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To Bag or Not to Bag: Tea Bags vs Loose Tea

To bag or not to bag, that is the question that causes heated debate in the wonderful world of tea. In the United States, we have grown accustomed to going to the grocery store and picking up a box containing a hundred tea bags of the commercially popular blend of tea. Well, in the rest of the world this isn’t norm, in fact it is even frowned upon.


So where did these cute little tea bags come from, and what is the difference between tea bags and loose tea? I’m glad you asked, here is a little history on, one of the worst inventions known to tea, the tea bag.


Tea bags were actually invented by accident, as with several other inventions we currently use every day, giving credence to the saying “Necessity is the mother of invention”.


Around the turn of the last century, Thomas Sullivan, a tea and coffee merchant from New York City, in an attempt to cut sampling costs, started sending out his loose tea in small, hand-sewn silk pouches (instead of the costly tins, which most other merchants used).


The idea was for customers to open the bags and steep the loose tea as they normally would, however, most potential clients were confused by this new packaging and wound up throwing the bag right into the hot water to steep.


Sullivan soon realized he had something when he started receiving several requests for his “tea bags” and, as they say, the rest was history. The quick and simple clean up of the leaves, that were still contained in the bags, made this option much more favorable to several of his customers.


Around 1904, the first tea bags began appearing commercially and were quickly picked up around the world.


However, with the tea bag came a problem, flavor. Using tea bags was a problem because the tea leaves didn’t have sufficient room to expand completely while steeping and couldn’t release their full flavor, so tea quality paid the price.


Since the tea was now hidden in a difficult to see through silk bag, smaller leaves were used, so the leaves had more room to expand. To add to the decline in tea quality, since the size of the leaves no longer mattered, merchants began purchasing much cheaper grades of tea called “fannings” or “dust”.


These are the lowest grades of tea there are. They are quite literally “the bottom of the barrel”, nothing more than the dust which is left over in the bottom of the tea barrels after all the leaves are removed.


This “tea” will change the color of the water in your cup, but doesn’t have nearly as much flavor as full tea leaves. To add insult to injury, companies began wrapping the “leaves” in paper filters, a much cheaper solution for them, however, it limited the flow of water through the bag, further lessening the quality.


All of the harm done to the quality of commercial “tea” has lead people to believe that this is as good as it gets for tea. This is why, at ESP Tea Emporium, “What you see is what you get”. We only offer premium quality loose tea leaves that provide unbelievable flavor and aroma.


If you are only familiar with store bought, commercial tea bags you owe it to yourself to find out how truly amazing tea really is by trying some of the amazing blends only found at ESP Tea Emporium.


At ESP Tea Emporium, our goal isn’t to only sell tea, we want to inform and teach you about the amazing world of different teas, tea culture and the provided health benefits. Please check back for more interesting, helpful and informative articles about all the benefits to drinking tea.


Caffeine: Tea vs Coffee

Caffeine is a big part of the lives of many adults. It’s the main reason coffee is so popular. Most people would find it very hard to believe that coffee gained its popularity because people actually enjoy drinking a cupful of bitter sludge. But hey, there’s no accounting for people’s taste.


More and more, we seem to be a civilization running on overdrive, trying to go faster, produce more and stay up longer. This is evident by the wide selection of energy drinks, energy pills and an ever increasing dosage of caffeine.


According to research published by the Mayo Clinic, an 8 oz. cup of Black tea contains 14-70 mg of caffeine. In comparison, an 8 oz. cup of brewed coffee contains 95-200 mg of caffeine. Quite a difference.


Now, before you start thinking you need to forgo your favored morning cup of tea for coffee, just so you can get that jolt you need to get the engine going again read on.


It’s true coffee does contain quite a bit more caffeine than tea, however, tea contains other natural stimulants that are similar to caffeine including theobromine, theophylline and xanthine.


With this being said, even though the overall stimulants in tea and coffee are technically identical, tea affects us in different ways.


An amino acid called L-theanine, found only in tea, reduces stress and promotes relaxation. It works with caffeine to calm the body without reducing the alertness caffeine produces. This allows tea drinkers to have the benefit of mental alertness and focus, without the jittery nervousness that caffeine is known for.


The next benefit tea holds over coffee is, the high levels of antioxidants found in tea slow down caffeine absorption. This provides a gentler increase of the chemical in the system and allows for a longer period of alertness with no crash at the end.


There is a myth that tea contains more caffeine than coffee. This is actually true if you measure coffee and tea in their dry forms. However, it is false when you are comparing the two after they have been brewed.


This is because we normally use 2 grams of tea to produce an 6 oz. cup because 8 oz. of water makes the tea too watered down. However, 10 grams of coffee is used to make the same size cup. This is the main reason there is such a difference in the amount of caffeine contained in each drink, you are using more coffee to produce the same size cup.


The amount of caffeine in either coffee or tea depends on several different factors, including the method and length of brewing and steeping. In regards to tea, studies also show that the location of the leaf on the plant affects the content of caffeine in that tea. The newest leaves, highest up on the plant, contain the greatest concentration of caffeine and antioxidants.


Water temperature and length of steeping time have the greatest impact on caffeine content in tea. With this being said, a tea that is steeped for five minutes in boiling water will transfer a lot more caffeine than tea that is steeped for two minutes.


Another myth, promoted by several tea retailers, is that oxidation increases the level of caffeine in tea. There is no scientific proof that this is true. This claim results from measuring the caffeine in the cup after typical brewing methods and incorrectly attributing that to the tea itself.


There is a lot of recent concern in the United States about the possible dangers of caffeine. Caffeine tolerance varies a lot among different individuals. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. It is a common misconception that people who are caffeine sensitive should only drink decaffeinated tea.


In fact, same as with coffee, decaffeinated tea is not caffeine free. It still contains 5-10 mg of caffeine per cup. A way to completely eliminate caffeine intake, is to drink herbal teas. All real tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, which contains caffeine naturally.


Herbal infusions, such as Chamomile, Rooibos and Peppermint, are made from botanicals which aren’t related to Camellia sinensis, and are naturally caffeine free.


There are a lot of different factors to consider if you are caffeine conscious in regards to coffee and tea. However, if you are looking for a pick me up, coffee isn’t your only option and that is what a lot of people are being lead to believe. You can get your daily pick me up, while still enjoying an amazingly flavorful drink.


At ESP Tea Emporium, our goal isn’t to only sell tea, we want to inform and teach you about the amazing world of different teas, tea culture and the provided health benefits. Please check back for more interesting, helpful and informative articles about all the benefits to drinking tea.


The Amazing and Versatile Camellia Sinensis

Most true tea comes from one plant, the Camellia sinensis which is part of the evergreen family. The leaves are glossy green with serrated edges. When allowed to flower, the plant produces small white flower with bright yellow stamens.


Flowering is prevented during cultivation by harvesting the leaves and forcing the plant to constantly make more buds. There are two primary varieties of Camellia sinensis used for tea and a third which isn't.


Camellia sinensis

The Camellia sinensis plant strain is from China and is usually used to make green tea and white tea. This variety is also used to make some black teas and oolong teas.


This Chinese grown plant grows the best in cool temperatures on steep mountain slopes. Thriving at elevations up to 9,500 feet, the plant will typically grow to between 5 and 15 feet tall, if left unattended, and produces leaves up to two inches long. The short mountain growing seasons yield a smaller crop of more tender leaves that yield a sweeter, less astringent cup.


To allow easier plucking of the new growth, the Camellia sinensis is usually pruned to be waist high with a flat top. Because of the climate, the growing season is half of the year, at most. The plant will typically yield no more than five pluckings a year. The China plant will be dormant during the winters.


During the dormant winter the plant stores up its energy and nutrients which ensures the spring “flush” of new growth provides some of the finest teas on earth with the highest concentrations of desirable flavors and essential elements that provide the health benefits in tea.


Camellia sinensis assamica

The Camellia sinensis assamica strain is native to the Assam region in India. This strain is usually used to produce black tea, as well as pu erh tea in Yunnan province, China.


High humidity, generous rainfall, and warm temperatures allow this larger, more robust tea variety to thrive. The Assamica plant will grow to between 30 and 60 feet if left unattended and produce much larger leaves.


Under perfect conditions, the Assamica plant can be harvested every 8 to 12 days throughout the year. Because of the tremendous yields, it is the preferred crop in Northeast India, Sri Lanka and Africa. The unique climate in Sri Lanka allows the harvest from this hardy bush to continue year-round.


The Assamica leaf is ideal for producing strong, malty black teas, as well as other Chinese teas that require longer production, as in the case of oolong and pu-erh.


Camellia sinensis cambodiensis

The third variety is Camellia sinensis cambodiensis (Java Bush), which has been crossbred to achieve certain traits in other cultivars. The Java Bush isn't typically used in commercial tea production.


At ESP Tea Emporium, our goal isn't to only sell tea, we want to inform and teach you about the amazing world of different teas, tea culture and the provided health benefits. Please check back for more interesting, helpful and informative articles about all the benefits to drinking tea.

Tea: A New Rise in Popularity

Tea is the second most popular drink in the world, second only to water. That is a pretty serious statement and one that can be a little hard to believe, especially in the United States where you can’t walk two feet without running into a coffee shop or a pop machine.


Tea is steeped (pun intended) in centuries of tradition in regards to ceremonies, health benefits and the abundant selection of flavors. Take that coffee, “Who’s Yo Daddy”.


Now in complete fairness coffee does have its own adhering qualities. There is the increased energy you get from the high levels of caffeine. Then there is pick-me-up you get from the caffeine in coffee. Then don’t forget what an eye opener your first cup of Joe gives you in the morning. So just about the only thing coffee has going for it is caffeine.


It’s pretty obvious that as a society we have fallen in love with caffeine, and this is the main reason people drink coffee. Americans in particular would probably run caffeine intravenously if we could. I admit we are a bit of a high strung country, and I say that lovingly.


But what other solid qualities does Java have? In comparison to tea the offerings are pretty slim. According to the medical community “moderate regular coffee drinking in healthy individuals is either essentially benign or mildly beneficial”.


Tea offers several benefits to your health, mind and soul, here are just a few of the great qualities you will find in every cup of tea:


A pick-me-up

Don’t get me wrong, I know that a lot of times we need a boost to get the gears going again, especially in the morning. This is one of the main reasons that coffee is so popular in our society, it does infact give you that shot of energy you need to start the day.


However, a new study, that was reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that, while providing several health benefits, tea can also help improve memory and cognition in men.


Researchers took 12 healthy men and divided them into two groups. One group was given a drink that contained a green tea extract and the second test group was given a placebo drink that didn't contain the extract.


After drinking the concoctions each subject was hooked up to an MRI machine and scientists studied the effects of the two drinks on the men’s brains while performing a memory test.


Yes, all of the men kept having thoughts of bacon, however, the scientists just put that down and a normal male thought. What was interesting was how the green tea drinkers experienced an increase in the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with working memory. We use this area of the brain for problem solving and focus.


Green tea is full of polyphenols, which widen blood vessels, speeding up the supply of blood to the brain, like EGCG, a strong anti-cancer chemical. Researchers have found that these health giving chemicals may be behind tea’s benefits.


Health benefits


Tea offers several health benefits including:


  • It helps burn fat by speeding up the metabolic rate.

  • It can help lower blood pressure by tackling an enzyme which triggers hypertension.

  • Tea also helps protect against diabetes, since it contains polyphenols which inhibit starch, and helps to lower blood sugar levels.

  • Tea can also prevent food poisoning since it can kill harmful bacteria.

  • Tea can prevent bad breath by killing oral bacteria that causes cavities and bad breath.

  • Green tea guards against hepatitis by decreasing iron levels throughout the body, including those in the liver, the cause of viral hepatitis.

  • Tea can protect against cancer since it contains a compound called epigallocatechin=3-gallate (EGCG), which helps inhibit blood vessel growth.

  • It can help prevent arthritis, working in much the same way as anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • A study has also found that 96% of people who drank ten cups of green tea a day showed no signs of the cognitive impairment linked to Alzheimer’s, compared to only 12% who didn’t drink tea at all.


Good for the soul

As the legendary eighth-century tea master Lu Yu, author of The Classic of Tea, claimed:


“Tea tempers the spirit and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness.”


Many modern-day tea aficionados agree. “In the midst of the rush of everything that can happen in a day, taking the time to drink a cup of tea is a delight for both the mind and the body,” says Aurélie Bessière, head of the US branch of the Parisian tea school Le Palais des Thés.


Tea is the perfect remedy that knows exactly what you need, when you need it. You can drink tea when you need a pick-me-up or when you need to relax and unwind.


We already mentioned how tea can rejuvenate and energize, but tea can also be relaxing and soothing, beneficial to your mind and your soul.


A calming tisane can be the perfect way to relax your mind and your body. For example, a blend of chamomile and lavender or rooibos with lemongrass will sooth you without making you sleepy.


With so many benefits, it’s no wonder tea has been a favorite for centuries to cure whatever ails you, and now it is again finding its spot in modern society.

What Is The Best Way To Steep My Tea?

Experienced loose leaf tea drinkers know that the right brewing process is critical to making the perfect cup of tea. Steeping tea for too long can make it too bitter, while not steeping it for long enough can lead to a thin and watery taste.

Just how long should you steep tea in order to make the perfect cup? What kinds of water should you use? Steeping methods vary around the world, but there are some general rules to follow.

Before steeping

First, make sure you start steeping process of your loose tea with fresh cold water. Cold water has more oxygen in it, and oxygen helps draw out the flavor of tea. To preserve as much oxygen as possible, make sure you pour the water as soon as it starts to boil. Letting the water boil for too long will allow oxygen to escape.

Contrary to what many believe, you don’t have to boil water in order to make a perfect cup of tea. In fact, only black tea should be brewed with boiling water. If you’re brewing oolong tea, try to pour the water just before it reaches its boiling point. For green tea, pour the water when it reaches approximately 180F. At cooler temperatures, green tea tends to release more flavor and less bitterness.

Many tea experts recommend using filtered water to brew tea. Those who live in big cities often have chemicals in the water that can destroy the delicate flavors within complex tea blends. If you want your tea flavor to be as pure as possible, then it’s best to use filtered water.

During steeping

After pouring the heated water into the kettle, timing becomes very important. Different types of tea are steeped for different amounts of time.

Black tea: Steep for approximately 4 to 5 minutes

Oolong tea: Steep for about 2 to 3 minutes or 4 to 5 minutes, depending on stage of oxidation.

Green tea: Steep for about 2 to 3 minutes.

If you want your tea to be stronger, let it steep for closer to the maximum range using more tea leaves. Leaving it beyond that range will cause it to be overly bitter and not as tasty.

Many people believe that steeping their tea for longer will make it have a richer flavor. This is not always true. The best way to extract more flavor from your tea is to add more tea. In general, one heaping spoonful of tea per 6oz tea cup is enough. Add more if you want more flavor.

Other methods

The method we’ve listed above is the traditional method of brewing tea. However, it’s not the only method. Some people brew tea using a special Chinese ‘Gonfu’ method, while others used a Guywan system. Some of these methods require special equipment and unique blends of tea leaves. They lead to slightly unique tea flavors that complement different blends of tea.

Ultimately, you need to choose the tea steeping method that works for you. Some people like their tea flavored using a certain method, while others can’t tell the difference. Test out a few different methods to see which one you prefer most.