Things You Might Not Know About the Tea Bag

Drawstring Tea Filters (ETS Image)
Drawstring Tea Filters (ETS Image)

Like it or not, the tea bag is probably not going anywhere. Common wisdom suggests that it was invented just over a century ago and that it has undergone many changes since then. You can still get dubious tea in a standard issue tea bag, if you choose to do so. Or you can upgrade to high quality loose leaf tea in various “gourmet” tea bags that allow the leaves more room to steep.

Here are a few things you may or may not have known about tea bags:

Origin I
It’s often said that the tea bag was “invented” more or less by accident by a New York tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan who offered samples of his tea in silk bags. Which the recipients unwittingly steeped in hot water. It seemed more like myth than truth to me, and so I attempted to sort it out in an article I wrote here a few years ago.

Origin II
In The Century Cook Book, by Mary Ronald, the author suggests that when making a large quantity of tea “it is well to put the tea into a swiss muslin bag, using enough to make a very strong infusion.” Which sounds a lot like a tea bag, if you ask me. In the next paragraph the author goes on to describe silver balls that sound a lot like the tea infusers we use nowadays. Which is noteworthy since the book was published in 1895, about a decade before the tea bag was supposedly invented.

Origin III
Going back more than another decade, to 1883, an article in The Coffee Public-House News and Temperance Hotel Journal suggests using “a muslin or other bag” to make larger quantities of tea at one time. Which also sounds a lot like a tea bag.

Mess Prevention
One of the long standing problems with tea bags is that they tend to be messy. A lot of time and energy has gone into getting around this and I’ve written about a number of these gadgets. Here’s a rather intricate solution from 1959 that was known as a Self-Squeezing Tea or Coffee Bag.

According to the Tea Association of the USA, as of 2012, over 65 percent of the tea brewed in the United States was prepared using tea bags. Which is a drop in the tea bucket next to the UK. There, as most accounts seem to agree, more than 90 percent of tea is made using tea bags.

Know When to Fold ‘Em
Last of all, let us make note of the fact that tea bag folding is a thing you can do. A thing that’s not completely unlike origami. Find out more at one of the many web sites devoted to this art.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© 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.

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