Everyone is familiar with the teabag. Whether you buy tea yourself by the box or you have been to your grandmother’s house for a cup of tea, we've all seen the round and/or square teabags, sometimes with a string hanging off the side of our teacup. What you may NOT know is that the teabag is a fairly recent innovation compared to the long history of tea. In 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, began to sell tea samples in silk bags. It was not his intent that people dunk the whole bag into the water, but that is what happened, and that was how teabags were started. The convenience of these teabags were apparent – no messy cleanup of leaves, no need to sieve the brewed tea when poured, no need to clean out other infusing devices – it was easy to use and package. Since that time, the use of the teabag has continued to outpace that of loose leaf tea. A 2007 report stated that teabags made up 96% of the tea sold in the British market – an amazing turnaround in less than 100 years! This would all be fine and acceptable, except for the fact that teabags typically do NOT contain high-grade tea. Quite the opposite in fact. In the effort to keep tea mainstream with an increasingly fast paced way of western life, the quality of the tea in a teabag has steadily DECREASED. What started out in 1908 as an unintended method of enjoying high quality loose leaf tea leaves, has led to quick, generic cups of tea brewed out of what are called “fannings”. Fannings are pulverized tea leaves, crushed almost beyond recognition. They are also referred to as “dustings” or the “dust” of tea. It is the lowest grade of tea that is available – what is left AFTER all the other tea is graded. That alone should give you a hint as to the quality of tea that you are getting with a teabag. The advantage of fannings is that they infuse in a short amount of time - making a quick cup of tea, and most of the time the company can ensure that you get a consistent (although generic) flavour from every teabag in that package. Loose leaf tea, on the other hand, does not come conveniently prepackaged in little bags to dunk. It does not take only 1 minute to make a cup of tea with (well, some does, some even less time – but we will get to that). It does not have a generic, unmemorable flavour, and the grades of loose leaf tea vary from type to type. What you DO get with loose leaf tea is a LOT of flavour. Much more than any Tetley teabag that you have ever had. You get higher concentrations of the cancer fighting compounds, higher concentrations of vitamins like C, K, B12, B6 and E. You get a higher boost to your metabolism with loose leaf tea, and, did I mention? The flavour is out of this world. Brewing tea out of the loose leaves has been the method used for thousands of years before the modern westernized method of brewing it in teabags. However, because our society has become one that demands instant gratification, we are sacrificing the quality of our tea for speed and convenience, and we don’t have to! Brewing loose leaf tea is much easier than you think and your body and taste buds will thank you for doing so.
"There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation." - Lin Yutang
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