Loose Leaf Vs. Tea Bags: Which Is Better + Herbalist Tips
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
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October 16, 2023
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If you consult an herbalist for any type of health concern, the chance they pull out a store-bought tea bag as a remedy is pretty low. It’s safe to say that most herbalists utilize loose leaf teas, instead—though anything is possible. Still, this begs the question: Is loose leaf tea truly superior?
Let’s start with the travel-friendly grocery store staple: tea bags. The options in the tea aisle tend to be mainly tea bags (in the U.S., that is), but there’s a wide variety within this category.
In general, one tea bag has about 1.5-3 grams of herbs, Siff says. They tend to be packaged with glue and a staple to secure the herbs within on their journey from the manufacturer to you. Some even come with a little paper tag with an inspirational quote.
Overall, tea bags are widely used for their convenience. But is it worth the ease? Here’s the pros and cons.
- Travel-friendly: “Loose leaf tea doesn’t travel as well, and the convenience of tea bags means that you can make a quicker cup,” Siff says—which is particularly great for traveling.
- Pre-blended: Given that commercial tea companies select the herbs included in different blends, much of the brainwork and research is taken out of the equation. You won’t have to figure out which herbs will taste great together, which herbs are best for heart health or skin health, or which herbs you probably shouldn’t use at the same time.
- Not always sustainable: Your tea bags will probably come in a cardboard box, some individual bags covered in plastic or another paper covering, and many of them made with glue and a staple. This format isn’t the most sustainable, especially when compared to loose-leaf teas. There are also concerns that these tea bags can leech microplastics you don’t necessarily want in your brew.
- Low dosage: As noted above, tea bags generally contain 1.5 to 3 grams of herbs, which Siff notes is just fine for a light cup of tea. “However, if you’re looking for a more medicinal dosage, I recommend that you use two, three, or four bags,” Siff adds. This can mean you’re burning through a whole pack of tea bags much quicker than you might think.
Loose leaf tea
Now onto loose leaf tea. Making the leap from tea bags to loose-leaf tea can be intimidating—you’ll have to build your collection, learn how long to steep your teas for, where to buy your herbs, and so on.
All of that being said, it’s a rewarding venture. Below, the many pros to consider.
- Flavor & freshness: “Taste comes with freshness, so loose leaf herbs can also be more flavorful than those in a tea bag. To fit plant material in a tea bag, it is cut up into tiny pieces. The smaller the cut, the more exposure to light and air, which can degrade plant material,” Siff explains. He also notes that many teas use aromatic herbs and rely on essential oils for their flavor and medicinal action (chamomile, lavender, or peppermint, for example). Each time these teas are pressed, some of the essential oils evaporate off, further diminishing the potency.
- Can be more affordable & sustainable: Contrary to popular belief, loose leaf tea can be much more affordable than tea bags. You’ll buy herbs in bulk and never pay for the extra packaging (apart from maybe a paper bag to take them home in).
- Customizable: You can customize the dose of herbs you’re getting in every cup as well as the flavor when you utilize loose leaf tea. While some people may not want to spend time doing this, it can be a huge perk for those seeking the most benefit from their herbs.
- Can become a hobby: You’ll have to learn more about herbs when you start using loose leaf teas, and it may even become an inspiring hobby. Research shows that hobbies can be beneficial for mental health and brain longevity, so continuing to learn about herbs, their benefits, and the history behind herbalism is a worthy feat for many reasons, mental health included.
- Harder to store: Tea bag boxes are pretty easy to throw in any drawer or cabinet, but loose leaf teas take a bit more intention. You may want to collect a few air-tight jars before investing in your first batch of herbs and find an ideal place to store them in your home.
- Not always accessible: In some places, apothecaries are abundant—but not everywhere. If you have a local herb shop, then this con may not apply. Some folks may only have access to a grocery store nearby. This can make it more difficult to find fresh loose leaf herbs. That being said, there are plenty of high-quality herb sources online that you can have shipped to you.
Consensus: Which is better?
So, which is better? To be frank, it depends on your goal. If you are drinking tea for the health benefits or the flavor, loose leaf tea is certainly the best way to go.
If you know you want to skip the complexity of learning about herbs and putting together a collection, then tea bags will suit your needs just fine. Still, be sure to look for biodegradable tea bags and use a few tea bags and/or steep your bags for longer if you’re seeking specific health benefits or a more potent taste.
3 tips to start your loose leaf tea collection
Should you want to make the leap into loose leaf tea, the following tips will help you out.
- Be mindful of sourcing: Siff recommends opting for fair trade herbal sources when possible as the integrity of a company directly translates to the quality of its product, he notes. “Some of my favorite sources are Mountain Rose Herbs, Pacific Botanicals, and Starwest Botanicals,” he says. But, if you live near a local source of loose herb teas, that’s even better.
- Invest in tea accessories: “Look for to-go mugs with built-in infusers, strainers, and presses,” he says. It’s an easy way to make drinking tea a habit quickly, even if you’re on the go.
- Prep your own blends: “To make the practice of using loose leaf tea more simplified, think about which systems you would commonly want to tend to, and make generalized blends for those systems that are always on hand,” he says. You can learn about herbalism through books, consultations with an herbalist, online, etc.
All in all, loose leaf tea may be the better option for freshness, flavor, and health-related benefits. However, tea bags remain uber travel-friendly and convenient, so do what works best for you. Not sure which teas to sip on first? Consider this list of the best teas for sleep, anxiety, and more.