea bag after steeping

Same tea bag after steeping

infuser stainless-steel-tea-ball-infuser-2-diameter

The same rules apply for tea balls and fancy tea infusers: if the tea cannot flow freely in the steeping vessel, you are not enjoying the tea at its full potential.

We’ve seen how much the high quality black tea expanded in the above tea bag image, now lets take a look at what happens to a loose-leaf oolong when it is allowed to flow freely in a glass tea-cup.

One teaspoon of oolong before steeping

Teaspoon of oolong before steeping

Same teaspoon after steeping

Same teaspoon after steeping

If the leaves are able to flow freely, we allow for more of the leaves to be in contact with water-and the more contact the leaves have with the water – the better chance we have to extract the full flavor of the tea.

If the above oolong leaves were stuck in a bag or in an infuser, they would not have the chance to expand the way they do when allowed to flow freely. Steeping tea doesn’t have to be difficult, achieving great tea can be simple if you have the right equipment.

2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

About the Author:

Tony has been studying tea for over ten years and has traveled to many tea producing regions throughout Asia. His book, "Tea: A User's Guide" is available now.

21 Comments

  1. Ryan February 8, 2017 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    I can’t stand tea bags anymore. Once I moved to the Curve Asian Infuser I never looked back.

  2. Michael Laabs September 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    Ikaati tea is the ONLY tea that I have had that matches loose leaf for flavor. I suggest you try this tea it will really surprise you!!

  3. Chayan Barua June 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    Tea is a popular drink but the tea bags are not so well developed.

  4. James St. James April 11, 2011 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    Agreed, love loose leaf! Just got some high quality Jasmine, and 2 different Oolongs (Ting tung and another one). – eyes shutting slowly.
    James St. James

  5. Erik January 16, 2011 at 4:50 am - Reply

    Ive been drinking tea for about a year consistently. Have been a fan for at least 6 years. Alot of people dont realize that green tea also contains a weak form of cannabinoids, which contributes to that high that increases color perception. It has alot of alkaloids, if you compare green tea extract to green tea, the extract has more egcg, but the tea has a better high. I don’t like the increased stress of caffeine, but I also think if I drink like 6 teas I’m also on a kind of chilled out gaba high from the theanine. Caffeine and tea make the day go by faster at school or work for me, it helps me be able to stand it more. It also does increase my musical creativity. If i try to make up a melodic diddly without tea, it doesnt come as easy, smooth, or profound as when im on tea. It also modifies my music though, since different sounds sound more appealing under tea. Tea has goods and bads, and at least for me its an undamaging light drug that is more useful than drinking alchohol everyday or pot. Some people can function under pot, but the truth is it causes memory loss in the moment, so I use tea as a kind of creative gateway instead of pot. This is true though, I usually have 5-6 tea bags in my pot and do a few runs by adding one. I should get loose leaf macha.

    • Josef February 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing! I’ve been drinking a lot of green and oolong teas lately and have noticed this “increased color perception” you spoke about, but I am almost certain that this is from the caffeine and L-theanine because the same thing happens when I drink coffee or soda and take an L-theanine supplement pill with it.

      As a side note, camellia sinensis (tea plants) do not contain any form of cannabinoids. Tea is in the Theaceae family, while Cannabis is in the Cannabaceae family, and are quite different indeed! In tea there are plenty of polyphenols and alkaloids, which are chemicals that can mimic hormones (estrogen mostly, also testosterone) and monoamines (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline) in the brain, but tea specifically does not exert any effect on the cannabinoid system, just wanted to clear up any confusion. If you can find any references that prove me otherwise though, please do share! I for one would love to learn that tea really has been tickling my cannabinoid receptors this whole time! :]

      • Joel Munson May 5, 2013 at 2:45 pm - Reply

        A plant need not be related to cannabis to contain cannabinoids. There are many sources of cannabinoids in the world, including many types of plants, and of course all vertebrates. Here is a link showing that tea catechins have an affinity for endocannabinoid receptors.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19897346

  6. Seann Sweeney May 19, 2010 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Nylon teabags are not biodegradable. Another reason to go with loose leaf tea!

  7. Susan May 13, 2010 at 3:34 am - Reply

    I am wondering if that is a refillable fabric tea bag or wherr you found suxh a big tea bag!

    • Lily March 5, 2012 at 11:38 am - Reply

      Whole Foods Market sells refillable canvas tea bags for $4.99!

  8. Ian Bersten February 14, 2010 at 1:52 am - Reply

    Teabags can never work to extract the full flavour of tea.
    The temperature in a cup is too low at around 85C – this reduces extraction by over 50%.
    The lack of water flow reduces steeping and leaching which is better because the water cannot flow around the leaves.
    There is more flavour left in the teabag than used.
    You get a better cup of tea by taking the tea out of the bag and brewing it.

  9. Ron La Gro April 1, 2009 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    Hey Tony,
    Do you know Richard w/ Two Leaves & a bud. Also a tea man. Do you know of the IHA Tradeshow in Chicago..was there 2 weeks ago.
    Many tea related products & new ideas. Could be great for your products next year.
    I used to exhibit @ this show as well.

    • Tony April 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      Ron, I don’t know Richard, and unfortunately I was not a the show in Chicago. I have yet to enter the commercial world of tea, I ran a coffee/tea shop in Jersey for 4 years, but one day I want to open up a Chinese-styled tea house in Chicago. Are you in the industry?

  10. Tony March 24, 2009 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    I think convenience does sometimes trump … I wouldn’t say tradition, but “better tea.” Even high quality bagged teas have limitations and fall short of loose leaf. But yeah, sometimes for convenience you just have to do it.

  11. Chris Pugh March 23, 2009 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    While I personally don’t use teabags, I do however think they have their place. You can get many quality teas in bagged form. I say convenience sometimes trumps tradition. I went from drinking standard bagged teas to quality bagged teas to loose leaf teas.

    http://www.chrispugh.com/

  12. Lainie Petersen March 21, 2009 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    I am not fond of stand-alone tea infusers or teabags myself. I certainly would never use one, even out of “convenience” with, say, an oolong or a nice Yunnan Gold, when I know that the leaves are going to really expand.

    I do take the position, however, that tea drinking is important, and that sometimes convenience trumps tea-geekery. As such, I endorse the use of teabags with appropriate teas if circumstances require it.

  13. DANIEL HONG March 19, 2009 at 12:28 am - Reply

    @Tony
    ‘Wong Chin Kooi’=’Huang Jin Gui’ I think.
    I’m wondering why so many people like Huang Jin Gui except Chinese. Maybe it’s because of its strong flavor. The most famous origin of Huang Jin Gui is Hu Qiu town of Anxi County, China.

  14. Tony March 18, 2009 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    It was one of the teas I picked up at a Chinese Tea shop in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, the label was in Mandarin but they wrote in english: Wong Chin Kooi — no idea what that means.

  15. DANIEL HONG March 18, 2009 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    I agree with you, Tony.
    What kind of Oolong tea you brew in this post? It looks like strange. Is it a good tea?

    Besides, Tony I like your reviews.

  16. Adam March 18, 2009 at 11:36 am - Reply

    This is off-topic, perhaps, but the pics don’t zoom properly in firefox when I increase the font.

    Back on topic: I totally agree, and would not go back to teabags after using a pot and later on a coffee press to make loose leaf tea.

  17. Emily March 15, 2009 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    I didn’t realize the leaves had to expand so much! What about mesh strainers that you pop into the mug, such as http://www.teazonline.com/servlet/the-237/tea-basket-infuser-strainer/Detail
    Are these OK?

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