Five Reasons to Keep the Paper Tea Bag

I will admit up front I love the variety of loose tea so I rarely use a tea bag anymore. However, the tried and true paper tea bag is far from extinct and still deserves a place in your tea drinking routine. Thus, we felt it would be fun to compile our list of the top five reasons not turn our noses up at paper tea bags just yet:

Silken Doesn’t Mean Silk

Tea bag.

Modern Tea Bag

Most, but not all, of the pretty “silken” tea bags are made of food grade plastic, nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Food grade plastic does have a melting point well above 212 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature of boiling water).  However, these plastics do start to break down at 169 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is possible for them to start leaching their polymers into the hot water (Orci, 2013). We forget that plastics have not been around for very long in the food arena – 1980s is when they really took off. There are plenty of studies looking at all types of plastics to figure out what they do and do not put into food. In the meantime, paper has been used for centuries to filter water and is known to be safe.

Paper is not a Tea Flavor

The “paper” flavor that some claim is imparted on the tea leaves really comes from user error.  Like loose tea, tea in bags goes stale.  In fact, it actually goes stale faster because the tea pieces are smaller.  So don’t buy boxes of 100 plus tea bags unless you plan on at least using one tea bag a day.  Buy them in smaller quantities and use quickly. For storage, it helps if you get them out of the paper box and put them in a canister or Tupperware.  It will slow the process of moisture and unwanted smells making their way into the tea bags.  Also, don’t leave your tea bag in your cup.  Given the small particles, your black tea will brew in 2-3 minutes instead of the 5 minutes needed for larger loose leaf tea.  You are less likely to taste paper if it isn’t floating in your cup while you sip.

Composting Tea Bags

You can compost your paper tea bags and they will actually dissolve.  The mesh tea bags made of plastic will take close to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill, even if they are a corn based plastic instead of the traditional petroleum plastic (Atteberry).  My tea leaves are always headed out to the compost bin, so it is nice to just toss the bag in as well.  Also paper tea bags have come a long way with many companies using unbleached paper coming from sustainably harvested wood pulp.

TeaBrew paper filter package.

TeaBrew Sustainable Paper Filters

Make Your Own Tea Bags

Make your own tea bags with loose tea leaves and single serve paper tea filters. These are great, allowing me to get my tea fix while running late. I can just scoop my loose tea into the filter, pour in hot water and take it with me to steep in the car. I just pull out the tea filter and discard like tea bag.

Have Tea, Will Travel

There is no doubt to this traveler that tea bags are the most convenient way to travel with tea. I can put a few into a small ziplock and they fit right in my purse. However, I will totally admit to packing my infuser or paper single serve sacks, a spoon, and a ziplock of my favorite loose tea into my suit case for longer trips.

Whatever your tea source, it might be a great idea to have some paper tea filters on hand. You can even prepare them ahead of time using your best loose leaf tea. Simply add the tea, fold them over, and store in a ziplock or recycle an old tea tin to have your tea at the ready.

Works Cited
Orci, T. (2013, April 8). Are Tea Bags Turning Us into Plastic. Retrieved from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/are-tea-bags-turning-us-into-plastic

Atteberry, Jonathan. Are food-based plastics a good idea? Retreived from http://science.howstuffworks.com/food-based-plastics.htm

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Masala Chai: Delicious Tea and Steeped in History

Masala Chai
Traditional Indian Spiced Tea (1 serving)


  • 3 tsp Masala Chai Blend (or make your own*)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 cup Milk (whole)
  • Optional: 1 tsp Fresh Ginger
  • 1 or 2 Tblsp Agave Nectar or your sweetener of choice

Bring all ingredients except sweetener to a boil in a small saucepan then quickly reduce to a simmer for 5-10 minutes. The longer you simmer the greater the intensity. Add sweetener, stir, and strain into your mug of choice. (Enjoy).

* Making your own Masala Chai blend is easy if you prefer to experiment more. Start with 2 tsp of a solid Assam black tea base and add  3 green cardamom pods, 1 whole clove, 1/8 tsp nutmeg seed, and a small bit of freshly grated ginger. Then experiment with adding pepper, star anise, cinnamon or other spices to taste.

Over the past several weeks we have been participating in shows at Wintergreen Resort, south of Charlottesville, VA as well as the Purcellville Community Market in Purcellville, VA and without fail the Masala Chai has been one of the most consistent sellers even when we haven’t had samples for tasting. Yet so many buyers don’t really know much about the drink they love. So it was really just a matter of time before we blogged about Masala Chai specifically and chai generally.

Masala Chai Spices

Indian Spices (Masala), By Holger Casselmann, CC-BY-SA-3.0

The word chai itself is but one of many variations on the the word tea which includes , chá, and chai depending on culture and history. Masala, on the other hand, is defined by Mirriam-Webster as “a varying blend of spices used in Indian cooking” (Mirriam-Webster). Thus Masala Chai is nothing more than spiced tea. Of course, for those who have experienced Masala Chai know that there are a myriad different flavors. While it commonly includes ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon, there are many variations from there which can include star anise, fennel seeds, nutmeg, cloves, and more. For many, true Masala Chai also includes milk and a sweetner.

History of Masala Chai

As most are aware, Masala Chai has its roots in Indian Culture, though exactly when seems a bit of a mystery. One account has it attributed to an Indian king some 5,000 years ago (Kasam, 2004), while the commonly accepted source is the Hindu Aurveda tradition. Regardless, spiced tea was consumed in India long before the arrival of the British and well before it was brought to the United States and commercialized.

Masala Chai in India: Chai Wallah’s

Spiced tea is served throughout most of India. Tea sellers, or chai walla’s are found all over India and keep their chai simmering throughout the day. In fact, the chai wallahs’s serve as local gathering spots, akin to our water coolers, where people come together to meet, discuss, and debate a wide range of topics. Traditionally, the tea itself is served in clay cups. These cups are typically produced locally, unglazed, used only once, and smashed by the customer after use to degrade back into the dirt and mud from which they were made. Across India the clay pots come in a variety of shapes and sizes and even names. They are called bhaar in the West Bengal region, puruas in Banaras, and kullarhs in much of the rest of the country. Enjoyment of masala chai from these roadside vendors is typical and a much written about experience by many travelers to India.

Kashmiri Chai
Traditional Pakistani Tea of the Kashmir Region (2 servings)


  • 2 tsp Gunpowder Green Tea
  • 4-6 Green Cardamom Seeds
  • 1/3 tsp Ground Cardamom
  • 1/3 tsp Baking Soda
  • 2 cups Milk (whole)
  • 2 tsp Combination Ground Pistacio’s and/or Almonds
  • 2 cups Water
  • Salt to Taste

Add water, tea, green cardamom, and baking soda to a saucepan, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Separately, boil the milk and ground cardamom and reduce to low heat before adding the previously prepared tea. Return to a boil, add salt and simmer another 3-5 minutes. Strain and garnish with ground pistachio’s and/or almonds.

Spiced Tea Variations

While Masala Chai is the best known spiced tea in the west it is hardly the only one. Kashmiri Chai, also known as Pink Tea, Salt Tea, Noon (meaning salt) Tea, and many other names, comes from the Kashmir region in northern Pakistan between India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China. Traditionally made with salt, though sugar can be substituted, this tea takes on a pink hue due to the addition of baking soda.

There are many different way one can make spiced tea. Starting with a basic Masala Chai or Kashmiri Tea you can experiment to find a taste profile that works for you. There are also a wide range of loose lease options available including things like our Pumpkin Spice Chai and even caffeine free options like our South African Chai so there is a spiced chai for many occasions.

Sources

High Chai, Nirali looks at the steeping of tea in the South Asian tradition, by, Roxanna Kasam, Nirali Magazine, November 1, 2004, http://niralimagazine.com/2004/11/high-chai/

Masala Definition, Mirriam-Webster Dictionary On-Line, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/masala

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History of Tea in Taiwan

Map of Taiwan relative to China

Taiwan is home to many of the best world’s best oolong teas.

Being an island 90 miles off of the Chinese southern coast, Taiwan was destined to grow tea and be a strategic trading and military port for several different countries. The tea trade in this country reflects centuries of constant change in rulers and customs. It is believed that there were Camilla sinensis plants growing natively on Taiwan, but they produced very thin leaves that were brittle and bitter (Kevin Gascoyne, 2011). Tea plants where brought onto the island in the mid-1600s from the Fujian province of China when Taiwan was controlled by the Chinese Qing Dynasty. As more Chinese immigrants came to Taiwan, the plants where moved to several locations throughout the island. It wasn’t until the end of the 1800′s, with European intervention, that a commercial tea trade was developed.

European Influence on Taiwan Tea Trade

The Europeans were looking for other ports to trade tea given the Opium Wars with mainland China in the mid-1800′s. The need to diversify tea ports away from mainland China, led John Dodd to start offering financing to Taiwanese peasants. This enabled local Taiwanese start tea plantations as well as build factories in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, to process the tea. Prior to those factories, all the tea leaves in Taiwan where sent to Anxi or Fuzhou China for the final processing. By bringing the final processing to the island, Mr. Dodd put Taiwan on the US and European tea maps with Taiwan producing mostly black teas for those markets. The name “Formosa” was put on most of these teas, as Portugal was the first European country to stumble across Taiwan and that is the name they gave the island. It means beautiful, so it worked well for a marketing name at the time (Kevin Gascoyne, 2011).

Taiwan Tea Industry From 1895 to Present

Close up of Fanciest Formosa Oolong

Fanciest Formosa Oolong from Taiwan

Japan took control of Taiwan in 1895 and proceeded to invest heavily in tea production in the country, introducing new tea cultivars, fertilizer and mechanization of the processing of the tea. Very skillfully, the Japanese kept the focus on black tea so the island would not compete with the Japanese green teas. The Chinese took back control from Japan at the end of the Second World War. This shifted tea production from black to green as trade with Europe and the US was dramatically cut. Competition with Japan and China forced Taiwan to shift again in the 1970′s to the oolong production they are well known for now. Even today, most of the tea in Taiwan is consumed locally even though they are considered among the finest of available teas worldwide (Richardson, 2008). The tea industry in Taiwan is still dominated by small family owned farmers giving them control over both the growth and the manufacturing of the tea. This is a unique arrangement and is credited with creating the proper atmosphere for the creation of their diverse and superior oolongs. Below is a quick chart describing some of the better known oolongs which are exported from Taiwan. If you get your hands on one of these, drink them over multiple infusions to enjoy the full complexity of these wonderful teas.

Dong Ding (Tong Ting) Produced in the Dong Ding region (while most people refer to Dong Ding Mountain, most of the tea is not grown on the mountain side). This is a tightly balled oolong that should be brewed with boiling water. It produces a greenish golden liquor with heavy floral notes with a buttery cream finish.

Bao Zhong (Jade Pouchong) This 18-20% oxidized green tea – almost an oolong  but mostly a green tea (called Pouchong) is a full twisted leaf green that produces an amber green liquid that is delicate floral and sweet.

Oriental Beauty This balled oolong is famous for the green-leaf hoppers that munch on the leaves just before harvesting. Their biting causes the plants to release L-Theanine producing a complex flavor in this tea. It makes an orange-brown liquor with woody, floral notes followed by a creamy finish. This oolong is traditionally enjoyed with a Gong Fu set that allows for multiple small steepings of this tea to enjoy all the different flavors.

Fanciest Formosa This higher oxidized oolong is produced in the traditional Chinese method with twisted leaves instead of balled. It produces an amber to dark brown liquor with honey and peach flavors. It is the typical “first” oolong for someone wanting to experience oolong for the first time.

Ali Shan This high altitude oolong  is a tightly balled oolong that produces a yellow liquor with a sweet intense creamy flavor with some toasted nut notes. It is less oxidized oolong, so brew more like a green than black tea (not at boiling).
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