brew times, leaf size and tea bags

For me, tea is a rhythm of life, I Arise with a warm cup of masala chai every morning. Without it, I somehow never quite feel the same. My afternoon tea is prepared with spices that give me the strength to Elevate over that after-meal crash and get things done. Equally important is my nightcap, after I put the kids to bed, be it still warm outside or a cold winters evening, I Fortify my body and soul with a golden chai before drifting off into a sweet slumber. Regardless of how hectic things are, or the amount of work, I always cup my tea, pause, breathe in the aroma, taste the soothing liquid before stepping back into reality.

Today, the popularity of tea is more then just for its pleasure properties, equally alluring are the health benefits in each steep. Tea comes in many varieties and the most common being black, green, oolong and herbal. In this post, I’ll share the science behind the health benefits of black tea in reference to brew times, CTC vs. Orthodox teas, loose leaf vs. tea bags, amongst some other interesting scientific findings. This important information was analyzed, tested and utilized for creating my healthy and fit morning cuppa creation, Arise Blend.

AriseChai black tea benefits

What makes tea healthy?

Tea is an important dietary source of polyphenolics, particularly flavonoids. More then 4000 of these flavonoids have been identified and widely distributed amongst plants. The chemical composition of tea includes polyphenols, alkaoids (caffeine and theobromine), amino acids (mainly L-theanine), carbohydrates, proteins, chlorophyll, volatile compounds, minerals (aluminum, manganese and fluoride) and other unidentified compounds (currently being discovered and/or researched by scientists).[1] Many of these compounds are also found in other natural whole foods but, we simply don’t eat enough quantity to reap the benefits. An easier way is to drink a few cups of tea throughout the day and load up on containing bioactive compounds.

Polyphenols are one of the main bioactive compounds in tea, the major one being flavan-3-ols (catenchins). Popular and studied catechins (flavan- 2-ols) include: epicatechin (EC), epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), epigallocatechin (EGC) and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), theaflavins and thearubigens. [1]

These flavonoids and other polyphenols present in tea have shown a wide range of biological and pharmaceutical benefits, including prevention of: cancer, obesity, type 2 diabletes, depressive symptoms, cardiovasuclar diseases and cerebral ischemic damage. Further, tea possesses insulin-enhancing, antioxidative, hypolipidemic, antimicrobial, immune-stimulatory, anti-inflammatory, neuro-protective and bone enhancement activities. [2]

Depending on the manufacturing process, teas are classified into three major types:

  • fermented black teas,
  • semi-fermented oolong tea and
  • non-fermented green tea.

We will focus on black tea in this article, and how long to stir and steep conditions—time and temperature—to maximize on the health benefits of extracting bioactive ingredients.

Bioactivity of Black Tea

For the past 20 plus years, research and interest in polyphenols has been consistently increasing. The main reason for such popularity is due to great variety of polyphenols and their powerful antioxidant properties. Polyphenols are very effective against oxidative stress, and research continuously identifies new prevention and treatment benefits against numerous conditions such as cancers, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. [3]

Important notes about polyphenols:

  • several thousands of these compounds exist
  • found in a variety of plant foods, including tea
  • generally involved in defence against ultraviolet radiation or, aggression of pathogens in plants
  • carry antioxidant properties in humans
  • not all polyphenols are absorbed with equal efficacy, as they are extensively broken down by our digestive systems
  • fruit and beverages such as tea constitute the main sources of polyphenols in the diet

Orthodox and CTC Tea variety

People have been brewing tea made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant for almost 50 centuries. The traditional method of drying tea leaves involves plucking, drying and rolling leaves by hand—Orthodox teas are still prepared in this manner. Later, due to the popularity of tea and to keep cost down, machines where introduced to do the manual labour—CTC method for tea preparation.

Orthodox teas are whole leaf teas manufactured using the traditional process of hand-plucking the leaves, and processing forward. In reference to taste, these type of teas are generally bright and brisk with a multilayered flavour profile. When steeped these teas give a lighter colour liquid, as this property is defied by leaf size. The smaller the particle size, the more colour and body it infuses. Orthodox teas are often enjoyed as is, without the need for added milk or sugar, to fully appreciate the complex flavour profile and aroma. Long leaves need time to open and infuse in water, thereby requiring more time to prepare. Many of such teas can also be re-purposed in second, third and beyond brewing for different flavour profiles.

CTC stands for Crush (or, Cut), Tear and Curl manufacturing process that results in granular leaf particles. Machines are used to cut the leaves and prepare the final tea. CTC grade teas are strong and full bodied which is made by crushing the plant cells with heavy pressure and completely extracting the ingredients inside. This processing of tea leads to its small granule size and allows for more surface area for maximum extraction. This further contributes to the body and other properties of tea.

Most of us are familiar with Orthodox teas as premium in taste, quality and cost. Many of us have also tried the conventional lipton tea bag for quick steep and go. However, few of us in the West are familiar with premium CTC grade teas. These teas also come in a grading system, and yes, tea dust is made from these teas but, that does not mean they are of poor taste or quality. In reference to cost, a premium CTC tea blend or estate tea can be more than some of the Orthodox loose leaf teas on the market.

I have a strong affection, maybe even share a love affair, with CTC tea, that even the most premium loose leaf cannot compete with. Masala chai in India, a country of over 1.3 billion, is made with CTC grade tea. I grew up with this strong tea brew, sweet scent and harmonious blend with milk and sugar. For me and likely 1.3 billion other Indians even a premium loose leaf just won’t give the cha felling we are accustomed to. So, with Arise Blend I share my love of spices, chai and CTC tea with the West and beyond. I tired to make this blend with many loose leaf tea brands, some more and some less expensive then the CTC I currently use but, the desired taste profile was only replicated with the premium CTC blend that currently goes into our Arise Chai.

Black Tea Steep Times

Black tea represents 76-78% of the tea produced and consumed worldwide. The production of black tea involves allowing tea leaves to wither reducing the leaf moisture content followed by rolling and crushing to initiate fermentation. 

A study looked at the widely consumed CTC tea from Sri Lanka to drive results on steep times and extraction of bioactive ingredients. The experiment included, a traditional way to making tea by adding the leaves to boiling water and steeping. Samples were removed and tested at different times starting at 0 and up to 20 minutes, with following observations: [2]

  • Gallic acid, caffeine and catechins were rapidly released within first two minutes and slowly increased with time. 
  • Phenols and flavonoids released comparatively slower than caffeine and other compounds mentioned above. Extraction of polyphenolic and flavonoid compounds increased with the time and reached to a maximum concentration at 6-8 minutes. Longer steeps cooled the tea (temperature wise) but no adverse affect was noted in relation to amount of bioactive ingredient extraction.
  • Tea’s health benefits are based on antioxidant activity. Tests show, an increase of antioxidant activity with longer stepping times. This study revealed that polyphenols and flavonoid (EGCG) are major constitutes responsible for antioxidant activity over caffeine. To maximize on the benefits of tea longer steep times up to 8 minutes was recommended. Drop in temperature over steep time did not effect the amount of extraction of bioactive ingredients.

Our Arise Blend uses CTC tea granules, the ones mentioned in the above study, to allow for a long steep to maximize on these very same health benefits. Furthermore, our premium Assam tea is selected for it brisk and malty taste to stand up to seven premium, strong spices. This style of tea can stand up to extremely long steeping times, and rigorous boiling (of stovetop chai preparation) without the bitter taste.

Black Tea Leaf size

Some believe that whole leaf teas are healthier than CTC grade variety. A study compared tea bags (considered to be “low-grade” tea dust/fanning) alongside whole leaf teas. [4]

  • thirty-one commercial samples consisting of loosely packed form of twenty different brands and,
  • tea bags of eleven different brands were purchased from the supermarkets in Tabriz, Iran.

Tea bags were brewed in 240 ml hot tap water (80 degrees C) for 1 to 5 minutes and stirred twice. The loosely packed tea samples (2 grams), were brewed at same method and 5 to 60 minutes. 

The most antioxidant activity was noted:

Loose Leaf at 60 minutes of brewing, 863.44 mM Fe(II)/(2g/240ml); low end at this time was 738.68.

Tea Bag at 5 minutes of brewing, 857.61 mM Fe(II)/(2g/240ml); low end at this time was 717.74.

Conclusions made:

Mean antioxidant activity of loosely packed black tea extracts significantly depends on the time of extraction, whereas bagged teas show activity as early as 3 minutes and maximum at 5 minutes. Furthermore, the antioxidant activity and polyphenol content of tea bags were significantly higher than those of the same brands of loosely packed forms after 5 minutes of brewing.

The perfect Teabag

The teabag was an accidental discovery, like most useful inventions of time. Story states, a merchant was sending out tea samples to customers but didn’t have enough tea to fill a tin can.  So, he wrapped up the tea leaves in a silk sachet. The customer was confused and thought this is how he was supposed to brew it, placed the tea sachet into water and a new steeping method was created.

A study on tea bag versus loose leaf tea for extraction of health benefits made the following observations:

  • In case of tea bags, the quality of paper used for packaging teabags is important.
  • Tea bags allow for a faster extraction efficacy of various nutrients. This observation is likely due to the size of tea (smaller tea dust vs. larger leaf) and not necessary the fact that it’s in a tea bag. Smaller tea size particles (tea dust) are usually packaged in tea bags which conveniently produce a larger surface area for tea and water interaction.
  • Teabag design is likely to influence the composition of the tea infusion. In this regard, over the past decades, tea bag manufacturers have made a number of changes in shapes, sizes, and materials of the teabag itself; all to improve extraction efficacy of tea constituents.
  • Tea bag handling is important for better extractions. The above study also concluded that nutrient extraction is far greater when teabag is continuously dunked in water (dynamic infusion) versus when it is simply left floating in the cup (static infusion). [5]

We at DUPIsCHAI spent a long time finding the best tea bags that will allow for flavour, fragrance and most importantly bioactive ingredients to steep through and still have the convenience of an easy cleanup. For us, the right tea bag was a must, in order to not only maximize on tea but on the health benefits and flavours of all natural spices. Most of the tea bag shapes and materials we tried simply did not do our blend justice until, we found the perfect little sachet. You can purchase our sachets to go with our loose leaf blends or add your own on our shop page.

Our tea bags, allow for full flavour of chai along with the bioactive ingredients present within spices to easily steep into your cup. Many of the spice’s powerful health ingredients are found in their essential oils, and can be easily extracted when in ground form. But the essential oils can easily clog the pores of the most tea bags, remaining inside rather than migrating into your cup. This is why many chai products, either have whole (unground) spices or added flavours to create the visual appeal, and mimicking the smell and taste of the traditional cuppa chai prepared over stove-top. We know that overwhelming majority of people simply don’t have 30 minutes and technical expertise to make a stove-top chai from scratch, so we relentlessly experimented with the size of the ingredients, packaging and preparation methods to bring you an authentic chai style, with extensive health benefits in a simple and easy way. 

  • Firstly, we refused to sacrifice flavour for artificial chemicals. Our chai blends are made with only whole, real ingredients, nothing else. 
  • Second, we grind our spices, producing the unforgettable aroma and flavours within each cup. 
  • Thirdly, our extensive search for a perfect tea bag was successful. With our tea bags, steeping your chai and all bioactive ingredients into your cup has never been easier. Go ahead, slightly cool the tea bag after steeping, and touch it. We welcome you to feel our ingredients and compare that to other chai blends. 

Just steep and go!

Final Thoughts

Extraction practices of tea bioactive ingredients have been extensively studied showing, time and temperature to be the biggest factors that affect polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity. However, keep in mind that infusion also depends on other things like cultivar type, growing environment, plucking practices and manufacturing conditions. Rate of extraction of tea increases with decreased particle size, increased brewing temperature, and increased water/leaf ratio. [6]

For us in the West, tea is a relatively new phenomenon. Majority of us with coffee drinking background have been steadily exposed to greater varieties of tea in the last several decades. Furthermore, we’re also learning more about the health benefits that tea infusions provide. 

“Consumer brew” — a simple question being, can I get a delicious, healthy beverage in my easy steep-and-go cup?  Scientists say, yes! The data puts consumer brew on par with high end long leafs in terms of antioxidant activity and bioactive concentrations, while increasing validity with its fast steeps times, convenient tea bag cleanup and overall costs.

Tea is a complex food product in reference to taste, cost and socioeconomic factors. In reference to Orthodox vs. CTC grade teas, it should really be a question of what experience or benefits you are after? Loose leaf teas were introduced much earlier and have been extensively marketed creating a common consensus. In my personal opinion CTC grade tea is undervalued in the West, as it has it’s own flavour and feel. Furthermore, both types of teas share majority of the same health benefits. These health benefits are extracted at a faster rate with CTC tea granules tea vs. whole leaf Orthodox teas due to surface area that interacts with water.   

So, be sure to steep yourself a cuppa for the health and wellness benefits, pleasure of great taste and a moment to pause. You can shop for our healthy and fit chai blends on our shop page!


1.  McKay et al. The role of tea in human health: an update. Journal of American College of Nutrition. 2002.

2.  Fernando et al. Extraction Kinetics of phytochemicals and antioxidant activity during black tea (Camellia sinensis L.) brewing. Nutrition Journal. 2015.

3.  Manach et al. Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004.

4.  Nikniaz et al. Effect of different brewing times on antioxidant activity and polyphenol content of loosely packed and bagged black teas (Camellia sinensis L.). Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine. 2016.

5.  Astill et al. Factors Affecting the Caffeine and Polyphenol Contents of Black and Green Tea Infusions. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2001.

6.  Lantano et al. Effects of alternative steeping methods on composition, antioxidant property and colour of green, black and oolong tea infusions. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2015.

Other interesting articles:

Tea consumption is inversely associated with weight status and other markers for Metabolic Syndrome in U.S. adults.

Quality, antioxidant activity and composition of Indian black teas.

Extraction Kinetics of phytochemicals and antioxidant activity during black tea (Camellia sinensis L.) brewing.

Comparative antimutagenic and anticlastogenic effects of green tea and black tea: a review.

Tea and Cardiovascular Disease.

Effects of Brewing Conditions on the Antioxidant Capacity of Twenty-four Commercial Green Tea Varieties.

Su et al. Polyphenolic Profile and Antioxidant Activities of Oolong Tea Infusion under Various Steeping Conditions. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2007.

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