So what is better: loose leaf tea or tea in bags? The short answer: it's about the quality of the tea more than the method of infusion.
Much of the tea produced in bags has a fine CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl), almost to a dust-like consistency. An advantage of finer cuts of tea is faster brew time. A disadvantage is that the quality of the tea can tend to bitter or burnt in flavor in some brands. There are many fine tasting bagged teas on the market, but it's hard to determine the quality of the tea hiding inside.
In our shop, we purchase tea using a grading system recognized world-wide (see below for a sample of grades). Darjeeling and black estate teas are most often shown with grades. Few supermarket teas or even loose-leaf blends will show a grade.
So how do you know if a tea is worth buying? Purchase from a shop that lets you see, smell and experience the tea, as well as tests their tea. Tea Bayou tests each tea for color, aroma and taste of the liquor, its consistency, and the quality of the company that produces the tea. We have tried hundreds of teas and settled on what we feel is the best tea for our customers.
But what if you are buying at a supermarket? If you are purchasing unblended tea, look for estate teas like Darjeeling. When buying blends, check for "real" ingredients. Artificial flavors are sometimes used. Purchase a small sized box of a couple of brands and experiment. The experience is personal; everyone will have their preference. Don't forget to enjoy the process!
Whole Leaf Tea
This grade refers to tea that has not been broken, sold as loose leaf. Some grades within whole leaf are:
Broken-leaf is a grade given to tea that has been broken or torn, but still recognizable as leaves. These grades have a B in them:
Fannings are a grade of tea recognizable by its coarse texture, and are mostly used in tea bags.
Much finer than fannings, dust is left over tea particles from higher grades of tea.