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  • Writer's pictureJulie Vouillemin

Love-in with loose leaf tea

Tea – it might be losing ground to coffee as the UK’s favourite  – but we still love drinking it. Discover how switching to loose leaf tea can elevate your tea-drinking experience.

pot of loose leaf tea on the grass surrounded by daisies.

Growing up in south east London, tea was always a fixture at home and that tea was in a teapot (warmed beforehand) and was loose leaf. Somewhere in the intervening years, I moved to teabags (easy and convenient for a study, work or home cuppa) without realising that taste and the environment were the losers in this exchange.  

Twelve months ago, after reading various online stories about microplastics in high-end pyramid teabags and plastic being used to seal teabags, I changed my tea habits. I have moved back to buying and drinking loose leaf and I’m loving it.

The first thing to say is loose leaf tea tastes better than tea bags. This isn’t so surprising given that loose leaf tea is made up of whole leaves whereas teabags use smaller, broken pieces of lower grade tea (known as fannings).

This takes me back to my honeymoon in Sri Lanka with a tea plantation guide pointing to the dust and tea debris on the floor and telling me that was what went into our teabags. I’m not sure if the guide was joking but years later the image has been difficult to shift!

What I do know is that steeping loose-leaf tea in a teapot allows the leaves to absorb water and expand during the infusion process and releases nutrients. That equates to maximum aroma and enhanced flavour, in other words, a tasty brew. 

As well as taste reasons, the main driver to switching to loose leaf was to make a greener choice. I didn’t want to add to landfill pollution. Many tea brands have shifted from using oil-based plastics to plant-based plastics (PLA) to heat-seal their paper tea bags shut, which environmentally is a great first step. But PLA tea bags should not be described as ‘plastic free’ - PLA is still plastic! 

Also, some pyramid tea bags and those in silken sachets contain microplastics which means they can’t be fully composted and are harder to biodegrade. With loose leaf, I can safely discard used leaves in my food waste bin which means no plastic pollution.  

On the negative side, it can cost more to buy loose-leaf tea and you do have to make a bit more of an effort to source it. Supermarkets tend to stock plentiful brands of tea-bags, but loose-leaf tea takes up a very small part of the tea aisle.

However, on the plus side most supermarkets do stock some loose-leaf tea, albeit in smaller quantities. Local independent shops and SWOP (Shop without Packing) Shops are also great places to look too.

My favourite buys are: Hampstead Tea, Joe’s Tea Co, Clipper Teas, Bird & Blend Tea Co, Teapigs and  Brew Tea.  For more extravagent tea gifting options, you can also look at Fortnum & Mason, Whittards and Mariage Frères

To get going you might need to invest in some tea-ware: teapot, infuser, a stainless steel tea strainer (Brew Tea have a great starter kit) but it’s really worth doing: your conscience and your tastebuds will thank you! 

By Julie Vouillemin ©


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