Are you a tea lover, or just beginning your tea journey? Whether you're an experienced tea-drinker or just getting into tea, you may have questions about loose leaf teas and tea bags. Some people prefer using loose tea, while others enjoy the ease of tea bags. Both have their benefits and drawbacks, so how do you know which is right for you? Read on to find out more about the differences between the two main types of tea and discover which one is the best fit for your cuppa.
Sips by is a personalized tea discovery subscription. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Members receive 4 teas chosen just for them in every box. Learn more about our tea subscription service.
SHOP BEST LOOSE LEAF TEA
Shop the best loose leaf teas as rated by Sips by's 700,000 tea-loving Members. Across all tea types, from black tea to green tea to herbal tea and more, these are the best loose leaf teas from different tea brands around the world. Find your favorite loose leaf tea — no matter the type or flavor of loose leaf tea you're searching for, Sips by has options you'll love. Discover your new favorite blend, as well as disposable tea bags and infusers to make brewing loose leaf tea easy.
LOOSE OR BAGGED?
So...loose leaf tea or bagged tea - what's the difference? Simply put, it's the experience you get from the tea. The condition of the tea leaves and the different packaging methods influence the flavors and health benefits that can be enjoyed from each cup. It's good to know what you're buying and where to invest to get exactly what you're looking for from your tea adventures. Here's the lowdown:
After leaves are harvested, they're sorted into full or whole leaf, broken leaf, and fannings. Next they're graded, processed, and packaged as loose tea leaves, or into sachets or tea bags. The purpose of sorting and grading is to make sure the leaf size is uniform, and to prevent smaller tea pieces from meddling with the flavor of full leaf tea. Generally speaking, the fuller the leaf, the pricier the tea - but this doesn't always mean that smaller, broken leaf teas are of poorer quality. It's just important to note that a tea’s taste, body, and steeping time will vary depending upon the leaf's grade. Learn more about tea leaf grades.
As we cover in other tea lover lessons - the climate, location, season of harvest, and processing methods used each contribute to a tea’s quality and final characteristics. Grade and quality are also defined differently across culture and for different types of tea - there isn't a universal grading system to determine quality or desirability. To give a couple examples, breakfast teas like English Breakfast are usually made with smaller broken leaves to create a full-bodied, seize-the-day type of cuppa. On the other side of the world, high mountain Taiwanese oolongs more often have tightly-rolled full leaves that release smooth, fragrant flavors as the leaves unfurl slowly in water. Pretty cool, huh?
FULL or WHOLE LEAF
While whole leaf tea provides a wider range of complex and nuanced flavor profiles, as well as usually more nutritional value, it doesn't mean it's the superior leaf type. The tea enthusiasts out there may tell you all about how the first flush, or first harvest whole leaf teas offer the highest nutritional content and the best flavor, but we're just here to lay out the facts.
Although loose leaf tea tends to be more expensive, there are some advantages in addition to flavor - like less waste (heck yea!) and multiple steeps. Some tea types like rolled oolongs or jasmine pearls (that expand a little more with each infusion) can even be steeped seven or eight times. That way, you can enjoy the same serving of tea leaves throughout the day, or through multiple batches when sharing with friends.
For loose leaf tea, full or whole leaf tea is a special treat - especially when you take a moment to experience and be mindful of the breadth of flavors you're getting from your brew. It can be relaxing witnessing the technique used to roll the leaf, the unfurling of the leaf throughout the entire process, and ultimately the journey the leaves bring to you. Below are some cool examples of steeped whole leaf teas.
BROKEN LEAF and LEAF PIECES
FANNINGS and DUST
Leaf particles too small to be classified as broken leaf fall into two categories - fanning and dust (many grades exist for each). Fannings are finely broken pieces of leaf with a coarse texture, and dust is even finer than fannings, made from tea particles left over once the higher grades have been sorted. These are the most common grades used for standard tea bags because of the short steeping time and bold flavor. Tea bags with fannings and/or dust are convenient, quick, and cheap, but the trade-offs include a more astringent cup with less natural flavor. Also, the way they get their flavor is typically through herbal inclusions or additives, not from the tea itself. The health properties present in fannings and dust is far less present (if at all) with than with whole leaf, broken leaf, or leaf pieces. Fannings infuse quickly and can be great for a strong, and quick cup of tea that's easily flavored with herbal or other inclusions.
However, fannings and dust catch a lot of flack because of the uncertainty of what's in the tea bag (e.g. was something unknown mixed in with the tea?). Until recent years, the majority of the tea circulating throughout the U.S. was fannings and dust in tea bags. Now, the U.S. is starting to welcome greater varieties of tea, and opening itself up to experiencing the leaf. While whole leaf and broken leaf teas are exciting, the affordability, convenience, and flavors that fannings can bring to the table are useful and valuable in their own way.
INSTANT TEA CRYSTALS
Recently we've been noticing a new tea product gain popularity - premium instant tea crystals. While we are used to steeping either loose leaf tea or tea bags/sachets in hot water and then removing the tea, tea crystals eliminate the step of waiting for the tea to brew, since the crystals have already been steeped! You simply pour a packet of tea crystals into hot or cold water and they supposedly create the perfect cup of tea brewed instantly. While it takes away the traditional element of actually steeping tea, this is a great option for tea lovers who live an on-the-go lifestyle and like to get their daily dose of tea in any situation. Check out Pique and Cusa for a variety of organic instant tea options!
At the end of the day, if they taste good, don't have artificial flavors, and don't leave your mouth dry - we'll drink most teas out there. We love experiencing the leaf with loose leaf teas, but also enjoy the on-the-go convenience and value of using single-serving sachets and premium tea crystals. So, steep away friends! :)
SHOP BEST BAGGED TEA
Shop the best bagged teas as rated by Sips by's 700,000 tea-loving Members. Across all tea types, from black tea to green tea to herbal tea and more, these are the best tea bags from premium tea brands around the world. No matter the type or flavor of bagged teas you're searching for, Sips by has options you'll love to explore. Discover your new favorite tea bags today.
But we want to know...what are your preferences? If you don't currently have any, what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below, learn how to steep your tea, or create a free tea profile below and stay up to date on new tea lessons, learn about fun tea recipes, and gain access to special brand offers + giveaways.
Interested in trying these teas and others? Subscribers receive 4 teas chosen just for them in every box. Learn more about our tea subscriptions.
About Sips by: We’re a female-founded and led startup that makes discovering tea fun, personalized, and affordable. The Sips by Box is the only multi-brand, personalized tea subscription box. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Based out of Austin, Texas, we are adept at savoring a hot mug even when it’s seasonally inappropriate.