If you’ve ever drank tea in your life, chances are you have had experience with a teabag in one way or another. This is the most common way to consume tea around the world, but you may notice we don’t use strainers to prepare Japanese green tea in any of our videos. There are 5 main reasons for this, and in this article we are going to break down each one. Let’s go through the 5 reasons not to use a teabag.
Reason #1 not to use a teabag: Low Quality Leaves
The first and most important reason not to use a teabag is that they tend to use incredibly low quality leaves. These are the leftover leaves and stems from the tea production process, that contain less nutrients and flavor.
When we visited the farm of Satoen in Shizuoka, we learned about this practice. When high quality teas are being produced, the impurities are removed with a series of machines. The farmers explained that these impurities are often sold to companies that will use them in teabags. I’m glad to know that things aren’t being wasted, but I don’t want to be the one to drink it.
High quality Japanese loose leaf tea is made out of the fresh sprouts of the tea plant. They are also made from the first harvest that occurs in the early spring time. During the winter, the tea plant stores up nutrients from the soil and then releases them into the fresh sprouts in March or April. Once these are picked, they can be regenerated but with a lower nutrient density.
This is why the first harvest is so sought after, and it produces sweeter and more complex teas. A farmer can then harvest the tea plant a second, third and even a fourth time, but the flavor will decrease each time. The later harvests are much less sought after, so they are used to make cheaper teas like teabags and bottled teas.
Reason #2 not to use a teabag: Smaller Cut
Let’s imagine that you were to use high quality tea leaves in a teabag. To be fair, there are varying degrees of quality within teabags, with some using better quality leaves than others. In order to fit the leaves comfortably inside the teabag, they will need to be cut down to a smaller size.
This cutting down of the tea leaves increases the surface area and causes them to deteriorate faster. It also removes a lot of the essential oils from the leaf. The essential oils are the volatile compounds within a tea leaf that give it the complex aroma and flavor.
This is one of the reasons why when you drink a high quality loose leaf tea, you get multiple layers of flavor and aroma, while a teabag only has one layer of flavor to it. We describe teabags as having a “flat” flavor, which means that it only goes in one direction. You can’t really have an engaging drinking experience with a teabag, it’s more just about the convenience.
Because the tea leaves need to be cut in order to be put into a teabag, producers are reluctant to use their best quality leaves for teabags. It’s better just to prepare them in typical loose leaf form, with nothing but a clay teapot and water.
Reason #3 not to use a teabag: Less Space to Expand
Now let’s pretend that we take high quality tea leaves and place them perfectly into a teabag without cutting them. As we mentioned before, this would likely never happen, but let’s just imagine for a second. The leaves still would be cramped inside and not have enough space to expand.
The reason why Japanese green teas are tightly rolled into these needle like shapes is to lock in the flavor until the tea is ready to be infused. When you add water to these leaves, they expand and release their full flavor into the infusion. If the leaves are cramped into a smaller space, they are not able to expand fully, and some of the flavor remains locked inside the leaf.
This is why we recommend using a kyusu teapot over a strainer, because the teapot provides lots of space for the leaves to move around and open up as they infuse. The strainer really cramps the leaves together and makes it difficult for them to open up. Whether you use a strainer or a teapot, it’s better than a teabag which provides the least amount of space for the leaves.
Reason #4 to not use a teabag: Other Additives
Even if you were to make the perfect teabag, with high quality leaves, completely uncut and placed inside a giant teabag that lets them expand, you still run into a final problem which is the teabag itself. The material used to make a teabag can vary, and we have seen teabags containing paper, plastic, metal, glue and string. All of these are interfering with the flavor of your cup of tea.
If you were to take the leaves out of a teabag and just brew the bag itself, you’d likely get a very off putting flavor. This is the same thing that is happening in your tea when you brew, you just might be used to it.
A major benefit to brewing loose leaf tea is the simplicity of it. All you are using is just leaves and water. There is some contact with the clay teapot, but some would argue this can even accentuate the flavor of the tea. We haven’t even gotten into the waste that is produced by a teabag. Every 2 grams of tea is individually wrapped inside a teabag and some teabags even come in bags themselves, making them even more wasteful.
When you are finished brewing loose leaf tea, you can simply compost it and return the leaves back into the earth. You don’t have to worry about the plastics and dyes from the teabag going into your teacup or into a landfill.
Reason #5 not to use teabags: No Additional Steepings
Finally we come to the last reason and that is that you really can’t use teabags multiple times. Teabags are meant to infuse very quickly into water, that’s one of the reasons they are ground into such small pieces.
The hot water quickly extracts all the flavor at once and then the teabag is meant to be thrown away. Of course you can use the teabag a second time, but the flavor will be very minimal.
Loose leaf teas on the other hand can be brewed 3, 4 even 5 times. The flavor evolves from brewing to brewing, as different layers of taste and aroma are extracted from the leaf. Some even prefer the flavor of the second brewing, saying that the tea becomes more powerful.
This also helps to disprove the myth that loose leaf tea is expensive. While you may pay around $1 for 5 grams of tea, that tea can be used to make 4-5 cups so for a cost of just a few cents, you can have a super green and flavorful cup of tea. Some teas like bancha, genmaicha and hojicha are even cheaper, giving you a great entry point into the world of high quality Japanese green tea.
I hope you have found this article helpful. If you enjoy teabags, that is no problem, just make sure you are comparing them to loose leaf tea to see if you notice a difference. Once you take the plunge and switch to loose leaf tea, you will not only notice a difference in taste, but also in variety. With loose leaf tea, there are thousands of different types to choose from, varying based on region, production style and growing conditions. This gives you much better options than the standard green and black teabags you see at the store.
If you would like to try a few different types of teas and see which ones you like most, you can try out one of our tea samplers. Many of the samplers even come with the proper teaware so you can get everything you need to start preparing delicious cups of Japanese green tea.