Posted in Kafevend Blog

Bags and balls

Following on from our delve into the various ways you can make up a cup of coffee rather quickly- instantly, even, you might say- we thought we'd continue the theme and consider the inventions that help making a cup of tea a doddle.

The tea bag

The tea bag was stumbled upon quite by accident in around 1908, thanks to the confusion of the customers of an American tea merchant called Thomas Sullivan. Sullivan would send samples of his latest teas to customers in small silk bags, no doubt assuming they would empty them into a teapot. A few of them got the wrong end of the stick however, and thought they were meant to submerge the bag with the tea in. As news of this came back to Sullivan from his customers, he realised the potential of the idea and started creating bags specifically for the purpose made of gauze. By the '20s they were being commercially produced and were gaining in popularity around the USA.

The tea bag was a useful invention in a few ways: first of all, it saved time. Instead of warming a teapot, measuring out tea for it, filling it and leaving it to brew and then pouring it out, you could just stick a tea bag in your cup and add water- much more simple. It saved faffing about cleaning the teapot at the other end too- you just removed the tea bag and bin it (although these days, we can recycle them!).

Tea bags didn't get going in Britain until the 1950s, as the country was still recovering from the effects of World War Two; in particular, the rationing that had gone on and which even carried on afterwards. Tetley was the first British company to promote the tea bag in 1953, but others were soon to join in. The British public slowly but steadily fell for the tea bag, and by 2007 they made up 96% of the market. Their use has started declining again over the past decade however, as Britain is reintroduced to loose leaf tea by folks who probably wish the tea bag had never shown up in the first place!


You might be mildy surprised to learn that the tea bag wasn't the first method devised for brewing tea by the cup. In fact, the first device was a tea infuser- a perforated metal ball that could be opened on the end of a chain. The tea was placed inside the ball and put in the cup, and removed with the chain- nice and simple. You can still find infusers like these, whether the original perforated designs or ones which use a fine mesh.

Other varieties have sprung up too: some use a handle instead of a chain, possibly spring loaded so that squeezing the handle opens the chamber for the tea. Another variety- and perhaps the prettiest of all- uses a plastic component that sits above the metal chamber. This can be shaped in the form of a flower or something similar, and means that your infuser floats on the surface of your drink like a lily in a pond!


The history of the tea bag

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