This week on the Herbal Infusions blog we're going to step away from individual tea blends and talk about types of tea on the whole. To be specific, loose leaf tea in Toronto versus the public standard: bagged tea. For the longest time loose leaf tea has been an incredibly hard thing to find. For the most part, tea bags have completely overtaken loose leaf tea. Go to almost any restaurant, cafe or supermarket, and 9 times out of ten your tea will come in one of those little bags. We're going to talk about why bagged took over, and why it never should have.
There are a few reasons behind how prolific bagged tea has been in recent years. They all seem to stem from a notion that loose leaf tea is somehow a hassle, and by using tea already in a strainer (bag) we eliminate the hardship that is making a cup of tea. The people who came to believe this naturally tell their friends the secret to a simpler life, and it slowly became "common knowledge". I've asked almost every tea drinker I know here in Toronto why they drink bagged tea; the response is always, "it's easy!" Until recently even I took people at their word on bagged tea over loose leaf. Naturally, it wasn't until I actually tried loose leaf tea that I learned how ridiculous this notion was. All it takes to brew a cup of loose leaf is a scoop in your tea strainer. Oftentimes, this takes just as much time as digging the bag out and getting it out of the little paper packaging. The only extra step to a cup of loose leaf is rinsing out the strainer where you would normally throw the bag out.
Which smoothly brings us to the next point: waste. This manufactured bagged teas are incredibly wasteful. The amount of packaging that is used on a typical box of bagged tea is beyond excessive. For argument's sake, picture a regular large box of tea from a supermarket of eighty portions of tea. Right off the bat, the tea is put into eighty disposable filters, with their string and cardboard handle. Each of these eighty bags of tea are then usually put into a printed paper package for display and to limit the exposure of the tea once the box is opened. They are then placed in the box and the box is then shrink wrapped. This is done for every single box of tea at a grocery store. None of this is even reusable. Everything that goes into manufacturing that box is designed to be thrown away. Compare this to loose leaf tea. Most stores that sell loose leaf sell wholesale, which means they and the people they sell to need their own containers for smaller portions. By necessity these containers are almost always reusable. Loose leaf tea drinkers also typically buy a reusable filter to save money. No bags, no shrink wrap and no paper. The amount of waste produced by loose leaf is negligible compared to bagged.
In addition to being extremely wasteful, this bagged tea simply just isn't as good a quality as loose leaf tea. The more tea leaves are broken up, the more chemicals and essential oils that are found in tea evaporate. For the most part, when bagged teas are prepared in a factory they are often smashed and powdered by the machinery when put into their individual bags. The leaves get so broken down that they lose almost all of the chemicals that give tea its colouring and flavour. Bagged teas are generally much more bland and weak in comparison to loose leaf teas (when brewed for the same amount of time, of course). Because loose leaf teas retain their chemicals much better, they are much more nutritional than bagged as well.
The final difference between these two types of tea is more for those of us running businesses like restaurants and bars. Loose leaf tea is hugely superior when bought wholesale versus bagged. Because of how much space the bags and individual boxes take up, loose leaf tea is much easier to store than bagged tea. Loose leaf tea put into glass jars is also much more presentable than stacks of boxes and paper packages. Prices for loose leaf versus bagged tend to vary wildly depending on who you buy from. At Herbal Infusions, our wholesale tea tends to be about equal price with wholesale bagged teas at comparable serving quantities. Find out more about our Wholesale Loose Leaf Tea in Toronto Program here.
These days stores are beginning to get wise to the massive jump in quality you get from switching to loose leaf teas. Spas, cafes, campus stores and offices have slowly begun making the change to these healthier and tastier options. For restaurants, particularly those here in Toronto, it's a great way to compete with major chain stores which have so much brand power. For those of us at home, its just simply a better cup of tea, and isn't that what it all comes down to?