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Tea Bag Myth Busted

by Lori Way, MS, RD

tea bag mythI’m sure you’ve heard that tea bags are made from the sweepings of tea factory floors.  Now I’ve always figured that was not true, but at the 2011 Tea Expo, Nigel Melican gave a scientific argument explaining why it can’t possibly be true.  Get a load of this:

  • In the world, there are about 4,000 tea factories each producing 1,000 metric tons of tea per year, on average.
  • Factory waste is 1-2%, which is about 15 metric tons.
  • Total waste for all 4,000 factories is therefore 60,000 metric tons.
  • But 0.3 trillion tea bags are produced a year, which would require 750,000 metric tons of sweepings!  That means you’d need 690,000 metric tons more than are available.

On a related note, Nigel also mentioned that just because a tea is bagged doesn’t mean it is necessarily a bad quality tea.  Most (but not all) bagged teas are made with CTC tea, which stands for “crush, tear, curl.”  This tea is processed so that it will brew quickly (the finer the cut, the more contact the tea has with brewing water).  You can make CTC tea out of good tea or bad tea.  The reason why so many tea bags seem wretched comes down to cost.  Manufacturers spend 80% of the cost of of production on the bag, the string, the tag, etc., and these costs are pretty well fixed.  Only 20% of the cost goes into the tea.  So in order to keep prices low, they tend to skimp on the tea.  Understandable from a business standpoint.  So it stands to reason, if you want good tea in a tea bag, you’ll probably need to pay more.

Reference:  Nigel Melican, Tea Expo workshop entitled, “Debunking Tea Myths — Don’t Lie to your Customers.”  Nigel is the Managing Director at Teacraft, Ltd.

2 comments to Tea Bag Myth Busted

  • Jasmine

    “So it stands to reason, if you want good tea in a tea bag, you’ll probably need to pay more.”

    Not necessarily. You could do like I do and buy cheap, stringless, and tagless bags that have better tea in them!

  • Meg

    My parents visited tea plantations in Sri Lanka and they did do exactly this – all the sweepings went into tea bags. So it is not a myth at all, but completely true! What is true is that not all tea bags are made like this. It doesn’t mean that tea bags are bad, just that they lose their taste more quickly and you have to be more careful about buying the right ones.

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