There is a misconception that tea in bags is somehow below par. True, the fact that the tea in bags brews through a filter paper bag, does take away some of the brightness and character of the tea that is within but this influence is no more than around 5%. The fact is that teabags got a bad rap as a result of what brand owners decided to put in; at the same time as the teabag trend was gathering momentum, many of the great tea companies were also changing hands. That meant that these companies also underwent a more fundamental change than simply one of ownership; the companies that fuelled the fashion of tea in the 1800s and 1900s were committed, passionate and expert in tea – these were either family businesses or owner operated.
No more though with very few exceptions for the mantle passed in the 1900s to large corporations whose objectives were not really the pursuit of authenticity and quality in tea, but rather, what they were established for in the first place and that is profit. A company that sells detergents, coffee, cheese and other products in addition to tea can probably not be expected to really be passionate about any one of those product lines.
With this change in management, and the objectives of many of the big tea companies came a change in the quality of their teas. It is not only the teabag that suffered but given the fact that the bag made tea invisible to the consumer, made it easier for these new leaders of the tea category, to add profit to their tea operations.
Good tea can be offered in teabags. Small leaf – dust, Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings etc., – are not necessarily bad teas. Try a Great Western Estate Dust 1 or a Mattakelle BOPF and you would understand what I mean. There are some outstanding small leaf teas, and it is the responsibility of the brand owners to know and select what they use in their teabags. Sadly, riding on the growing awareness and demand for tea today, the emphasis on profit maximisation continues and some of the great names of the last century today offer the cheapest teas available.
That is however the way corporations are structured and for an explanation you need to read what Prof. Joel Bakan has to say http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/04/07/160808.php.
While it may be fashionable for tea experts to knock teabags without understanding why, there are equal and worse sins committed under the guise of leaf tea. Trust your tastebuds, understand tea and then look for the teas, bagged or leaf, that you enjoy most.