History of the Tea Bag

How did the tea bag originate? Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea importer, mistakenly invented tea bags in 1908 when he sent the loose leaves to clients in small silk bags to cut costs. In turn, they steeped the entire bag to make their brew.

tea bag As a result, his buyers were more interested in having their brew pre-packaged in silk sacks than they were receiving the leaves in loose form.

Sullivan didn't realize this until many of his most important clients started to complain that the orders they received were not in bags. Since silk was too expensive, he opted to used gauze sacks to package his blends and fulfill his orders.

Leftovers from tea processing in the form of "fannings" and "dust" were used to fill the bags, as is done today. Tea fannings (small broken pieces of leaves) and tea dust (that has the consistency of rough powder), typically yield an inferior taste and drinking experience for true connoisseurs.

Some flavor experts say they can taste a hint of the paper that is used in making bags. In addition...

  • Tea in bags is typically exposed to more air during processing and packaging. This causes flavor loss and greater potential for the tea to go stale faster.

  • Breaking up the leaves into fannings and dust further extracts flavorful oils.

  • Loose-leaf blends tend to be of higher quality and remain fresh for longer periods of time since the tea is usually stored in air-tight tins or vacuum-sealed pouches.
Yet, for the average consumer who is looking for a quick, tasty cup of brew, tea-filled bags are an easy, convenient and portable choice.

Today, bagged tea can be bought in countless varieties and flavors. Many companies now offer flavorful blends with attractive packaging that can be easily found on supermarket shelves.

Technology has long since replaced Sullivan’s serendipitous hand-made invention. Filling bags with tea now takes place on specially engineered machines designed to limit the brew’s air exposure, wrap and package efficiently, and prepare boxes for international distribution.

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