Today on Teapot Tuesday I thought I would share my thoughts on the age old debate amongst tea lovers on which is better to use—tea bags or loose tea. Oh the controversy that exists out there in the land of tea lovers. It is mind boggling.
I try not to be a tea snob. Do I love it when I visit restaurants that serve little individual teapots with loose tea in them ? A million times yes. Do all restaurants do this? No.
One of my funniest encounters with being served tea in a restaurant was actually in North Carolina. We had gone to dinner one night and I asked for hot tea. The waitress was a little baffled about my order perhaps because it is the land of sweet tea. To make a long story short I watched her as she got a glass of iced tea and held the glass under the warm water running from the faucet to warm the glass up. Yes. Yes, this actually happened. When she delivered it to my table she just commented that she hoped it was warm enough. I drank luke warm sweet tea that night.
If that does not tell you that I am not a tea snob then nothing will.
With that being said I will weigh in on my preferences and a few “facts” that I have found over the years of prolonged tea drinking. This will no doubt be a riveting post so be prepared.
Most types of tea bags that are found in the grocery stores are pretty sub standard in the terms of quality of tea. If you accidentally break open one of those tea bags as I have been known to do upon occasion you will find that the tea that is in the bag is actually more like tea dust. Now there is nothing wrong with tea dust but it is not going to give you the full flavor of a real full tea leaf.
The tea industry actually has a pretty specific grading system when it comes to rating tea with orange pekoe being a genre of basic medium grade black tea containing many whole leaves of a specific size. Now if you are like me you always heard that term orange pekoe and thought it was a brand of tea. No–it is actually a grade of tea. The best or highest grade of tea comes from the first flush or picking. The wholeness of the leaf contributes to the grading and quality of the tea. A full leaf would warrant a higher grade and the taste would be premium.
Fanning is another term that is used when it comes to grading tea. Fannings are the small pieces of tea that are left over and are the pieces that are rejected when making the higher quality teas. Fannings and dust are what are found in most manufactured tea bags. There can be high quality tea in fannings but it is not the full leaf that is commonly sought after for a high quality brew. Because of the small size of the fannings and dust they are perfect for use in teabags as they can be contained. If used in a loose tea blend an infuser would have to be used to sift out the particles from the cup.
I found this handy grading chart on Wikipedia and thought it might help the lay person to understand. It definitely helped me.
The grades for whole leaf orthodox black tea are: Ceylon orange pekoe (OP) grades’
OP1—slightly delicate, long, wiry leaf with the light liquor
OPA—bold, long leaf tea which ranges from tightly wound to almost open
OP—main grade, in the middle between OP1 and OPA, can consist of long wiry leaf without tips
OP Superior—primarily from Indonesia, similar to OP
Flowery OP—high-quality tea with a long leaf and few tips, considered the second grade in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh teas, but the first grade in China
F OP1—as above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the FOP classification
Golden Flowery OP1—higher proportion of tip than FOP top grade in Milima and Marinyn regions, uncommon in Assam and Darjeeling
Tippy Golden F OP—the highest proportion of tip, main grade in Darjeeling and Assam
TGF OP1—as above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the TGFOP classification
Finest TGF OP—highest quality grade (Note: “Special” is occasionally substituted for “Finest”, with a number 1 at the end to indicate the very finest), often hand processed and produced at only the best plantations, roughly one quarter tips
SFTGFOP(1)—sometimes used to indicate the very finest
There are additional charts for grading Fannings and Dust as follow:
OF—Orange Fannings: From Northern India and some parts of Africa and South America.
FOF—Flowery Orange Fannings: Common in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh. Some leaf sizes come close to the smaller broken grades.
GFOF—Golden Flowery Orange Fannings: Finest grade in Darjeeling for tea bag production.
TGFOF—Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Fannings.
BOPF—Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings: Main grade in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Southern India, Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and China. Black-leaf tea with few added ingredients, uniform particle size, and no tips.
D1—Dust 1: From Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Africa, South America, and Southern India.
PD1—Pekoe Dust 1: Mainly produced in India.
I am in no way an expert but these are great guides to help understand a bit of the tea lingo.
So what do I prefer? By far I prefer loose tea brewed in a teapot with either a tea ball or an in-pot strainer of sorts but I am definitely not opposed to tea bags or even brewing tea from pods in a Keurig. I think they all have their merits and there is no snobbery here. I am happy to have tea in many shapes and forms and it always makes me appreciate the cup that I have currently in my hand.
How about you? If you enjoy tea on a regular basis what do you prefer? Do you stay true to only drinking loose leaf tea offerings or are you happy with a tea bag? There are so many options out there now and some of the tea bags are really able to produce a fine cup to enjoy. Let me know what you prefer if you are a tea drinker and Comment for a Cause for Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.