• Dec 06, 2014
  • Seemantini Bose
  • 1 comment

How much do you know about your favorite teabag?

Have you ever wondered, who might have come up with this fascinating concept of tea dips to make tea making easier? I bet not! The legend of teabag is quite interesting- just as your cuppa and here’s why.

The story of teabags:

Most amazing inventions through the history of mankind have been results of chance and coincidence. Or necessity, as they say. Whatever it is, Thomas Sullivan certainly didn't have it in his mind prior to the moment he figured out an alternative to metal tin cans for shipping his tea samples.

In the 20th century, tea was quite expensive and shipping the samples in metal tin caddies added to the overall cost. Thomas Sullivan, a tea merchant from New York, came up with the idea of shipping tea samples in small handmade muslin sacks. It must have looked somewhat like this-

First teabag

 Image Courtesy: englishteastore.com

This reduced the overall cost. Interestingly, Sullivan’s customers thought of a better use for it. Thinking it was a new infusion method; they put the bags directly into hot water and found it extremely easy to use. Soon, as the word spread, the demand for tea sacks increased manifold and so did the competition. Sullivan was ecstatic!

The Journey:

Since Sullivan, teabags have come a long way. The journey was quite interesting. By the time Sullivan’s teabags got popular, many in the market, realizing its potential, started experimenting with different materials and styles for their own range of teabags. Some of the common materials used were paper fibers, cheesecloth and gauzes. With the increasing demand, handmade paper bags were eventually replaced by machine-made ones. And then was introduced the heat-sealed bags, made of paper that not only made the right brew but also sealed in the heat. 

Types of Teabags 

The styles of teabags also changed over time. What started as a sack for shipping teas was revised multiple times to cater to the market demand. Lipton came out with ‘flo-thru’ bags that had four sides unlike the ones with 2 sides that we see nowadays. These ‘flo-thru’ bags were perfect for large tea mugs. As the age of advertising got fierce, many companies started marketing their own styles of teabags. Tetley came up with the fab concept of round teabags that was a welcome change from the existing rectangular and square dips. Then there were silken pyramid teabags introduced by Brooke Bond that not only looked good but also left a lot of space for the teabags to expand and allowed the water to flow through. This resulted in the perfect strong brew. These teabags were best for small tea cups as well as bigger mugs. Later, styles like ‘tea-socks’ were introduced for the whole tea leaves. These bags are larger in comparison to the other ones and leaves a lot of space for the longer leaves to brew perfectly. Tea leaves are filled in manually and once the brew is done, the remains are thrown out. This is particularly a hit with the tea connoisseurs as it gives them a chance to enjoy the goodness of full leaves without having to compromise with the taste.

Types of teabags through the years

Image: From left- Silken Pyramid teabags, paper teabag, tea-socks, round teabags

Teabag Material:

The most common material used for making teabags is the filter paper. Muslin, cotton muslin and food grade plastics are also used. Silken teabags are also quite popular as tea leaves are visible through the material and it is infused better. Teabags are sealed, packed and have cotton strings with the brand name tag attached to it.

Why Teabags:

The foremost reason has to be the convenience of use. It’s less messy and easily disposable; the reason why tea dips became an instant hit with the Americans at first and then rest of the world. People could have tea even while on a go. It required almost no effort at all. It was also a great opportunity for hotels, restaurants and cafes to save time on making tea multiple times for their guests. It also reduced wastage of tea. The current challenge for the teabag makers is to design it in a way so that it can accommodate larger leaves without having to compromise with the quality of the materials.

Whether you like your tea strong or enjoy it light, teabags give you the freedom to make your brew. Thanks to the teabags, it can always be your cup of tea!