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
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.
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.
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