Tag Archives: Tea Bags

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

Specialty Tea is Not a Commodity

There are a number of definitions for commodity but one we like states that “a commodity is any homogeneous good traded in bulk on an exchange.” (InvestingAnswers, 2014)  This definition goes on to say that for an item to be considered a commodity it must meet three conditions.

  • It must be standardized (for agricultural and industrial commodities it must be in a “raw” state).
  • It must be usable (i.e., have a shelf life) upon delivery.
  • Its price must vary enough to justify creating a market for the item.
Fields of wheat.

Wheat is a Commodity Like Oil and Gold

This works well for things like oil, gold, wheat and other products which can be produced in bulk, measured against well-known and agreed upon standards, and are usable for long periods of time.  Even though there are some differences in grades for each of these examples, they are by and large, equal to each other no matter where they come from and meet a standard definition of quality.  They are fungible.  You can generally intermingle all of them together and the buyer doesn’t know or care what the initial source of the product was.

Specialty Tea or Commodity Tea?

So how about tea?  I’ll go out on a limb (admittedly not very far) and suggest that there are really two major kinds of tea; commodity tea and specialty tea.  Commodity tea is produced in bulk by one of a half dozen or fewer global corporations.  Their aim is to sell a consistent product in massive quantities as inexpensively as possible.  The commodity definition breaks down a bit with tea, in that the product really isn’t raw at this point, as the raw leaves have been oxidized and macerated into fine pieces.  Even if it were sold raw, it wouldn’t be fungible since different cultivars and terroir produce significantly different taste.  It’s at this point where the tea markets like the one in Mumbai, India and Mombasa, Kenya play a role in getting teas of various taste to the small number of global players. It has been standardized in terms of the leaf size (or particle size if you prefer) and buyers are looking for specific taste profiles to be blended to produce that consistent taste they are going for.  This blended tea is ultimately packed into sacks for global transport, and sold in massive quantities.  Finally commodity tea is used in applications where consistent taste and low cost is the primary driver; mass produced tea bags, many ready to drink products, and health and beauty products.

Different types of specialty tea.

Specialty Tea Features Variety in Shape, Aroma, and Liquor Color

Where commodity tea defines quality in terms of consistent taste profile and particle size, specialty tea defines quality in terms of aroma, shape of rolled leaf, liquor taste, and sheer variety.  Specialty tea does not seek to maintain the same taste profile year over year.  Instead, specialty tea takes advantage of the uniqueness of its manufacturing process and variety in terroir.  It celebrates the differences between teas from different regions, countries, and elevations.  Consistent taste and lowest price are not the for specialty tea.  Instead the drivers for specialty tea are the story behind the tea, the desire for variety in flavor and aroma, and the degree to which one can appreciate where it comes from.  While this makes a clear definition of “quality” somewhat elusive, it encourages curiosity, learning, and experimentation, all key ingredients to a better tea experience.


Works Cited

InvestingAnswers. (2014, April 30). Commodity Definition & Example. Retrieved from Investing Answers: http://www.investinganswers.com/financial-dictionary/commodities-precious-metals/commodity-1035