Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Where Did Tea Bags Come From?

Over the course of history, tea has been processed in different ways in the name of convenience for transport and consumption.  Individual leaves have been rolled into pellets,  and larger amounts of leaves have been molded into bird's nests.  But perhaps no packaging method has impacted the way people consume tea as the tea bag.

Legend has it that in 1908, tea importer Thomas Sullivan decided to send samples of his tea to his customers.  He packaged them attractively in small silk bags.  Said customers were delighted when they found they could steep the entire sachet in their teapot.  They started clambering for more (and complaining when their orders did not show up in sachets), and voila, the tea bag was born.  Cost constraints caused Sullivan to switch from silk to gauze, and later producers moved to the paper fiber bags you often see today. 

But, romantic as this story is, was the tea bag really invented by accident?  There is some question, as there were patents for tea bags on file as early as 1903. 

For the manufacturer, the tea bag was an obvious benefit.  It allows small bits of dust (fannings) to become a useful grade of tea.  Tea could be marketed as a portable, mess free affair.

It is also useful for the tea drinker, if you want to take your tea on the go (making it easy to order a cup of hot water at a restaurant and still enjoy your favorites), if you don't have time to wash a tea infuser, or if you have a lot of people over, and you want an easy clean-up.

However, higher grades of tea are reserved for loose teas, and tea-bag only consumers were never motivated to taste truly special infusions.  And some people claim they can taste the paper.  Today, some tea makers are trying to offer the best of both worlds by packaging broken leaf, or even whole leaf teas in large nylon sachets (which allow room for the tea leaves to unfurl properly).


  1. Enjoyed visiting your Blog today. May need to drink more tea! Jack

  2. I love the beautiful shiny 'teabag'. What a beautiful presentation.