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What is tea dust, and should I avoid it?

It’s the end of a hot and humid day at the tea factory. Sacks have filled with black tea are piled up high, ready for the truck to collect them. Machines have been turned off. The workers have gone home and someone is out with a brush to clean up.

We’ve all heard the story of how tea dust is swept from the factory floor, collected, and poured into tea bags. But is this true and if so, should we avoid it?

What is tea dust?

First up I’m here to tell you that although tea dust does exist, it’s not what you think.

Contrary to the image created above, tea dust is simply a grade of tea. Think about this. Have you ever opened a box of cereal and found whole flakes at the top, smaller flakes further down and crushed flake particles in the corner of the bag at the bottom?

It’s the same with tea. Tea dust is simply the finely crushed, tiny leaf particles left over from tea processing after higher-grade whole and broken leaves are removed.

These, which are in better condition, fetch a higher price at the market and are used for premium-quality loose leaf tea. The tea dust, in poorer condition, is low grade, inexpensive and is typically used in tea bags and for blending with other black teas, dried fruits, flowers, herbs, and spices. So, while it’s not a waste product, is it a waste of money?

The effect of a larger surface area

Of course, those tea bags are convenient to use when brewing your daily cuppa. They deliver a consistent, reliable flavour, bold and strong. They are ideal for adding milk and sugar and require little fuss and effort.

That’s because the tiny tea dust particles inside the tea bag create a larger surface area, which, when hot water is added, releases colour and flavour super-fast. Just what’s needed when we’re busy and on-the go. But tiny particles also have their downside. More surface area means faster evaporation of the essential oils that give tea its flavour and aroma. While this might give a quick brewing cuppa, it also means a more astringent taste and faster deterioration, resulting in stale tea.

The health benefits from the polyphenols naturally occurring in tea and found in abundance in larger tea leaves are also reduced in tea dust particles through evaporation. Studies have shown that polyphenols help reduce the risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. So, using loose-leaf tea is likely to make your cuppa more aromatic and flavoursome and deliver more health benefits.

Benefits to our wellbeing and mental health

Tea is known for its calming ability—the amino acid compound L-theanine collaborating with caffeine gives us energy, focus, and alertness without the jitters.

A regular tea practice is beneficial because it helps us slow down. While the teabag allows us to dunk and go, with loose-leaf tea, we can create a mindful three minutes at any time in the day by simply pouring hot water onto tea leaves and letting the leaves unfurl to release their flavour and aroma.

It’s also one of the reasons I always recommend brewing in a glass teapot. Imagine yourself relaxing into a comfortable chair and watching the leaves unravel, then feeling the stresses of your day melt away as you sip on a soothing cuppa.


Impact on sustainability

Cup for cup, there’s far less impact to the planet when we enjoy a cup of loose tea. There is no packaging beyond the pouch or tin it’s supplied in. Used tea leaves make a great addition to the compost heap. Many teabags still contain plastic, especially in the seal, which goes into your brew. This also means the teabags take years to decompose. Add to that the plastic, cardboard and paper packaging used to store the teabags, much of which is not recyclable, and the environmental cost is high.


Whilst tea dust is simply a grade of tea used in tea bags that offers convenience and affordability, opting for premium loose-leaf tea can enhance your tea-drinking experience. It gives a superior flavour, greater health benefits, and reduced environmental impact. So why not consider switching out your daily cuppa with a premium alternative? Not only will you enjoy a richer flavour and greater health benefits, but you’ll also contribute to a more sustainable planet.

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  • Sandra Benn

    Sandra Benn shares her passion for tea and its culture, lifestyle, travel, and health benefits in her Ankha Azzura column. She qualified as a Tea Champion with the UK Tea Academy in 2020. Her online shop, Chiya & Chai, offers a collection of loose leaf tea and accessories and she also hosts private tea tastings online and in-person. Follow me @chiyaandchai on Facebook & Instagram

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