Tea bags are essentially a 20th century invention, though they did not take off in a big way until Tetley, the UK tea company, popularised the paper tea bag in the 1950s. The tea bag gradually changed the way that teas was drunk in the UK, tea became an instant drink - put the bag in the cup, add boiling water, a couple of stirs, out with the bag, add the milk and about thirty seconds after the kettle boils - a nice cuppa.
Or is it? It's refreshing enough but that's about all it is, it's simply a drink. Millions of people are blissfully unaware of the true potential of tea, a potential that is lost when using a commercial tea bag. For a start, the taste, then there is the aroma. Even Green tea from commercial tea bags have a neutral, bland even, taste and aroma. It is even suggested that the contents of commercial bags are the ‘fannings’ or waste material from the processing of high grade leaf teas. Compare the flavour and smell from green tea made using loose leaves and a tea bag - poles apart. The truth is that tea from commercial tea bags tastes pretty much the same, whatever it is, black, white, green . . .
The problem is that the tea in bags is powdered, or if not, it is ground up into very small fragments. It has to be. The tea bag is a restricted space so the water cannot circulate particularly well, so the flavours and aromas are not extracted efficiently. Whenever something is ground up very finely, it presents a large surface area to the air and so it oxidises more rapidly. Even the anti-oxidants oxidise! In other words, it is stale by the time you taste it! So you are onto a loser - the taste is poor and any goodness that the tea contains will be greatly reduced too. With loose leaf teas, the leaf is left whole, so the process of oxidation is much slower as the air does not reach the centre of the leaf. Thus leaf teas stay fresher, retaining their flavours and aroma for longer and also keeping their beneficial chemicals for longer.
So why do the majority of people drink this inferior tea? Habit? Convenience? Price? Cannot be bothered with the ‘faff’ of making tea from leaves? The answer is probably yes to all of those. It could also be that it fits in with the pace of modern life. We want things fast. In the far east, the tea ceremonies take slow to extreme but they do at least acknowledge that drinking tea involves all of the senses. Watching the leaves unfurl in the bottom of the cup, smelling the aroma, then the much stronger and distinctive flavours, not to mention the well-documented health aspects.
If you don't try loose tea, you certainly won't miss it, the question is, can you open your mind (and taste buds and nose) to experience the world of real tea?
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