Why Bagged Teas May Have a Hidden Danger + How to Choose Wisely

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the hidden dangers of bagges tea

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.

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  1. Not a problem, I have always (thankfully) just cut open my tea bag and dumped the tea right in the cup, then strain it out and drink! I never wanted the BAG to steep along with my organic tea, unbleached or not, ick,….. intuition score!!! So, don’t toss your tea, strain it, or get a tea ball, and carry on! I avoid papers because they are always treated with something,.. this includes parchment paper, just use butter to grease and save the parchment paper money!

  2. so i can only have decaf (sometimes tough to find in loose tea) and i brew up a pitcher at a time. options??

  3. I found wonderful organic tea prepackaged in muslin bags that are sewn with organic cotton. The price is good too

  4. Can anyone address the issue of radiation in tea. I saw somethung about the fact that all teas that are not American grown contain radiation and most tea American grown are pestacide laden. Now this. I love Salada, and can’t find anything like it organic, that is American grown.

  5. Yeah, unfortunately with non-organic teas, pesticides are heavily used. The article was from Food Babe.

  6. Are you aware that most of the teas on the market today are full of pesticides/?? Facebook just posted an article about which ones are good… which isn’t many…. wish I had the link to send you … I will look for it and try to repost..

  7. so what about Keurig teas and coffee “bags” the soft paper kind, not the plastic cups. They are organic, but does that mean anything?

  8. the tea in bagged tea is often the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality, there are many a joke in Chinese that tea bags are the “sweepings of the floor”. Tea balls often constrain the tea restricting water’s movement through the leaves and inhibiting the steeping process. I highly recommend using a french press with loose tea. Its so easy to do and serve and clean!

  9. Hi, Diane. Good question and one I was curious about too. I tried it out and it seems that the tea is too fine for my strainer, but perhaps it would work with the muslin bags Linda suggests. These reusable bags are available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/13h2LwN

  10. Would it be ok to cut the tea bag and use the tea inside, since I have lots of tea bags. Or is that tea too fine to use in a diffuser?

  11. Hi, Susan. I also searched around a bit and could not find anything. Perhaps I will give them a call and ask as I also drink their teas!

  12. I drink Yogi teas. Anyone know if they are OK? I tried looking at their website but couldn’t find a very user-friendly site map that would tell me if the tea bags were treated with anything or not. Is there a site that lists which teas use these chemicals?