Evolution of the Tea Bag

Like it or not, it’s probably safe to say that the tea bag is here to stay. The consensus among some tea lovers is still pretty much that nothing good can come from (or go into) a tea bag. At one time that might have been the case, in a day and age when the tea bag was largely a refuge for low quality fannings and dust. But in more recent decades the lowly tea bag has begun to undergo a renaissance of sorts.

As noted in a recent article in these pages, various types of tea balls, strainers, infusers and other devices to aid in steeping loose tea show up in patent files as far back as the nineteenth century. The commonly accepted story for the “invention” of the tea bag is that sometime in the early twentieth century a tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan began passing out tea samples in cloth bags to unwitting customers who proceeded to steep the entire bag in hot water.

Patent records show no trace of Sullivan and this story sounds suspiciously like some of those quaint tea-related myths that are often repeated, but no one has come up with a better explanation yet for the origin of the tea bag. One of the first tea bag-related patents in the United States actually went to a Massachusetts man named William Abbott, in 1928, for his “novel individual tea bag.”

In any event, it was about a quarter of a century before the tea giant Lipton decided that the tea bag could do with some improvement. In 1952 they rolled out a somewhat innovative flo-thru tea bag that was a step forward in that it allowed the water more contact with the tea during the steeping process.

Cube-shaped tea bag
Cube-shaped tea bag

It’s not completely clear when the pyramid tea bag and various other “gourmet” tea bags first came into being, but according to some sources the former first began to appear in Japan in the early Eighties. The concept got a boost when big guns such as Lipton and PG Tips introduced their own pyramid tea bags in the mid-Nineties.

Nowadays these capacious bags which allow for a better grade of tea and improved steeping are relatively common among the more high-end tea merchants. One of the most recent variations on this theme is a cube-shaped bag introduced by tea merchant LPV International. The Tea Cubed, the company claims,”is a completely unique product due to the space inside the teabag” and will be filled with eight different varieties of premium whole leaf tea.

From all appearances, it looks as though Tea Cubed may offer a little more room for water to circulate among the leaves than pyramid and other gourmet tea bags. I haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet, but the food critic for the English paper, The Sun, did. He concluded that they were “amazing,” but if you’d like more specifics read the full article.

See also:
Have Bagged Teas Gotten a Bad Rap?
Are You Tasting the Tea or the Teabag?

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 thoughts on “Evolution of the Tea Bag

  1. Pingback: Amazing Tea Taxonomy 茶叶分类 « jameskennedybeijing

  2. .If Sullivan did invent the teabag in the way that he did by sending it to customers he woujld have lost all rights to patent it as it was no longer novel. You have to file before you show.

  3. Pingback: Tea Bags Revisited « Tea Blog

  4. Pingback: Making the Switch from Bagged to Loose Tea « Tea Blog

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