What's really lurking in your cup?
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"Drink more tea," they said. "It's good for you," they said. And they aren't wrong—tea certainly has its benefits, from plenty of good-for-you antioxidants to less caffeine than your average cup of coffee. But according to a recent study by the American Chemical Society, it also has some hidden dangers, particularly if you're brewing your cuppa with plastic tea bags.
Researchers at McGill University tested four popular brands of tea sold at grocery stores and found that a single plastic tea bag can release 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the water. And while experts don't yet know the exact effect that those chemicals have on our bodies, drinking plastic hardly sounds like a smart (or healthy) idea.
The particles come from the polypropylene that many manufacturers use to seal tea bags closed. These microplastics are found in a lot of foods and beverages (including water bottles), yet the study revealed that the levels released by the tea bags were thousands of times higher than other products.
First things first: Stay away from plastic tea bags. As proven by the study, those can leech potentially harmful chemicals into your drink. But even paper tea bags can have plastic particles in their sealant. So what can you buy?
Opt for tea bags that are completely biodegradable, plastic-free, organic, or made with plant-based materials. Another phrase to look for is tea bags that say they're "free of epichlorohydrin," which is a chemical some manufacturers add to prevent the bags from breaking down quickly. Country Living rounded up some of the popular plastic-free brands, which include Organic Tazo, Twinnings pyramid range, TeaPigs, and Clipper.
Loose leaf tea, of course. Not only is it a chemical-free, fresher option, but it often produces a stronger, more flavorful cup of tea. And to make tea with your leaves, you'll need a tea infuser.
Our managing editor of core content and devoted tea drinker, Meghan Kavanaugh, put nine of the top tea infusers to the test and found that the Manatea was the best at brewing a cuppa. "The Manatea infuses tea quickly and hangs tightly to the mug as you drink, allowing you to carry your mug around and not worry about dripping all over your desk or coffee table," she says. "Plus, it’s just adorable and the silicone material makes it easier to clean than most infusers."
Using a tea infuser is a little different than a tea bag. "Because loose leaf tea can be stronger than bags, remember to remove your infuser after a few minutes to keep it from becoming too strong and bitter," Meghan recommends, adding that different kinds of tea require different preparations so you should always check the tea's brewing instructions first. "For example, you’ll want to steep black tea longer than green tea, and in hotter water."
As for the infusers themselves, take care of them properly so that they last longer and brew better. "Keep them clean (even rinsing after use if you don’t have time to wash completely) to keep the holes clear of stuck leaves, and make sure they’re completely dry before storing them away," Meghan says.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.