Loose Leaf Teas Vs. Tea Bag


Artisan loose leaf tea vs. commercial tea bag tea

Why do we choose to produce artisan loose leaf tea over commercial tea bag tea? It all boils down to freshness, quality and flavor.

Brewing tea in its loose leaf form allows the hot water to infuse every inch of a high-quality, whole leaf tea, producing the freshest, fullest flavor possible.

The commercial tea bag is a modern invention designed to make tea drinking easy and convenient, but in its history gave us a lower-quality tea product that produces a one-dimensional flavor profile.

Here are the biggest differences between artisan loose leaf tea and commercial tea bag tea:


*Produced in the artisan orthodox method

  • Whole leaf, high-quality grade tea
  • Subtle nuances and flavor extracted from whole tea leaves that are allowed to expand fully in hot water
  • Packaged loose in airtight containers to seal in freshness and flavor
  • Produced seasonally in small quantities in an artisan method that involves hand-picking and hand-sorting quality tea leaves
  • The same leaves can be steeped multiple times for several cups of tea


*Produced in the machine-driven non-orthodox or Crush-Tear-Curl (CTC) method

  • Cut leaf, low-grade tea dust and fannings
  • One-dimensional flavor profile meant for a strong brew that can stand up to milk and sugar
  • Often bagged in bleached paper material that can add chemicals and off flavors to your brewed cup
  • Machine-produced in high volume to be warehoused and stored for long periods of time
  • Flavor is fully extracted after just one steeping

*For detailed information about orthodox vs. non-orthodox tea production, visit our “How is Tea Made?” page.

Dominated by machine

As the popularity of and demand for tea bags grew, tea merchants and producers looked for ways to cut costs and increase production.

Since customers proved to care more about the convenience of the tea bag than the quality of the tea, commercial tea producers moved to the machine-driven CTC method of tea production to keep up with tea bag demand.

Tea producers typically sourced lower quality tea and shredded the leaves to fit into small tea bags that could be machine produced, sealed with plastic or glue, and packaged with tags and strings for a more grocery-store marketable packaging design than loose leaf tea.

History of the tea bag

Most modern commercially available tea bags containing CTC tea are made of bleached paper fibres and contain heat-sealable plastic. However, the very first tea bags were made of hand-stitched silk and contained the tea in whole leaves.

Discovered by accident

In the first decade of the 1900s, New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began sending small samples of his whole-leaf teas, packed in hand-sewn silk bags, to tea shops around the world.

Shipping the samples in silk bags was a cost-effective way for Mr Sullivan to get his new teas into customers’ cups without the expense of packing and shipping them in tea boxes.

The whole leaf tea would have had to be removed from the silk bag for brewing, but customers found it easier to brew the tea in the bag. So when the customers ordered tea from Mr Sullivan again, they asked him to send them the tea in bags.

Evolved over time

As hand-stitched silk tea bags proved to be expensive and time-consuming to make, Mr Sullivan switched to gauze and by the 1920s was making commercial tea bags for his customers.

Since Mr Sullivan did not patent his discovery of the teabag, other traders began to market their own versions of the teabag – very cleverly patenting their own inventions – and over time different versions of the teabag evolved.

  • It is believed that German tea manufacturer Teekanne have developed its own version of the teabag for soldiers during the First World War. The bags, known as ‘teabombs’, were made of fine cotton and were part of every German soldier’s kit.
  • William Hermanson, the founder of a Boston paper company, patented the first heat-sealable tea bag made from paper fibres in 1930.
  • In 1944, the Tetley Tea company, invented the first square tea bag in England. Inspired by the invention of the tea bag by the Americans, they developed a tea filter machine that could sew 40 tea filters per minute for export.
  • The Lipton Tea Company, founded in Scotland in 1880, patented the four-sided, free-flowing paper tea filter in 1952. The two-compartment bag allowed the tea to come into better contact with the water and the tea leaves had more room to expand inside the bag.
  • Tetley Tea was the first company to introduce the round paper tea filter in 1992. This was mainly a marketing invention for tea drinkers who preferred to drink tea from a large cup rather than a delicate cup. Another great benefit that the round paper filter brought was that it also reduced packaging waste, as round tea bags usually do not come with the paper string and label of square tea bags.
  • The pyramid-shaped tea filter was invented in the UK in 1997 by Brooke Bond, the parent company of PG Tips. According to them, the pyramid shape acts like a teapot, and tea leaves have 50% more space in the bag than in flat bags, allowing them to expand and produce better quality teas.
Traditional Tea Bag

What is the main difference between whole Leaf Tea, Loose Leaf Tea and Tea Bags?

CTC Vs. Orthodox Tea- Gräfenhof Tee GmbH
Dust Tea vs Loose Leaf Tea

Whole leaf tea is tea that consists mainly of whole, intact leaves. Tea bags usually consist of the opposite – small amounts of tea, such as tea powder/dust and tea fannings.

Tea dust and tea fannings are smaller pieces of tea, which therefore have a larger surface area than whole leaves. The larger surface area means that the essential oils (which give the tea its flavour and aroma) are more likely to evaporate, making the tea dull and stale. For this reason, freshness can be a big problem with traditional tea bags, especially if they are packaged in a paper box with wrapping paper.

Some teas (including many steam-brewed Japanese green teas) naturally degrade during processing. Technically, these are not whole leaves, even if they are at the top of their quality. They also have problems with freshness, but the loss of flavour is exacerbated by very small tea particles (such as powder and caramel). Some teabags are made from whole leaf tea. However, whole leaf teabags are often the exception not the rule. 

Loose Leaf Tea or tea bags Tea in leaves is tea that has not been put into a teabag.

When leaf tea is brewed, there is (or should be) room for the tea leaves to absorb water and expand as the tea is brewed.

This allows water to flow through the leaves and extract a wide range of vitamins, minerals, flavours and aromas from the tea. If the tea is steeped in a bag, the tea flow is limited by the size of the bag. If you pack whole leaf tea into a small bag, the cup will not be very tasty. For many years the tea bag industry has adapted tea to the tea bag.

By filling tea bags with smaller tea particles (instead of whole leaves), they have increased the surface area of the tea and the infusion rate. The result was a more flavoursome (but not particularly nuanced) drink. It was cheap, simple and good enough for the average ‘milk and sugar’ tea drinker to make it a success. More recently, some tea merchants have decided to adapt the tea filter to the tea. Instead of flat-flavoured teas (small, broken leaves, known as “dust” and “fannings”), they are opting for better quality teas with a more refined flavour profile and aroma.

These leaves are brewed better than traditional teabags by placing them in larger bags, loose leaf tea filter bags and ‘pyramid bags’ (pyramid-shaped teabags). All of these tea bags allow the leaves to expand more than traditional tea bags, resulting in better brewing.

Note: Because the infusion rate of tea bags and whole leaf teas is different, the caffeine content of tea bags and whole leaf teas also differs.

Standardisation and diversity

Despite these innovations in tea bags, many tea lovers still despise them for two main reasons.

  • The first is respect for the traditions and rituals of teabagging.
  • The second is a more seasonal, artisanal and gastronomic approach to tea.

Usually tea bags are blended to ensure that they will taste the same, year over year. This is because it is blended from teas from all over the world.

The amount of tea produced in each region varies each year, depending on the price and the final flavour profile the blenders are aiming for. Often more emphasis is placed on the price and standardisation of the tea than on its quality and flavour. For leaf tea, this is often the other way round.

A loose leaf tea can be a special tea that comes from a single region or even a single part of a single production area. Its taste, aroma and appearance as well as its profile varies from year to year and from season to season. Generally speaking, growing regions, regions, processing styles and seasons are known for certain flavours and aromas, but leaf teas have a much wider range of flavours and aromas than standard blends.

These specialy tea are growing in demand and appreciation by consumers, as they are better educated and expect higher quality teas.

Improving the tea bag experience

At Gräfenhof Tee, we offer customers the best of both worlds – loose leaf quality and tea bag convenience.


Thanks to improvements in tea bag technology, we have developed environmentally friendly ways to offer tea bags to our customers, without sacrificing freshness and flavor.

The Gräfenhof Tee bags are made from unbleached, compostable, chemical-free materials. There are no labels, strings, staples, or extra packaging for our tea bags, so we are able to offer convenience with less waste. And both of our tea bags contain only fresh, flavorful, handcrafted tea leaves.


We provide our organic whole leaf teas packaged in single serve corn silk pyramid tea bags. Our pyramid tea bags are big and spacious enough to provide the fresh tea leaves with a lot of space to interact with hot water for full flavor extraction. And they can be steeped multiple times, so you can get several cups of tea out of a single tea bag.

Teatulia's Pyramid Tea Bag


Do you have any questions, requests or suggestions? We would be pleased to hear from you!


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Gräfenhof Tee GmbH
Zum Fruchthof 6
21614 Buxtehude