Tea bags have a bad rep nowadays. Not surprising given that some supermarkets and brands use grades of tea which gives your brew the strongest colour in the quickest time. It’s convenient to use teabags sometimes.
Easy enough to plop a bag in
Dip the bag a few times in hot water
Take the bag out quickly and gulp (ouch!) the brew.
I have been asked if the leaves in such teabags are the dust from the factory floor. No, that’s not the case, though I can’t blame you for thinking that. To better understand how some supermarkets and brands use tea leaves, a quick overview of black tea leaf grades:
Whole Leaf Grades, I have highlighted only a few here:
Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (the name is longer than the leaves and bud) which is the best of the bud and first two leaves from a new shoot. There are sub-divisions from this grade; there will be a detailed post about grades soon. As the name may suggest, these leaves are considered of a greater quality.
Orange Pekoe – the leaves have been picked when the bud is just opening up with the two leaves below. Slightly (only very slightly) of a lower grade.
Pekoe – these are coarser leaves further down the steam.
Broken Leaf Grades
As the name indicates, these are the leaves and buds that have broken during the drying and rolling of the leaves. Such leaves are graded by size and sorted. The grades are similar to the whole leaf grade but will include Broken in its title.
Fannings (aka Dusts or Finest)
These are what are left when the whole and broken leaves have been sorted. At each leaf sorting stage, the by product is Fannings. It’s generally these Fannings/Dusts that are used in tea bags. The leaves and buds are so fine (small) that it gives the brew a deeper colour and thus a quick brew.
How is the Tea Bag Made?
The material and the process of manufacturing the teabag itself can determine the quality of your tea. It wasn’t that long ago that the tag on your teabag was stapled to the teabag. That practice, thankfully, is no longer prevalent. Do the teabags come sealed in a plastic or foil bag, which would help to keep it fresh from factory to supermarket shelf to the tea cup? Essentially the price you and I pay for a packet of tea determines the type of teabag, tag and the grade of tea that’s in the teabag.
The Modern Teabag
Practices have changed quite a lot over the last few years and you can certainly enjoy whole or broken leaves now in a teabag. There is ample room for whole and broken leaves in the teabag. The material allows so much more flavour to seep through from the teabag. Whole and broken tea leaves have so much more intensity and complexity of flavour. Just because you want a quick cup of tea does not mean you want to compromise on the taste.