Now, I’ve never been a snob with tea. I can drink most quite happily and enjoy them too. In fact, my favourite teas are often the ones that come in teabags, which I can pick up at my local corner shop or supermarket and pay just under £3 for a box of 50. This includes my absolute favourite Twinings Earl Grey, which gives me 200 bags for only £7.99. Without this tea, I am lost in so many places.
So smack me down and build me back up when my bestie, Ms Simpson, told me that she was now refusing to drink bagged tea because the majority of these actually encompass the ‘dust’ and debris of the more expensive whole, loose leaf teas. She, in her high class, expensive taste, was mortified. I, on the other hand, was a little less mortified. Or actually, I wasn’t mortified at all. A good tea is a good tea, amirite?
Either way, it prompted me to do a little research into how true this claim was, as she did also mention that they often swept this dust off of the floor prior to putting it in the bags for our lovely, cheaper beverages…
Simply, when teas are produced, they are graded by size and quality, the order being (from highest to lowest):
- Whole leaf – where the leaves haven’t been torn or broken during production
- Broken leaf – where they have been broken, but not so much so as to be unrecognisable
- Fannings – where the leaves are so broken they have a coarse texture
- Dust – the absolute remains of the leaves after they have been processed and sorted
In most of our teabags, it is often the fannings and dust which are used as they are cheaper due to their lower grade. However asides from being low-cost, because it is the remnants of whole leaf, bagged tea is also bitterer. This is because the more broken a tea leaf, the more you lose of its essential oils and aroma, and the more tannins* are subsequently released when steeped. Alongside this, conventional tea bags are also constricting, and often do not have enough room for tea leaves to expand when steeped, preventing them from reaching their full potential in flavour and scent.
Loose teas on the other hand, are often better quality and have a larger surface area to expand in, resulting in a more flavourful, better smelling tea.
This isn’t to say however, that the fannings and the dust of tea leaves are always the worst. For example, the fannings of luxurious teas can still be more expensive and more flavourful than the whole leaf of cheaper teas.
So, will I be giving up my cheap teabags in exchange for a cupboard solely filled with loose tea in caddies? Of course not. Even if they are swept off of the factory floor, they still taste pretty damn amazing.
*Tannins are generally responsible for bitterness, astringency, colour, and antioxidant activity in black teas.