There are many differences between tea bags and loose leaf tea. First off there is a big difference in the quality of the tea. The tea in tea bags is typically tea dust or “fannings” which is like a byproduct of tea production. The more broken tea leaves get, the more of their essential oils, health benefits, and aroma evaporate out and are lost, giving the tea a stale flavor. Not only is the tea in tea bags lower quality, less flavorful, and less healthy, it releases more tannins than whole leaf and can make the tea bitter. On the contrary, loose leaf teas are much higher quality, have better flavor and aroma, and have a higher antioxidant content due to the leaves being largely intact.
Tea bags are most often produced on an industrial scale from machine picked tea which then sits in warehouses for long periods of time where the tea further loses its flavor and health properties. The the tea dust is usually a blend of teas from all over the world based on where prices are cheapest at the time of production. Loose leaf teas are typically hand picked from a single source and processed in smaller batches so it’s fresher and more flavorful by the time you brew it.
Another issue with tea bags is the infusion volume is restricted by the bag itself. Tea needs lots of space for the leaves to open up and infuse properly to extract the vitamins, antioxidants, and flavors. The small tea bag restricts this process. Some companies offer loose leaf teas in pyramid sachets to try to make loose leaf tea more convenient. The issue is that loose leaf tea needs even more space than tea dust. Once the leaves get wet they expand and don’t allow enough space for the tea to properly infuse. Also, tea sachets are made of plastics like PVC, thermoplastic, polypropylene, PET, or nylon. These plastic materials start to break down when exposed to hot water and can release harmful chemicals into the tea. The standard paper tea bags are treated with a chemical to strengthen them called epichlorohydrin, which is used to make epoxy resins and acts as a pesticide. This chemical is a potential carcinogen with known adverse health effects and can be released in your tea.
In order to truly get the full aroma, depth of flavor, health benefits, and tea experience, a quality loose leaf tea is the way to go and can be brewed conveniently with an infuser.