By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America
I’ve been preparing mint, pineapple sage, rose petals, rose hips and more so I can blend my own herbal tisanes. I’m not looking to be exotic. In fact, I’ll have more fun with the packaging than the tea blend.
The question now is how do I package? Do I put mix loose herbs into a mason jar with a fancy lid? Or do I make teabags? If I use tea bags, what kind?
To answer this question, I turned to expert, Raji Singh, brand ambassador for Newby, a line of luxury tea that is relatively new to the United States.
Question: Which is better loose leaf or tea bags?
Raji: Packaging is critical to preserve the character of tea and tisanes. Because of tea’s delicate and porous nature, the three enemies are heat, humidity, and odor. So before selecting the proper bagging method, the outer seal should be selected to ensure freshness. In this case, instead of a mason jar that allows light to penetrate through and dull the character and freshness of the tea, I would opt for a metal tin that can seal herbs’ freshness.
It is a common misconception that teabags are bad quality. This is not true. While tea bags can easily mask the quality inside and allow for dust, veins, and stalk to go unnoticed, a tea bag consisting of fannings – small broken pieces — from fine quality tea leaves is still a quality tea.
The problem with teabags is limited space for leaf and herb expansion. That inhibits full flavor results. While teabags are not bad, loose is better. Whole loose leaf provides more flavor and aroma because leaves properly unfurl. The ideal places leaves directly on top of the water to be strained out after steeping, or in a infuser basket that is spacious with enough holes to allow for enough water flow. Tea balls are quite restrictive.
Newby offers both loose and bagged but our Silken Pyramid bag is the most popular. Silken Pyramids “bags” allow for the quality of whole loose leaf with the convenience of teabags. The larger leaves have room to expand due to the flexible pyramid shape of the sachets, which also allows for optimal water flow.
Q: What are the best tea bags?
Raji: Two factors determine the best bagging method. First, the bag must be large enough to hold the tea and herbs, and spacious enough to hold the unfurled leaves. Second, the holes must be large enough to allow water to flow through the entire bag and all of the leaves to infuse, but small enough to hold smaller-sized leaf pieces. Too many leaves in the cup after steeping will result in continued brewing. That may lead to a very strong cup by the last sip.
Newby’s teabags hold in fannings – the very fine broken pieces of the leaf — so the bags are flatter and the holes are smaller. In contrast, the silken pyramid bags are much larger with wide holes since the leaves are larger and require more room to infuse.
Q: How quickly should we use a homemade herbal tea blend?
Raji: A well-sealed tea blend should not go stale as long as it is protected against the enemies of heat, humidity and odor. While Newby is required to provide a shelf life of three years, we have tea in our factory — for internal consumption — that was purchased more than 10 years ago and still holds its character and freshness.
After talking to Raji, I’ve decided that sourcing the perfect bag is too much work and expense. I’m going to paint the outside of my glass mason jars and fill them with loose herbal blends for tisanes. Unlike real tea leaves, herbal blends are less stable. So I’m going to present them in small amounts with suggested “use by” dates on my labels.