In Western countries, crushed tea is the go-to, while in China, loose leaf tea takes the spotlight. Beyond just their physical appearance, what sets crushed tea apart from loose leaf tea (or sometimes referred to as full leaf tea)? iTeaworld has compiled some insights for better understanding:
1. Extraction Difficulty & Ingredient Ratio:
- Crushed tea, due to its larger surface area exposure, allows for easier extraction as it penetrates less deeply. Loose leaf tea, on the other hand, is a bit tougher to extract from since it exposes less surface area.
- When brewing crushed tea, the extraction process of the tea components is pretty consistent. However, with loose leaf tea, there’s a noticeable sequence in which different components are extracted. This is particularly evident during multiple infusions: crushed tea steadily weakens, while loose leaf can yield varied flavors with more water.
- Brewing crushed tea results in more suspended particles compared to loose leaf. These particles significantly affect the tea's texture or mouthfeel. Crushed tea feels richer and fuller, similar to the "body" in coffee terms. However, it may lead to a less clear infusion, while loose leaf tea remains clear and transparent.
- The commercial tea bags mostly contain crushed leaves, allowing for quick brewing. Yet, most of its aroma is lost during the processing stage. It lacks the depth in flavor that loose leaf teas offer. Furthermore, as it releases more tannins, it can make the brew bitter. This puts loose leaf tea at an advantage taste-wise.
2.Multiple Infusion Outcomes:
- With multiple infusions, the flavor of crushed tea differs greatly with each brew, losing its value after about three brews. Loose leaf, being more "durable", can go for over ten rounds.
- For a single brew, the concentration of crushed tea is notably stronger than that of loose leaf tea.
In the West, it is also because of the stronger flavor of broken leaf tea in a single serving that many people will choose black broken tea from countries such as India. But if you have actually tried loose leaf black tea from China. You will feel a completely different sensation and will become partial to loose leaf black tea!
3.Blending Techniques & Standardization Difficulties:
- When mass-producing blended teas, crushed tea ensures a more even blend while loose leaf poses more challenges.
- For bulk blends aiming for a consistent flavor profile, it’s easier to achieve this with crushed tea by adjusting the ratio of different teas. Loose leaf blending is more challenging.
Note: Tea, being an agricultural product, varies even within the same region, from year to year. For a standardized branded tea product, consistent style and quality are essential, often achieved by blending or even flavoring. Turning loose leaves into crushed tea allows for flexible blending options, catering to large-scale industrial production needs.
Why do most countries outside China prefer crushed tea?
- Domestic and international perceptions of tea value differ, as do their appreciation criteria. Crushing is a need for industrialization and standardization of the tea industry. For the Chinese, treating every tea with the same tasting principles is a disservice to tea and its culture. For instance, with loose leaf oolong tea, you can enjoy the strong aroma of Fenghuang Dancong, the profound mineral taste of Da Hong Pao, or the refreshing and lingering taste of Tie Guan Yin. Similarly, with loose leaf black tea, flavors range from the sweet and smoky Lapsang Souchong to the rich and sweet Yunnan Black.
- Countries without a long tea-drinking history aim for convenience and ease of brewing. Crushed tea makes standardization simpler. Like domestic loose leaf tea, each type has unique brewing methods, making standardization a challenge. Non-standardized products often can't be produced at scale, affecting the domestic tea industry's growth.
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Lastly, while many think of loose leaf as pricier and crushed tea bags as cost-effective, it's a misjudgment. A little loose leaf goes a long way and can be re-brewed multiple times, offering value per cup. Boxed tea bags might seem cheaper, but considering their limited re-brew capability, the cost isn't much different.
Although brewing loose leaf requires more effort, it offers a unique taste experience. Tea bags, despite their convenience, lose much of the tea's natural richness due to commercialization, diminishing both flavor and the joy of brewing. If time isn't an issue, high-quality loose leaf tea is the superior choice over tea bags. But if you're short on time and can't indulge in the brewing process, tea bags are the way to go.