Serious tea drinkers aren’t supposed to do that. They drink loose-leaf tea using lots of complicated measuring and infusing apparatus. But I was virtually out of black tea, and what else are you supposed to drink with oatmeal?
So are teabags really all that bad?
There are three arguments against your standard grocery-store teabag.
1. There’s not enough tea in it. Remember this well: the “industry standard” is 2.25 grams of dry tea used for 6 fl ounces of liquid. Most teabags contain 2 grams of tea, and a standard coffee cup holds almost 12 fl ounces to the brim. Strictly speaking, this isn’t an argument against the teabag itself; it’s an indictment against the misrepresentation that weak tea is the norm. Notice the small amount of liquid in the picture above, and then consider that tea baggers are perfectly happy for you to think that one teabag makes a “full cup.” The more dilute the flavor, the less chance you’ll dislike the flavor. From “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”: Elizabeth: “There is a proper way to make tea, you know…” Benjamin: “Where I’m from, people just like it to be hot.”
2. The leaf grade is poor. Open up a teabag. Really, do it. Doesn’t that stuff look like dust? Well, that’s the official tea industry name for it, too. Unless you’ve got some shredded flakes in there a couple millimeters across: those are “fannings.” The conventional wisdom is that intact leaves unfurl gradually and therefore infuse unevenly, giving your brew more depth and complexity. Dust is virtually all surface area, giving the liquid easy access, and homogenously imparting flavor and color in a matter of seconds. I suspect that larger leaf grades undergo varying amounts of chemical changes during the manufacturing process, which would have a greater effect on “flavor heterogeneity.” I haven’t seen much scientific corroboration of these points, but it’s self-reinforcing anyway, because…
3. The variety of tea is lower quality. “Orthodox” tea manufacture takes more time and money than the methods that make those small shredded-leaf grades. So it makes sense that cheap manufacture + cheap quality tea = mass market product line.
All this is to say that tea bags correlate with (but don’t necessarily cause) high-volume, low-quality product–which is probably as it should be. Consumers who are buying based on convenience are not buying based on quality, and vice versa. And plenty of companies have stepped in to fill the gap between connoisseur and clueless, offering better quality teas in capacious “sachets.”
So how did Twining’s English Breakfast stack up? Brewed in the proper concentration, it gave a nice rosy pucker, but didn’t have much body or depth. Keep in mind though, I was a desperate junkie with a mouth full of oatmeal at the time.