Loose Leaf Tea vs. Teabags

Why do we sell loose leaf tea and not teabags?

It’s not because we are tea snobs. It’s really not because we think we are too fancy for teabags. The reason is really simple - teabags are unsustainable, single-use packaging. Most of them contain nano plastics. All of them are industrially made with chemicals, bleaches and glues. A tree doesn’t turn into paper by magic, nor corn into "silken" plastic. Those chemicals used in processing don’t disappear by magic either.

With the best loose leaf tea, you aren’t getting any additional chemicals in your cup.

Precious natural resources, forests, water, energy, and carbon are all saved when you make loose leaf tea in a teapot v teabags.

Yes, teabags might be a little bit easier. But so is instant coffee and not many people think a cafetiere/french press is too complicated for everyday use. True, there are coffee grounds and tea leaves to deal with, but the dripping teabag still has to find its way into the bin. A proper loose leaf teapot (one with a plate behind the spout, like all ours do) is very easily rinsed out into a sieve in the sink. The used loose tea leaves are clean and can go straight into your garden compost or food waste (unlike teabags with all their hidden issues).

And loose leaf tea really isn’t something new. What is new, relatively, is the industrial teabag. Loose leaves have been drunk around the world for millennia and for many centuries here in the UK. Indeed, we got pretty obsessed by tea, here in Britain, and traversed the globe and paid king’s ransoms to get our hands on the best stuff. Tea wasn’t all about making a quick brew, it was about finding the greatest pleasure.

Teabags were invented in the USA around 1901. In the UK we stuck to our love of loose leaf tea until the 1970’s (in 1968 only 3% of people in the UK used teabags, while 97% of tea drinkers preferred loose leaf tea). Then came the moon landings in 1969 and a huge desire to be modern and a dive into the future like spacemen, man. People started eating freeze dried potatoes; and slices of cheese wrapped in plastic or bread and cakes that never ever went bad. And they started drinking instant coffee and teabags. Everything was made in a factory by vast industrial machines. Ah, the future!

Thank heavens we don’t really have to eat like astronauts, squeezing goop from tubes. Thank heaven for real fruit and vegetables fresh from farms. How wonderful that we can fill our cafetieres and pour-overs and aero presses with freshly ground coffee beans. Oh, the joy of a cheese made by a cheesemaker, not a factory! The pure delight of a fresh loaf of sourdough. And yes, for loose leaf tea.

Somehow we have mostly jettisoned the rest of that stuff as a bad lot, but kept the teabags, as though somehow loose leaf tea is a bit too posh. Like coffee beans are too posh, or bread made by a baker?

The best loose leaf tea is made in small batches, carefully, lovingly, by skilled men and women. Just like good cheese and good bread, or good wine.

And why would you stuff your lovely green tea in a single use bag? It won't be able to unfurl as it infuses. Your tai guan yin oolong tea will stay rolled because it doesn’t have space to expand. Black tea, if it's processed into industrial dust will be okay in a bag, but loose leaf black tea needs as much space as a loose leaf green tea. Even the best tea in the world, if its bagged up, won’t get the chance to taste nearly as good. Leaving aside the unsustainable use of trees or corn or plastic (think of how many forests are destroyed each day from Britain’s insatiable appetite for bags) the “silken” or paper bags require solvents and bleaches and glues and nano plastics in their manufacture - take the tea out and brew the bag. It tastes pretty awful. What are you tasting? Where does it come from? Where does it go? Run-off from factories seeps into the soil and our water supply- and the bags infuse into our cups. You can taste it. It's not in any way delicious.

Even the biodegradable, "silken" plastic bags are made from natural, organic materials such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil. What a waste. It's not fancy packaging floating in our mugs and dangling from strings that will take us into a sustainable future. Loose leaf tea is the past and the future. Please help us make it the present, too.

Lets go back to the future - a sustainable future.

All the best,

Image Henrietta Lovell
Rare Tea Lady
Image Follow her on Instagram
Image Follow her on Twitter
Since 2000 Henrietta has been travelling the world, working directly with independent tea gardens, from the Shire Highlands of Malawi to the foothills of the Himalayas. Lovell is at the forefront of the tea revolution. She founded Rare Tea Company in 2004 to champion responsible and ethical relationships direct with farmers. In 2016 she founded Rare Charity pledging a direct percentage of Rare Tea revenue to their partner farms, supporting tertiary education scholarships. In 2019 Faber & Faber published her first book – "Infused - Adventures in Tea", named the New York Times book of the year and was awarded the prestigious Fortnum & Mason award. She is currently working on a documentary series.