Tea bags are a product of convenience; they are easy, cheap, and clean. But if you’ve only ever drank tea that was a product of a tea-bag, you are missing out. Tea-bags used to only be filled with dust and fannings which are all the little pieces leftover from different processing methods. Through the years, tea companies have been putting higher and higher quality tea in bags. But no matter how nice the tea, or how innovative the bag is (see nylon bag below), they fail for one fundamental reason: tea leaves must be allowed to flow freely within the brewing vessel. Tea leaves expand while brewing, and being stuffed in a bag only allows them to expand a small amount.
Tea bag before steeping
Same tea bag after steeping
The same rules apply for tea balls and fancy tea infusers: if the tea cannot flow freely in the steeping vessel, you are not enjoying the tea at its full potential.
We’ve seen how much the high quality black tea expanded in the above tea bag image, now lets take a look at what happens to a loose-leaf oolong when it is allowed to flow freely in a glass tea-cup.
Teaspoon of oolong before steeping
Same teaspoon after steeping
If the leaves are able to flow freely, we allow for more of the leaves to be in contact with water-and the more contact the leaves have with the water – the better chance we have to extract the full flavor of the tea.
If the above oolong leaves were stuck in a bag or in an infuser, they would not have the chance to expand the way they do when allowed to flow freely. Steeping tea doesn’t have to be difficult, achieving great tea can be simple if you have the right equipment.