Posted in Kafevend Blog

When it comes to the weekly shop, do you ever feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of choice available? If you go with a list and stick to what you know it's entirely possible you manage quite well, but if you go to a different supermarket, or, horror of horrors, your usual one has changed its store layout, you'll be reminded anew of the incredible diversity of even the simplest of items. This is particularly true of tea. Where once you'd have been deciding between teabags from Tetley or PG Tips, now there's a number of extra hurdles: do you want green, oolong or white instead of black? Do you prefer teabags or loose leaf? Decaffeinated anyone? Not to mention a plethora of herbal and fruit teas or the warm spiciness of masala chai!

Is it any wonder then that sales of standard black tea in teabag form have been steadily declining? In only five years the figure has dropped by around a fifth. People have responded to more choice by embracing it, particularly the under 35s. They're more likely to opt for green and herbal teas because of the perceived health benefits. The ongoing effect of the UK's love affair with modern coffee culture has undoubtedly taken its toll too. Nevertheless, the teabag's role as a handy and convenient vehicle for making a brew remains strong, even if the tea inside isn't black. So how long have we had this handy little device?

The forerunner to the teabag was a small metal ball or egg with perforations. Loose tea was placed inside and the ball was pulled out of the pot on its own little chain once the required brewing time was up. These had become popular in Britain by the mid 1800s. Teabags themselves came later and appear to have begun as something of an accident. In 1908 a New York tea merchant, by the name of Thomas Sullivan, sent samples of tea to his customers in little silk bags. Some customers appeared to think that the silk bags should be used in the same way as the metal balls. They did point out to Sullivan, however, that the silk didn't let the tea through too well. He obviously decided to run with the mistake (the customer is always right after all!) and used gauze instead. The idea soon caught on and the gauze was replaced with paper in due course.

It took far longer for teabags to catch on this side of the Atlantic. Tetley was the first company to promote them and that wasn't until 1953. In time other tea companies followed suit. PG Tips introduced their version in the '60s, but the teabag remained a novelty at first with only a tiny share of the market. Convenience won over in the end though and by the '80s half the tea made in the UK was in a mug via the increasingly popular teabag. By the turn of the millennium in excess of 90% of tea came in bag form.

With such a wide choice of teas available in teabags, convenience is still the watch word, as anyone who's spent time clearing the spout of their teapot and mopping up the kitchen sink will tell you!

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