Saturday, 15 May 2010

In defence of a brand of teabags

I know loose-leaf tea is superior. With it you have more choices. You're more certain that you know exactly what you're drinking. How often do I ask what kind of tea a place serves and they're answer is 'black'. What does that mean? Black. It's normally a mix of non-descript teas that they couldn't seem to use somewhere else. Teabags are often a gamble if you want to know the specific tea.

But does it have to be like that? Can't you imagine tea bags being as good as loose-leaf? Merely more convenient, but just as good. I've heard it mentioned online and in real life that some teabags aren't so bad. I'd even venture to say that Taylors of Harrogate is quite good tea. Why can't we have more companies giving us high-quality tea in a teabag?

We can. We just have to make it clear that that's what we want. The market is too small? I doubt it. Many tea-snobs reject teabags without a second thought.  I've had terrible tea out of bags. I'm not saying we have to give up on taste.

I've carried all my tea gear on this short trip, and am glad I did. Not only did I have a nice selection of tea from home, but I found some teas that I hadn't tried before in shops here. Even when I have the teabag option, I don't think I'd completely give up on loose-leaf tea. Even when it takes up space in the luggage.

What got me thinking about this is that my hotel had decent tea. I drank it at breakfast the first morning, and was pleasantly surprised. The brand is called Ronnefeldt. I know I've seen the name before, but have never given them a second thought. I just assumed since it was in teabags, it must be subpar.

Looked at their website, and it turns out they've been doing tea since the early nineteenth century. While other German tea importers were based on the coast in Hamburg, this tea merchant decided to set up shop inland in Frankfurt am Main. Tea drinking was certainly more a nearer-the-coast endeavour here, but his counter-intuitive gamble paid off. There was a huge untapped market in central and southern parts of Germany.

The first one I tried was a Darjeeling Jungpana FTGFOP. Light and floral. Exactly what you'd want from a first flush Darjeeling. Took their Morgentau (China Sencha) with me into the city and it was really ok. I don't normally like flavoured tea, but the citrus-mango didn't bother me at all.

This morning at breakfast, I had the English Breakfast and it wasn't anything special, but it wasn't bad. I did force myself to brew their Earl Grey, and had a few sips. I always get the feeling the Bergamot oil is covering up some really questionable tea. Might not be the case, but I can't help but wonder.

While I'm writing this, I'm sipping the Cream Orange, which is a Rooibus with vanilla orange added. I'm a Rooibus fan. It always reminds me of Christmas, because years ago I got a bag of it with caramel pieces in it. Every time I drank it after that, it made me think of the holidays.

Like I say, I don't want to give up the selection and control I have when I steep my loose-leaf tea in a paper or cloth tea filter. I just think that it's really possible that we're ignoring some decent teas that happen to be in bags, and at some point the tea drinker is going to demand even better tea served in this more convenient way. I'm sure of it.


  1. There are very bad loose leaves too. So I don't think loose leaf is always better than teabags. I am reluctant to pay for teabags though, thinking all the money that goes to bags and packaging. I've started to seal some teabags at home now in case I need the convenience :D

  2. If I want a hearty black tea (teabag) I go for either Typhoo or PG Tips.
    It's hard to go wrong with either of those blends!
    I don't quite like Lipton. Not strong enough for a black!

  3. I agree that there are some great teabag teas, and some pretty lousy loose teas.

    My main reason for preferring loose tea is sustainability--there's a post that I'm going to publish about this on Ecospheric Blog soon. When you buy teabags you're just paying for packaging, and often, much less of what you're getting is compostable too.

  4. Really interesting that you mention that Alex. I've heard that from different reputable sources. Seems the people happiest with teabags are the ones profiting from them. Maybe it's not quite so cut and dried.

    I think my primary obsession with teabags is the travel aspect. But I've written enough here and at for it to be obvious that I prefer the leaves loose.

    Nevertheless, I think teabags, if they're going to be used, should be comprised of entirely good tea. Only tea. No tea dust.

    At all. Ever.