Before we compare loose leaf tea with tea bags, let us first look at the different grades of tea as that can be the key differentiator. When teas are produced, they are graded by size and quality. In order of highest to lowest, the grades fall into four basic groups: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.
Whole leaf tea refers to tea where the leaves have not been broken or torn during production. They take the longest to infuse and can be used for multiple infusions (normally upto 2 to 3 infusions).
Broken leaf tea refers to tea where the leaves are broken, but the pieces are still large enough to be recognised as parts of whole leaf. While whole leaf tea is generally considered to be the best, there are broken leaf teas which are better than some of the whole leaf teas.
Fannings are finely broken pieces of leaves which still have a recognisable coarse texture.
Dust is what remains after the tea has passed through the grading machine. It is powdery in texture and is often swept off the floor. Dust is considered the lowest grade of tea. Please however note that tea that is made by pulverizing larger tea leaves, such as Matcha is not considered Dust.