The truth about tea bags is that tea bags are one of those things that will continuously be debated but if you rip open one, you’ll see for yourself.
What’s Inside A Tea Bag?
Dust and fannings are the bottom half of the tea plant and whatever has fallen from the plant at the time of harvest. These leftover particles are thrown in a machine, ground up, and you guess it, bagged. This process unfortunately oxides the herbs faster and they end up losing their full benefits.
If you are wondering if it makes a difference then I encourage you to think of instant coffee. While there’s nothing potentially wrong with it, it’s just not the same. Convenience seems to be the biggest concern for coffee and tea drinkers alike, but tea can just as easily be hand packed.
Why Do Tea Bags Exist If They Shouldn’t Be Used
What history tells us is that the tea bag has been around for nearly 100 years and there is some debate on who invented the tea bag and how it was actually an accident.
Roberta C. Lawson and Mary Molaren of Milwaukee filed for a patent for a “tea leaf holder” that also resembles what we use today. The bag needed to hold the tea leaves together so that they didn’t float into the drinker’s mouth, but not so tightly that the water could not circulate through them to be infused. Their design used a stitched mesh fabric.
American tea importer Thomas Sullivan shipped out samples of his product in silk pouches in 1908, not intending his customers put them directly in the hot water that way, but some tried it and asked for more of the same. Sullivan would later switch from silk to gauze after he saw that the weave of silk was too fine for optimal infusing.
The truth about tea bags is that it's not that tea bags shouldn’t be used, it’s how tea bags are currently made compared to before that makes them less likely to be the better choice.
Three Tea Bag Types
Each tea bag has a specific style and this dictates what it's generally made of:
"Pillow Style" tea bags have a crimped edge in a square or round shape and are often made from a blend of paper and plastic woven fibers. The bag is sealed shut using heat and the plastic binds it closed. These bags often contain about 20-30% plastic.
“Silken” sachets are almost always made of plastic, not silk as the name would imply. The plastic used in these bags is typically food-grade nylon, but some are made from a plant-based plastic derived from corn. It is important to understand that while the plant-based bags are “biodegradable” they are not compostable at home and must be sent to a commercial facility to fully break down.
String and tag bags are closed by folding the bag and stitching or stapling it shut. While these bags don’t require plastic to seal shut, they may still contain polypropylene fibers to keep the shape of the bag in hot water. Also, even if the bag itself is compostable, the sleeves used to individually package each bag usually contain a plastic or plastic foil layer to “maintain freshness” and cannot be composted or recycled.
Tea Bag Or Not
Today's tea bags like tea balls, restrict the leaves and prevent them from fully opening and having correct water flow. Preventing the leaves from fully opening doesn’t allow the leaves to release not only the flavor but also their medicinal properties and the whole reason one drinks tea in the first place.
The Truth about tea bags is that they are made from plastic! Food-grade plastic like polypropylene terephthalate (PET) and nylon are often used to seal bags shut and help keep the bags' shape in hot water. Crazy right?! Check out this list of US companies below and if their tea bags are recyclable and if they contain plastic.
Bag equals: what you actually dip into hot water
Sleeve equals: what the tea comes packaged in
There are many tea brands that have compostable bags. However they are often packaged in sleeves made of plastic. Tea companies feel that the plastic prolongs the freshness of the herbs and opt for plastic wrap around the entire box as well.
Plastic-Free Tea Options
Loose leaf tea provides relief for the environment and it contains higher quality herbs compared to the bags. From the beginning of this blog entry we know that tea bags contain dust and fanning and lower parts of the tea plant. You can find loose leaf teas at your local health food shop, co-ops, and local apothecary/wellness businesses.
Here are some of our favorite loose leaf teas.
Loose leaf tea can be just as convenient as tea bags. You can use reusable tea bags like these to pre-pack your loose leaves on the go. You can also opt for an infusing bottle like this. There is enough space for the herbs to unfurl and be able to release their flavors and properties correctly. Drinking tea from home? Try this steeping pot, or use a stainless steel strainer to strain the herbs.
The truth about tea bags is that it pays to know what you are consuming on a daily basis. When we think of tea, we assume that it's the healthier option, and that may be true. However, how healthy is it to consume melting plastic? To add to the landfills? And to not know any of this information? The demand for these products have companies cutting corners and knowingly so. Will you continue to support them?
Curious to know how much caffeine is actually in your tea? Head here to find out!