Recently I’ve seen an article or two being shared around Facebook talking about the perils of plastic leaching from teabags, so I decided to have a little bit of a closer look and see if we should still use teabags for kombucha.
There hasn’t been any scientific research done into this as far as my quick search could turn up (do let me know if you find any!), but from what I can glean from the news articles I’ve seen this looks like something to be aware of, but not necessarily panicked about. And it’s dead easy to avoid if you decide you want to.
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On the one hand, the new, fancy ‘silky’ teabags that look like little pyramids (like these pretty ones) are totally made of plastic. Either some sort of nylon or viscose or something similar. These teabags are usually only found in niche, fairly high-cost teas, but you may have thought about using them for kombucha because they come in such interesting flavours as ‘white tea and rose’, and ‘black Assam tea and lavender’.
From what I can tell, the leaching from these teabags is likely to be somewhere the same as from a plastic takeaways container that has had piping hot food put into it. It will be less than that per serving, because the teabag is smaller than the plastic container, but it’s the same sort of heat-induced leaching. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that is within your comfort zone. (It’s within mine as a ‘very seldom’ thing.)
However, I don’t use these fancy teabags because
- a) I prefer to use plain tea as the base and add the flavours myself
- b) with the amount of kombucha our family drinks it isn’t economical, and
- c) adding extra plastic to the environment is something I try to avoid where I can and this seems like an easy choice.
On the other hand the old-fashioned paper teabags may also have some problems with them. They don’t leach plastic in the same way as the nylon teabags, but many of them have been treated with an epichlorhydrin polymer – a resin that gives the paper strength while wet. It’s why the teabag doesn’t just turn into mush in your mug. I couldn’t find any detail on exactly which epichlorhydrin polymer is used for this process, but by far the most common one in use in the food-plastic industry is bisphenol-A, which you may be aware of because a lot of plastic containers are now saying “BpA free!!” because BpA is not something you want to eat.
How much leaches into your drink? I have no idea. It is unlikely to be a huge amount, and it’s an individual decision as to whether it falls within your comfort zone. I figure it’s always better to have the information rather than not.
(For the record, we’re going to keep using the cheap paper teabags, mostly because my teenaged daughter does most of the kombucha brewing in the house and the more complicated I make it for her the less likely she is to keep doing it)
So, what’s the alternative?
Loose leaf tea
If your budget can stretch to it, (and you don’t have a teenage minion to keep happy), then loose-leaf tea is the best option.
You can easily see if the tea that you have got is a good whole-leaf tea, or if there is a high amount of dust and other rubbish mixed in with it (which you can’t tell with teabags).
Just make up your jug of tea and sugar as usual, using loose leaf tea instead of teabags, and pour the lot through a strainer as you tip it into your brewing vessel, in order to sieve out the tea leaves. A metal strainer or sieve is fine for this step, because it isn’t coming into direct contact with the kombucha – there’s no need to run out and buy a non-metal one.
If, however, you only have those dinky little tea infuser balls, then you might want to run out and buy something – 6 teaspoons of loose-leaf tea could get very tedious to make if you have to brew it one teaspoon at a time!