Loose Tea, Tea Bags, Sachets, Etc.


Last Updated: Oct. 31, 2013
Here on RateTea we classify individual teas in several different ways, based on how the tea leaf is packaged and distributed. You will find the following system of icons throughout the site:
Wet tea leaves in a bowl
Loose tea leaves after brewing

Loose tea / loose leaf tea:

Loose tea, also called loose leaf tea, is dry tea leaf that is sold in bulk, packaged in a single bag or tin, with no additional packaging. Loose tea is the best choice for quality, price, and sustainability, because when buying loose tea, you pay for the leaf, not for the packaging.

Many of the best teas are only available in loose leaf form.

Tea bags:

Boxes of Teabags on a Shelf
Supermarkets mostly sell
tea in tea bags
A tea bag or teabag is a small bag, usually made of paper, containing tea leaves. Tea bags usually contain an amount of tea needed to make a single cup, but sometimes they contain more tea, such as enough to make a small pot of tea, or larger batches, especially for iced tea. Some tea bags are biodegradable and can be composted, whereas others are not.

Tea bags often, but not always, contain fannings or dust, which are small particles of tea leaf (more about these and other grades of tea). Fannings and dust are usually considered low-quality tea, although they are often preferred for convenience as they infuse more quickly (see brewing tea). Although tea bags are often assumed to contain low quality tea, it is hard to generalize, as there are always many exceptions to patterns of quality.

A used tea sachet filled with wet green tea leaves
A tea sachet

Sachets:

A tea sachet is a high-quality tea bag, usually (but not always) pyramid-shaped and looser fitting, enabling whole leaf tea or larger broken-leaf tea room to expand.

Sachets tend to contain higher-quality tea than tea bags, both because whole leaf tea and higher grades of tea tend to benefit more from the increased room to expand, and also because the manufacture of tea sachets is more costly, and it is usually not economically feasible to fill them with low-grade tea. It is common, unfortunately, for companies to market high-quality tea sachets as containing "whole leaf tea" or "full leaf tea" when in reality they just contain higher-grade broken leaf tea, with larger pieces of leaf, so be careful to check exactly what you're getting if the leaf size is important to you.

How we classify tea bags vs. sachets:

The classification of tea bags as sachets is subjective: there is no agreed-upon definition of a sachet in the tea industry. Some companies use the term "sachet" to refer to standard tea bags, hoping to fetch a higher price for their product, capitalizing on the association most tea drinkers have between the word sachet and higher-quality teas. Other companies use high-quality sachets and humbly call them "pyramid bags" or just "tea bags".

Because of these inconsistencies, RateTea critically evaluates the construction and content of a company's teabag when deciding how to list a tea. We generally classify teas as sachets when their construction allows full expansion of the tea leaf, and when they use the same leaf that a company sells as loose leaf tea. We list as teabags teas that have fannings, dust, or small pieces of broken leaf, and we tend to list as teabags those teas packaged in flat bags that do not allow for full expansion of the leaf.

Compressed tea:

Compressed Pu-erh
Pu-erh Cake (Bing cha)
Menghai Tea Factory
Mini Tuo Chas
Mini Tuo Chas
from Stash Tea
Compressed tea is tea that has been compressed into solid forms. Compressed tea is common in Pu-erh tea, but rare for other types of tea. Before brewing compressed tea, an appropriately sized piece must be broken off, usually using a knife or other pointed implement. The broken off leaf is then brewed similarly to loose tea. After a single brewing, the leaves then break apart. Compressed teas are usually used for multiple infusions, as they tend to be made of whole-leaf tea, and their compressed form makes water permeate through the leaf more slowly.

Some compressed teas come in a single-serving size, such as a mini tuocha. These compressed teas are suitable for brewing a single cup or pot of tea.

The most common form of compressed tea is a cake or disc, called bing cha(饼茶), meaning cake tea. Other common forms include tuo cha(沱茶), a bowl-shape, and zhuan cha(砖茶), a tea brick.
Blooming tea in a Tea Pot
A Blooming Tea from
Kusmi Tea

Blooming tea:

Blooming tea is loose tea that has been tied together to form a flower-like shape. When the bloom is placed in hot water, it unfurls, taking on the shape of a flower. Often, blooming teas are artful blends of tea leaves with showy or colorful ingredients such as flower petals, creating a striking visual display when the tea is brewed.

Blooming tea is commonly produced in China.

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