Loose Tea vs. Tea Bags

Photo © Redberry Sky, 2012
Photo © Redberry Sky, 2012

Teabags might be a little more convenient, but loose leaf green and white teas are bursting with antioxidants and other healthful properties. But how much of a difference is there really? Is loose leaf tea actually so inconvenient to prepare? And is tea made from teabags really so lacking in all the goodies that makes loose leaf tea so prized?

Tea Love

I’m a huge fan of loose leaf tea, and I buy kilograms of several varieties when the tea is harvested in China every springtime. But I also like a mug of PG Tips, or Tetley, or other mass-market brand when I wake up in a morning and need to collect my wits before I start to fumble around with tins and packages and tea strainers. So as I start to write this, I’m open minded about where my research will take me. I’m no purist, and although I have my own favourite varieties of tea, I’m no connoisseur either. And I know that research on tea is quite limited, so I’ll be judging the health properties of tea as much on my own personal experience as on research. But since tea in all its beautiful forms is my amateur passion and love, I’m excited to try out some experiments on the two most popular forms of tea – loose leaf and bagged – and I hope that if you love tea too you’ll share your own preferences and experience in the comments at the end of this article.

My Summary: Loose-Leaf vs. Teabags

(click column header to sort results)
Loose-Leaf Green or White Tea
Loose-Leaf Black Tea
Teabags - Green or White
Teabags - Black
Beautiful and unbeatable; soft and smooth
Wonderful array of varieties
Stale-tasting and bitter
A nice and pleasant cuppa
Stunning and gorgeous
Fragrant varieties are a delight
Little aroma
Most have very little aroma
Health Benefits
High in catechins, theanine and antioxidants
High in antioxidants
Thought not to be as high in healthful substances as loose leaf counterparts
Quite high in antioxidants
Less than 5 minutes to make
Less than 5 minutes to make
Less than 5 minutes to make
Less than 5 minutes to make
Fine quality is very expensive, around £20/$25 for 3 weeks' supply
Fine quality can be quite expensive (although there are lots of cheaper and still-delicious loose black teas available)
Can be very inexpensive, around £5/$7 for 3-4 weeks' supply at 3-6 cups a day
Usually very inexpensive, large boxes of hundreds of teabags are only a few pounds or dollars
My Overall Verdict
4 Stars - Overall Winner, for me, for taste and health, but loses a star because it is relatively expensive
3 Stars - except for a couple of special varieties, I'm as happy to drink mass-market black teabags so I'm not yet convinced that the expense of loose leaf black tea is worth it
2 Stars - I personally find that mass-market green and white teabags make an undrinkable cup, but it is cheap and still has some of the health benefits
3 Stars - inexpensive and refreshing
Photo © Redberry Sky, 2012
Photo © Redberry Sky, 2012

Green Teas

I drink high quality loose leaf green tea from a few different suppliers – the photo on the right is my current tea collection (the tins are all from the same supplier, but the teas inside are from a number of different merchants).

Bagged Green Tea

But the first time I drank green tea, it was in ‘bagged’ form – boxes of it from my local supermarket. I’ve had Twinings green tea, Marks and Spencers Organic green tea, Clipper tea, Liptons tea, and I remember (with a shudder!) a Japanese one that I bought from Sainsbury’s that was a bit more expensive, but sadly and strangely tasted of smoked fish. And although I persevered with them because I’d heard great things about the health properties of green tea, the truth is that I find pre-bagged green tea bitter and nasty in taste, and for me it was very nearly unpalatable. I think I was drinking bagged green tea for about three or four months, and the only way I could make it taste remotely pleasant was to squeeze some lemon into it.

Loose-Leaf Green Tea - Some Are Much Better Than Others!

I came to high quality loose leaf tea because I knew that in China green tea is one of the most popular drinks. Its delicate taste is very highly thought of, and I was absolutely sure that no one could lavish such attention on the bitter brew I was getting from all the teabags I tried. But my first two forays into loose leaf green tea were an absolute washout! I bought some from a supplier who was more concerned with the ornamental aspects of tea, and who sold a large amount of decorative teapots and tins, but who didn’t give the date of the harvest of the tea they sold, and who didn’t have any customer reviews on their site at all. This tea was very nearly as bad as the teabags I’d been using, and I very nearly gave up on green tea right there!

Finally! Perfect Green Tea!

But then I gave it one last try, and I bought a small amount of the green tea variety ‘Long Jing’ from a supplier who had a lot of customer reviews on the website and who clearly gave the year of harvest (the most recent Spring). This tea was a revelation! The aroma alone of the fresh tea steeping was enough to make me fall in love with it, but the taste was pure heaven. Within a month I had bought about six or seven different varieties from three specialist suppliers, and every springtime, as soon as the harvest becomes available, I order a year’s supply. I’ve turned all my friends and family to loose leaf green tea, and we all order bulk amounts at the beginning of the ‘tea year’ in late April/early May.

How to Find a Good (Reputable) Supplier of Loose Leaf Green Tea

If you’ve tried green or white teabags and found them not to be to your taste, I’d urge you to try some high quality loose tea from a good supplier. To find a good supplier, type in the name of a green tea variety (I’ve listed my own favourite varieties below in bold) in Google, and the results should give you a selection of online tea merchants. Go to a few different websites and read the reviews (and make sure their date of harvest is the current year). Most reputable suppliers will sell fairly inexpensive ‘sample’ sized packs of their teas and I’d highly recommend trying a couple of varieties from two or three different merchants. If you aren’t sure which green tea varieties to try, my favourites are Anji Bai Cha, Long Jing, Bi Luo Chun, and Meng Ding Ganlu. These four are all very delicate green teas, so delicate in fact that if you don’t already drink green tea you might think that it tastes a lot like hot water, but drink it for a week or two and your palate will start to detect subtle aromas and flavours, and something called ‘mouthfeel’ that makes the tea seem just a little bit ‘oily’ in your mouth.

Photo © Redberry Sky
Photo © Redberry Sky

White Tea

I first tried white tea in loose form – I added some ‘Silver Needle’ to my order of green tea just to try it, and now I love white teas as much as I love green. So the first time I tried white tea teabags was for this article, and I disliked the tea produced by them as much as I dislike their green ‘bagged’ counterparts. To me, white tea from teabags tastes stale and just a little bitter, whereas high quality loose leaf tastes fresh and beautiful. Good loose white tea can be bought from the same merchants as green. My favourite is Silver Needle, but White Peony is a delicious variety too (and it’s often quite a bit less expensive).

Black Tea

Black tea undergoes much more processing than green or white, and its flavours and aromas aren’t as delicate, and aren’t lost quite as easily. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a difference between loose leaf and bagged black tea – I have a couple of varieties of loose that are most delicious, and the fresh, subtle aromas and tastes are beautiful – but I also love the strong ‘tang’ of mass-market black teabags.

Photo © Redberry Sky, 2012
Photo © Redberry Sky, 2012


With a teabag, it takes about four minutes to boil the kettle, pour the water over the bag, and brew a pot or cup of tea.

With loose leaf tea, I put a pinch or two of leaves in a Pyrex jug and pour hot or boiling water over the leaves (depending on the variety of tea) and let them steep for a couple of minutes, and then pour the tea through a kitchen strainer into a mug. Black tea takes fully boiling water of 100 Celsius; green and white take water that is a little bit cooler – about 80-90 Celsius, so either don't don’t let the kettle quite reach boiling point, or let it cool for a minute after it boils.

The first time I made loose leaf tea I think I found it a little bit less convenient than teabags, but now, after drinking thousands of cups, the only time I really think about it is first thing in the morning when I’m still bleary-eyed from sleep and I just want a cup of something hot to wake me up.

Health Benefits and Feelings of Well-Being

The health benefits of tea take time to show themselves. One study into green tea’s effects on memory in older people found that it took about 12 weeks of daily consumption of 3-6 cups for the full benefits to be noticeable. But tea (all varieties, whether black, white or green) contains theanine (l-theanine), which has an immediate calming and focusing effect. Two substances in tea are mainly thought to to be responsible for its health benefits – EGCG and theanine.

All tea contains some amount of these, and drinking any green, white or black tea regularly, whether loose leaf or teabags, will have a beneficial effect on health. But with that said, these substances are lost over time – degrading and disappearing as the tea gets older and staler. Most tea experts think that tea should be less than about 12-18 months old when it is used, and that it should be stored in airtight bags or other protective containers like well-sealed tins. Now, whereas loose leaf tea is usually sold within a year of harvest, and the date of harvest is given, with teabags no such information is provided, and the leaves in teabags are often (and perhaps always) broken and less cared for, letting much of the ‘good stuff’ escape before it ever meets the boiled water of your kettle.

To my knowledge, there aren’t any reliable figures for how much theanine, ECGC, and other antioxidants, polyphenols and catechins (the good things in tea) there are in fresh loose tea compared with teabags, but I noticed that after drinking loose leaf green and white tea for about three months, my health, stamina, concentration, and even breathing, improved greatly, and some of the people I introduced to loose tea have said similar things.

This is, of course, anecdotal evidence, and there could be many reasons why I felt better – it was hardly a scientific experiment, after all! But still, I think that if you’re thinking about drinking tea for its health benefits, it’s worth trying out loose leaf green or white tea for three months (3-6 cups a day) and see if you notice a difference in the way you feel.


In this area, teabags win out, without a shadow of a doubt. Loose leaf tea is expensive, and teabags are cheap. Loose leaf tea leaves are brewed three (and sometimes four) times, but even taking this into consideration, loose leaf tea is an expensive drink.

Tea is brewed using about 2-3 grams of leaves, and the leaves are infused three times, so 50 grams will make you 50-75 cups of tea. But although the same 3 grams of tea leaves are used for 3 cups of tea, once they are used to brew the first infusion, the other two infusions must be made the same day, within about 6-8 hours. So if you drink tea every day, 50 grams will last you about two to three weeks, depending on the amount of leaves you use.

Green and white teabags can’t be used more than once in all the brands I’ve tried. So if you have the recommended 3 cups a day, you’ll need about 40-60 bags to last the same amount of time as 50 grams of loose leaf tea.

50 grams of my favourite loose leaf teas cost, on average, about £18-22 (about $28-32, USD), although of course some varieties cost much less, and suppliers can vary widely on price. For 60 teabags from the most popular brands of mass-market teabags, the price is around £3-6 (about $4-7, USD). Most loose tea merchants offer good discounts on bulk purchases, and will waive shipping costs too, which can bring the cost down considerably, sometimes as much as 30%, but even so, loose leaf tea is likely to be several times more expensive than teabags.

Overall: My Verdict of Loose-Leaf vs. Teabags

Black Tea

I’m perfectly happy with my morning cuppa of a mass market brand of black tea teabags, and although I keep a couple of tins of loose leaf varieties in for when I want something a bit different and more subtle, I think black tea is fine in bags, and a thoroughly nice, thirst-quenching and calming drink.

Green and White Teas

Personally, I’ve never found a mass-market brand of green or white teabag that has been a pleasant drink, and before I found quality loose leaf, I felt like I was forcing the green tea down because of the well-known health benefits, rather than drinking it for enjoyment. For me, the hefty price tag that comes with quality, loose leaf green and white tea is worth it, and the very minor inconvenience of brewing and straining the leaves is not so different from putting a bag and hot water in a cup. But if you want something that’s more affordable, mass market bags of tea still contain the same health benefits (although I suspect not to the same extent as fine loose leaf), and if you find the taste a bit off-putting, squeezing a bit of lemon into your cup can make it into a much more pleasant drink.

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Comments 4 comments

mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 3 years ago

Great Hub! Very thorough and informative. Thank you for sharing

jbshaban profile image

jbshaban 3 years ago from California

I've never been a big fan of green tea, but I've never tried to find it loose. Thanks for sharing all of your research with us. I will have to try some soon.

Chuck Bluestein profile image

Chuck Bluestein 3 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

I buy my green tea and yerba mate tea (very popular in South America) from an herb mailorder company that only sells organic herbs and organic loose leaf teas. They appeal to people who are willing to buy in larger quantities to get lower prices. Their gunpowder green tea costs $12 a pound while their green Sencha leaf tea costs $43 a pound. Their white silver needle tea costs $71 a pound.

Elsie Hagley profile image

Elsie Hagley 14 months ago from New Zealand

Congratulations for having an Editor's Choice article, you haven't updated it in nearly three years so it just goes to show that a great article has proven the test of time.

I'm happy with my morning cuppa of a mass market brand of black tea teabags with milk, if I have loose tea leaves they don't seem to keep that long they get a musty taste even in an airtight container.

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