As a prolific tea drinker, I’m well aware of the wastefulness of single use tea bags. I gave up using them at home many years ago, preferring to use a fancy teapot with a stainless steel strainer.
When my glass teapot recently came to the end of its natural life (it had a nasty crack), I switched to reusable tea bags out of curiosity.
The biggest issue with disposable paper tea bags and those newer style ’silk’ teabags (which are actually nylon), is that they usually contain small amounts of plastic, meaning they aren’t compostable and generally end up in landfill.
Even worse is if you place these so-called biodegradable tea bags in your home compost and inadvertently end up with micro-plastics in your backyard garden soil. Sure there are some completely compostable tea bags but you have to do your research carefully before finding the right brand.
The easier option is to buy or make your own reusable tea bags. Made with unbleached cotton fabric and thread, or even better hemp, you can be sure they are plastic-free and zero waste.
Reusable tea bags are also considerably cheaper than regular tea bags as you can buy your tea in bulk. You can then fill your cloth tea bag with the exact amount of loose tea leaves depending on how strong you like your tea. Refillable tea bags are the more frugal option, an important factor in sustainable living.
Reusable Tea Bags
Next dilemma is which are the best reusable tea bags. Most have a pretty similar design, with the main differences being the fabric choice and price.
EORTA 50 Pieces Tea Strainer Bags*
These food grade cotton muslin tea bags are simple and get the job done. They close with a fabric drawstring and are suitable for not only tea but herbs and spices too. They come in a pack of 50 which means you can use different bags for different teas or herbs and keep some in your office or travel bag.
Sustainable Tea Bags
One of the handiest things about cloth tea bags is that they’re portable. I like to take a couple with me to the office, usually one filled with green tea for a little caffeine pick me up during the day and a herbal tea which I prefer late afternoon. If you have a private space or desk at your work, it would be easier to take a jar of loose tea leaves and fill up your refillable tea bag as you need to. Otherwise, if you don’t want to leave your tea bags at work, place one or two tea bags in a small glass jar or box to take with you wherever you go.
How to Use and Clean
Depending on how strong you like your tea and the kind of tea you’re brewing, fill the small tea bags with a couple of teaspoons of loose tea and secure the drawstring. Let steep for the required time then take out and put aside. I tend to reuse my tea bags once before emptying and starting fresh.
When you’re ready to clean, turn the cloth bags inside out and empty the tea leaves into your compost bin. Give the tea bags a good rinse and let completely dry overnight. Some people reuse their cloth tea bags without drying but I prefer to rotate through a few bags so they remain dry and free from bacteria. From time to time I will wash the reusable tea bags in the washing machine on a quick cycle without detergent (usually with my tea towels), making sure to place them in a wash bag to protect them.
Herbs and Spices
Don’t forget you can fill your cloth tea bags with things which aren’t tea. They are great to use when cooking soups and stews in particular. Place your favourite herbs and spices in the tea bag and place in your dish. Once the goodness has seeped through the cloth you can remove it, leaving the delicious flavour but not the herbs and spices itself. It’s a great way to add subtle flavour to a dish.
Make Your Own Tea Bags
Full disclosure, I have no idea how to use a sewing machine or sew by hand. Now that I think about it, I should probably learn. That would greatly enhance my sustainability clout! But I understand that making your own tea bags is even more frugal and eco-friendly than buying online. You can use materials you have on hand at home and avoid the environmental cost of online delivery.
For instructions on how to DIY tea bags, give this a read.
If like me you drink coffee as well as tea, know that you can get reusable coffee filters too, either for pour over, V60, Chemex, drip coffee makers or even to make cold brew coffee. Look for hemp filters like this one* which is organic and sustainable.