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Everyone that regularly uses tea bags will have noticed that tea bags will sometimes float and sometimes sink below the surface quickly. There are a few reasons why this happens. You may be thinking that there is some harmful reason for this, but that is not the case!
If you want your tea bags to steep properly, you want the tea bag to sink. With some understanding of why tea bags float you can manipulate the tea bag and adjust your pouring to avoid the unwanted floating.
SHORT ANSWER – Why Don’t Tea Bags Sink To The Bottom?
Floating tea bags do have one of two properties to them. Most commonly, trapped air inside the tea bag will keep the bag from sinking into the hot water. Some teas are less dense than water or oily and will float because of that. There are a few quick and easy methods to get your tea bags to sink.
I find floating tea bags to be frustrating and have been looking into the reasons behind this phenomenon. Here I want to share my findings and what methods I use to reliably get my tea bags to sink.
If you are looking for a quick solution, you should try a tea bag holder. This fixes the tea bag in an upright position, which makes it easier to infuse the tea. You can find some great ones on amazon:
Influence Of Floating Tea Bags On The Tea
If the tea bag floats on top of the hot water you use to brew the tea, the tea will be less intense. The leaves that are above the surface will give flavor to the water, as they are mostly dry.
To get your tea to brew according to the instructions on the packaging of your tea bags, you need the tea bag to sink. With floating tea bags, the infusion time needs to be longer and the tea will not be evenly used.
The tea itself is not likely to taste much different. The floating tea bags are much more of a nuisance than a real problem when compared to tea bags that sink properly.
Why Tea Bags Float Or Sink
Air Trapped Inside The Floating Tea Bag
The main reason for floating tea bags is air bubbles trapped inside the tea bag itself. Tea bags do normally let through air. But both a wet tea bag and the tea itself can trap bubbles of air inside the tea bag.
All regular tea bags can float if the tea traps air, but especially Earl Grey tea can create bubbles that stick strongly to the tea itself.
The reason for this is oil and flavorings added to the tea. If you want to find out more about Earl Grey and why it has sometimes tastes like soap, you can find an article on soapy tea here.
Oily And Low-Density Tea
Most oils and dry teas are less dense than water and will float. Tea leaves, flowers, herbs, and fruit will float as long as they are dry. They need to soak in significant amounts of water for the density to get large enough to sink. The water replaces the air in the dry tea.
What Difference Does The Type Of Tea Bag Make?
Regular Tea Bags Do Commonly Float
The mesh of regular tea bags found in stores is rather small. If regular tea bags get wet, the surface tension of the water can easily block the holes in the tea bag and through this block the passing of air.
With regular tea bags, air can only escape as long as the paper, fabric or plastic is dry. The material depends on the producer but is not as important to the floating effect as the hole size of it.
Pyramid Tea Bags Will Sink More Often
Pyramid tea bags are specifically designed to accommodate higher-quality tea while still having a convenient tea bag for everyday use and transport. You may have tried different kinds of pyramid tea bags already.
These tea bags have larger holes in the used material, which will allow air to escape even though the tea bag is wet. Some pyramid tea bags use thick threads of plastic, which are inherently light and float on water. If these will float or sink largely depends on the brand and not on how you use them.
Tea Bags For Loose-Leaf Tea
Many stores have tea bags that are meant to be used with loose-leaf tea. These come with different mesh sizes but are most often made of paper instead of plastic.
This means that the material itself is not causing the tea bag to float. With smaller mesh sizes you will have the same problem as you will have with regular tea bags. But larger mesh sizes allow for water to escape and will almost always sink to the bottom of your tea cup.
Does Pouring Water First Or After Make A Difference?
Tea Bag First, Water After
Putting in the tea bag first and pouring water on it will most often cause the tea bag to float. Why? The water will quickly create a seal on the tea bag itself. This will not allow for air to escape from the inside of the bag.
Depending on where you aim with the water, this effect will be more or less prominent. Aiming at the bottom of the tea bag can potentially lead to a sinking tea bag.
Pouring Hot Water First
If you pour the hot water into your glass or tea cup first and then slowly add the tea bag, the air has a chance to escape. While the water level slowly rises inside the tea bag, the air will escape through the top.
Taking a few seconds to properly insert the tea bag, you will be almost guaranteed it to sink. If it does not sink this way you have either dropped the tea bag too quickly or you chose a low-density or oily tea.
How To Avoid Floating Tea Bags
As described above, the easiest method to get your tea bags to stop floating and sink instead is to add the hot water in first. When slowly adding the tea bag afterward, the air inside the tea and tea bag will have enough time to escape.
Manipulating The Tea Bag
If your tea still floats even though you are using the right pouring methods, there are a few tricks you can use. These are logical and straightforward things you can do.
Attach something heavy to the bottom of the tea bag. If you have a needle, clamps or a paperclip lying around, you can use that to change the total density of your tea bag. That will cause the tea bag to sink every time.
Removing Trapped Air
The most common reason for floating tea bags is air being trapped inside. The obvious answer to this problem would be removing the air from inside the tea bag.
While the water does create a seal on the outside of the tea bag, you can overcome this by pressurizing the tea bag. This can be done with a spoon or some other tool. All you need to do is push the tea bag to the side of the tea cup or glass underwater. The escaping air will no longer cause the tea bag to float.
There’s a lot more to learn about tea! If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. You can check its current price on Amazon here.