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Bagged Tea vs. Loose Leaf Tea
Here in the United States, tea (whether it be true tea or various herbal/flavored creations), generally comes in one of three forms. The tea is either bagged, or it is in loose leaf form, or it already comes pre-mixed in a bottle (only for teas that are served cold). The remainder of this page will cover this in more detail.
It should be noted that bagged tea is by far and away the most popular tea in the United States, as well as several other parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom. However, due to the mushrooming of online tea stores and the greater acceptance of loose-leaf teas, this is slowly changing. Look for loose-leaf teas to gain a wider market share in the future as the popularity of drinking tea in the US increases.
Ease of Use
Bagged tea is obviously more convenient than loose-leaf tea. Everything comes ready to go. Just dump the bag inside you cup, pour water over it and wait the required time. Then presto - instant tea with no messy cleanup.
By contrast, when using loose-leaf tea, the person has to properly measure out the amount of tea to be used (which occasionally creates problems for new tea drinkers). Brewing the tea then involves using a specialized tea cup or a general tea pot. While brewing loose-leaf tea really isn't much more difficult than using simple bagged teas, an extra step or two is involved. There is also a bit more cleanup than with a bagged tea.
Bagged teas are widely available in the United States, both online and in local stores. Even Wal-Mart has a seemingly ever increasing supply of bagged teas, generally from Lipton, Celestial Seasonings, Bigelow and Stash. But even such once exotic teas as Tazo Teas and Twining Teas are beginning to make an appearance.
In contrast to this wide availability of bagged tea, loose-leaf tea is indeed a scarce commodity. While you can occasionally find loose-leaf tea in supermarkets, by and large, loose-leaf tea can only really be found in specialized tea shops, gourmet food stores and, in particular, through online merchants.
Quality and Flavor Issues
When it comes to flavor and quality, there is no comparison, loose-leaf tea wins the battle hands down. So why is that?
Simple....bagged teas generally contain the "left over" leaves. In other words, the good leaves are bundled up and sold in "loose leaf" form. The remainder is then bagged. This is why leaves in tea bags are so darn small - you are getting the left-overs. Many people refer to these tea leftovers not as "tea leaves" but instead "tea dust." But regardless of what term you use, there is no doubt that loose-leaf teas provide significantly more flavor due to their higher quality and significantly larger leaves.
However, a recent innovation that is slowly gaining popularity may, at long last, lift the quality of bagged tea up quite a bit. Newer, larger tea bags, that have a triangular/pyramid shape are beginning to appear (which are called "pyramid bags", appropriately enough). The larger tea bags allow for larger leaves to be inserted in the bags, leading to significantly increased flavor and a higher quality tea in general.
For now, these bags are generally limited to online tea shops that sell high quality tea such as Adagio Teas and Culinary Teas and other gourmet tea shops found online. However, it does seem likely that as these larger tea bags will gain in popularity due to better tea. As such, as this style of tea bag catches on, look to see them more frequently.
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