While not all tea drinkers are enamored of tea bags as an alternative to loose leaf tea, there’s no question that the tea bag is a popular choice for millions of tea lovers worldwide.
By some accounts, which are probably more legendary than factual, tea drinking came about in 2737 B.C. when Chinese emperor Shen Nung just happened to be boiling some water – outside. As the story goes, tea leaves blew from a nearby bush and into the water. The rest was tea history. While tea drinking is likely to have gotten underway much earlier than this and in less picturesque circumstances, it’s probably true that tea drinking began in China with loose leaf tea.
For many centuries afterward, loose leaf tea was pretty much the only game in town. Then some time in the early 1900s the tea bag made its first appearance. Credit for this innovation goes to a New York City-based tea seller named Thomas Sullivan, who discovered tea bags pretty much by accident. At some point Sullivan began to pass out samples of his tea in small silk bags. As the story goes, one of the recipients of said sample dipped one in boiling water and once again – tea history.
Sullivan doesn’t turn up in United States patent records, but in 1916 George H. Peal scored a patent for a non-refillable Tea-Ball which was “intended to contain just sufficient tea for a single brewing.” In 1927, the first tea bag patent on record was registered to a New York resident named Simon Cooper.
Across the Atlantic tea bags didn’t exactly take the United Kingdom by storm, at least not at first. In 1965, some three decades after being introduced there, only seven percent of UK tea drinkers were taking advantage of tea bags. After that, however, tea bags caught on and by the end of the millennium eight-five percent of UK tea drinkers were using them, as opposed to sixty percent of tea lovers in the United States.
William’s making tea history everyday over on his blog, Tea Guy Speaks!
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