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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teabag or loose tea?

Would you prefer to eat some quick, easy fast food, or enjoy a meal in a quiet, fancy restaurant? Well, it depends on your schedule, your financial situation and your mood. I suppose you can actually do both if you want.

First at all, please allow me to speak frankly. I would characterize the teabag as fast food and loose tea as real food. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Many people here prefer teabags because they are easy, convenient to handle, straightforward to use and disposable. However, the contents of some teabags can be extremely disappointing: the harsh, bitter, astringent taste of the tea discourages you from drinking (unless you believe all the health benefits of tea are worth the experience), or perhaps the tea doesn't have much aroma or taste at all. Moreover, the material of the teabag affects the smell and taste of the tea.

In general, teabag teas tend to be made of the fannings and/or dust from inferior quality leaves. Even if whole leaves are used - which is more common now - tea in a teabag is like a bird in a cage, unable to express itself fully, because there is not enough room for the leaves to release their full flavor into the water. In addition, a teabag can only contain a limited amount of tea leaves, so that even quality leaves could not be used for more than one or two infusions for an individual serving. Finally, teabags do not offer the wide selection of world teas that are avaliable as loose tea.

The true depth and beauty of tea as an art can only be found in loose tea. This is where one can explore the full range and subtlety of tea's fragrance, color, mouthfeel, taste and aftertaste. With experience, one can easily identify the quality of a tea from its aroma and the appearance of either the liquor or infused leaves, without having to taste. In fact, with a little experience, it becomes easy to identify inferior teas simply by viewing the dried leaves.

For both experts and novices, the most important part of steeping and drinking whole-leaf loose teas is to appreciate the process. This is the way of tea: a ceremony, cerebration, meditation, inspiration, social gathering, and a space to create beauty, harmony and peace. Even the ritual of measuring out the leaves into the teapot is something joyful. The performance of tea preparation is a tea-drinker's sophisticated hobby, in which the floating aroma relaxes nerves and purifies the mind, while the rich but subtle flavors and aftertaste of the tea satisfy your physical desire.

Yes, the tricky thing is how to brew a decent cup of tea. In addition to the importance of water quality, you have to learn to use appropriate tea ware for different types of tea, and to control the water temperature and infusion time. Tea changes with each season, and a perfect infusion requires the kind of sensitivity and precision one develops only through experience.

Of course, if you prefer loose tea but want to simplify the brewing process, this is perfectly fine. Suit yourself - not every cup of tea you drink needs to be part of an elaborate ritual. Just take a big cup and make the tea to your taste - add more tea leaves and steep them briefly or fewer leaves and steep them for a longer period. Everybody has different habits, and there are many ways to enjoy life. In general, I personally prefer simplicity. That said, some kinds of simplification can limit one's understanding.

For me, the way of tea is a never-ending education that helps me learn about culture, history, nature, my health and myself, to expand my strengths and find more color and joy in my life. I hope you have something or things that do the same for you. If not, you could always begin with tea. No one else can feel the rain for you on your skin, so why not try? :)


  1. "That said, some kinds of simplification can limit one's understanding."

    Becky, that statement is perfect and applies to everything that is important in life.

    When I was becoming really weak a couple of years ago, before I was diagnosed with Addison's disease, I was too exhausted to make tea, or even to pick up a teapot. I took to putting tea bags in cups and drinking around them. It was months before I would brew tea again, but when I finally did, I knew I was better.

    Tea is my placebo!

  2. Very enlightening discussion. For most of my life I tried bagged tea, but I agree that loose leave tea is better and " while the rich but subtle flavors and aftertaste of the tea satisfy your physical desire."


About Me

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Seattle, WA, United States
I grew up with tea, and it continues to fill my life with so much beauty and discovery, pleasure, peace and friends. It is always leading me toward a greater understanding of culture, nature, myself and others. It is my hope to use this space to share the joy of tea and tea culture with you.