Ah, a nice cup of tea. Except, now, I’m finding out that with a tea bag, it may not be nice at all. That soothing, even medicinal drink has been loading me all this time with…plastic?
In my co-op in college, I remember a few students urging that we should buy only loose tea to avoid the waste of tea bags. I and others, not used to brewing loose tea and finding the tea bag convenient in our busy schedules, thought this argument was a bit extreme. Weren’t we already doing a lot for the environment by eating vegetarian, making our own bread and hummus, and buying all our beans and grains in bulk?
It wasn’t until I served in the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan that I began to be a more regular tea drinker, enjoying several cups per day. There, hot tea was served all waking hours, and in all weather. The loose black tea they used was made into concentrated brew in a small tea pot called a çaynik. Small amounts of this brew would be poured into glasses, to be topped with additional hot water. The expended tea leaves would then be mixed with additional water and thrown out into the yard.
I remember one time bringing tea bags from the States back to my host family to try, and they were polite but skeptical. I had thought they would love the convenience and novelty of tea bags, but they were actually concerned about the taste of the bag coming through into the tea.
In the past few years, I have been enjoying loose tea with the help of my trusty tea ball infuser. I enjoy being able to mix together various herbs (the bulk section at the French Broad Food Co-op is a great source for these) based on my mood and healing needs of the moment. And when I want basic black or green tea, I appreciate how these taste fresher when brewed from loose tea leaves. Even though putting dried leaves into the tea ball and then cleaning them out is really not that much work, there are times when even that seems daunting and I have a stash of tea bags on hand for those occasions when I crave convenience.
Now, as with my discovery a couple of years ago about flour, I feel cheated by tea bags, too. I may be late to the game here, as it looks like others have been writing about this for years, but this 2019 study from McGill University seems to have brought renewed attention to the issue. So many of us, especially when using the fancier, pyramidal nylon tea bags, have been ingesting billions of microplastics and nanoplastics with our tea. Paper tea bags, too, have caused us to unknowingly consume and add plastic to our compost piles (potentially contaminating the vegetables we grow as well!), because many contain a plastic sealant.
It is disconcerting to realize that something you thought was harmless, and even healthful, may in fact have been harming you. It leaves me wondering, what is next?