Why Bagged Teas May Have a Hidden Danger + How to Choose Wisely
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Chamomile, mint, rooibos, oh my! I love tea. Everyday tea. Tea to help calm my muscles. Tea to help me wake up. Tea to help my body detox. Tea tea tea.
OK I think you get the point.
Now I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that my heart broke when I recently learned that there exists a hidden danger in bagged tea. While I use loose tea on occasion, bagged tea is a teensy-bit more convenient, and so it’s what I typically grab at the grocery store. Though I am sure to choose organic tea so as to avoid pesticides, this may unfortunately be completely moot if the tea is bagged.
Plastic tea bags
Some newer teas have plastic bags, which are often pyramid-shaped and, I have to admit, are pretty darn cool looking. These are commonly made from food grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), two of the safest polymers in terms of leaching potential. The Atlantic explains that though both also have very high melting points, there is another temperature point for plastics that needs to be considered: the “glass transition” temperature (Tg), the temperature at which the molecules of materials begin to break down. The Tg of a material is typically lower than its melting point. The Tg of PET is about 169°F, and the Tg of nylon is 116°F. Since water boils at 212°F, this is a major issue: the Tg of PET and nylon are exceeded.
“If the question is, ‘As the polymer goes through that transition state, is it easier for something to leach out?’ ‘the answer is yes,’ said Dr. Ray Fernando, professor and director of polymers and coatings at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.”
Paper tea bags
If you’re like me, at this point you may be going, “Phew! Thank goodness I stay away from those fancy-pants pyramid tea bags.” But not so fast. To prevent paper tea bags from disintegrating or tearing, many are treated with epichlorohydrin, a compound mainly used in the production of epoxy resins that is considered a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Epichlorohydrin is also used as a pesticide.
When epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it “hydrolyzes” (science-speak for decompose) to 3-MCPD, a known carcinogen that has also been linked to in infertility and suppressed immune function. This is an issue considering that tea bags are intended to be completely submerged in water.
How can we protect ourselves?
Cut loose! You can find a great variety of organic loose teas online on Amazon and also on Mountain Rose Herbs, which has really great prices for bulk tea.
For brewing loose tea, I have this stainless steel twisting tea ball, which is great for individual cups of tea. It is super convenient since you can just scoop the tea with the ball, close it up and plop it in your teacup!
Sources: The Atlantic and Dr. Mercola.
If the tea is organic does that mean the paper bag it’s in is organic and safe too? Or no?
Steeped Tea is a company that has cups with built in diffusers as well. Along with some awesome flavored natural teas. !!!!
Great question, Jennifer! And just in time for summer 🙂 I found some larger tea balls on Amazon. This one has a 5.5 inch diameter http://amzn.to/10G3ANX, and this one has a 3 inch diameter http://amzn.to/12gThX7. Happy brewing!!
what are the options for making a gallon of iced tea? Most of the tea balls are for a single serving.
I also have a set of these, Helene! They are great. Here’s a link for anyone interested: http://amzn.to/15h4weQ
You can also get these small ‘tongs’ which are shaped like two teaspoons facing eachother. They have holes all over and all you do is squize open pickup the loose leaves and put in tea cup and pour hot water over. Allow to steep.
Stash Tea company also has loose bulk tea and pots and tea balls, reasonably priced and many to choose from. I am still going to use my good old Lipton Tea Bags, that is my favorite and something is going to get me anyway, LOL!
I stopped drinking tea a while ago for no reason and I found that my bladder problems stopped as well!!!Coincidence?I used only teabags!!
I was gonna ask the same thing about releasing the tea leaves… Thanks for the information.
Hmm I feel like the company is obviously very eco-conscious and I would be surprised if they did use epichlorohydrin, but the only way to find out would be to call and ask!
David’s tea filters are made with biodegradable, chlorine free, compostable mailla hemp??? that’s all is says on the package, now I wonder?????
Ooh I think I know the ones you are talking about – like this http://amzn.to/10G6wtK? These do sound really neat.
i know The Republic of Tea uses natural, unbleached tea bags for their bagged tea- i would like to think that “natural” also means not treated with other stuff either, but you never know these days! might be worth checking them out, they have amazing tea! and they sell all of their tea loose as well.
So disappointing to learn I cannot count on my tea bags! Sheesh! Just when you think you’re doing a good job… I like the idea of cutting the bags open, though, since they are very convenient pre-measured containers for one serving of tea. There are some neat glass mugs here and there around the internet that claim to strain the loose tea as you drink them — that sounds pretty cool. Anyone tried them?
Thanks for the tip, Linda! These are available on Amazon for anyone who is interested: http://amzn.to/13h2LwN
You can also buy or make muslin bags for tea 🙂
Great question, Tok. Go for it! The issue with both the plastic and paper tea bags seems to be when the bag is subjected to water so it seems like this would be fine.
Is it safer if I discard the paper bag portion of the tea and use only the inside tea as loose tea since I still have a lot of tea bags.