Tea bags, as we all know, are small porous bags that are used for steeping tea. They are available in both open and sealed variants. The open bags, as evident from the name, is left empty. This allows the tea brewer to add whole-leaf tea into it. The sealed variants, however, are more common. These bags are filled with tea leaves after which they are sealed. The bag is then dunked in warm or cold water with (or without) milk and sugar. Most of these bags come with a string attached to them which makes it easier to remove them from the vessel they are being brewed in.
Now, while we all know about tea bags, there’s one thing that we aren’t aware of. Yes, in case you haven’t yet guessed, I am talking about the origin and history of these bags. Did you know that tea bags were discovered from a strange accident? The person who created this bag did so, in a bid to save money.
His efforts paid off differently. Over the next few years, people raved about these bags claiming them to be incredible. Eventually, the bags grew popular across the globe. But how was tea bag even invented and who is behind this invention? Well, that’s what we will get to know in the next few sections.
The most incredible inventions in mankind’s history have resulted from coincidence. In certain cases, necessity has played an equally vital role. But when New York-based merchant Thomas Sullivan came up with the tea bag, he never realized that he would make something as famous and legendary.
During the early twentieth century, Thomas Sullivan is believed to come across the invention of tea bags as a mere accident. According to the story, he used to be like any other tea importer who preferred sending in samples of his latest tea to prospective buyers.
The time we are talking dates back several decades. So, at this point, tea was deemed to be an expensive and prized beverage. The availability of tea was therefore only restricted to the affluent and the upper-middle class.
Owing to its importance and popularity, most tea samples were sent in via metal tin. Metal at that time, however, was quite expensive. So, Sullivan chose to be thrifty and he devised a new strategy to cut costs. Instead of sending the samples in metal tins, he decided to send them in his hand-sewn bags. These bags were made of muslin and were similar to small sacks.
While Sullivan devised this strategy to save costs, his customers didn’t manage to realize it. Upon receiving the bags, they assumed that it was a new method of infusion that’ll result in better flavors. They did not realize that the muslin sacks were mere packaging.
Owing to this major miscommunication, most of his clients ended up dropping the bags directly in water. The results thrilled them. They realized that brewing tea was much easier when it was kept in muslin sacks. What’s more, it also simplified the hassles of cleaning the brewing pot.
Over the next few months, Sullivan ended up receiving unbelievably large orders that left him more thrilled that he had ever been. Most of them specifically insisted on sending tea in small sacks. Sullivan was overjoyed. Not only did this result in greater sales, but it also reduced his costs drastically.
The popularity of these bags took a slight hit when his customers told him that the mesh along the silk was too fine for brewing. So, they were now looking for something coarser. To meet their requirements, Sullivan started making sachets from gauze- which were also deemed to be the very earliest purpose-made sachet.
By the 1920s these bags were commercially produced, and they enjoyed massive popularity across the US. First made with gauze and then with paper, these satchels were available in two sizes; a larger bag was used for the pot and a relatively small bag was used for the cup. The features that we’ve seen in the present-day bags were still in place. They had a string that used hang along the side of the satchels so that the bag can be removed quickly. These tea bags also had a perfectly decorated tag at the end.
Sadly, Sullivan didn’t manage to patent this revolutionary invention, partly as he started the game late. While his clients received tea bags from him from the 1900s, the patent records show that the design was already patented in 1903. But even then, his commercial although accident use of the bags was massively popularized across the globe.
While Sullivan is attributed to developing the very first tea bag, there is a conflicting account. According to a report from Sarah Stone of Gizmodo, the bag already received a patent application in 1901. The application was made by Roberta Lawson and Mary Molaren who collectively created a ea leaf holder’.
These ladies used to make tea quite often, and they identified a problem with the manner tea was being brewed for several thousand years. According to them, brewing an entire pot of tea simply for the sake of having a cup would result in the wastage of the remaining brew.
The best solution: simply brew your tea in the cup you’re planning to drink from. To avoid leaves floating on the cup, these ladies discovered a bag to store the tea in. This is how they came up with a mesh bag.
When Sullivan made the tea bag popular, several producers of these bags started tweaking different materials for making a perfect bag. These included the cheesecloth, gauzes, cellophane paper as well as perforated paper. Paper fiber, however, was deemed to be the most popular kind of material of that time and this is how it came to be.
While some people were still carrying out experiments by replacing the hand-sewn bags with their machine-sewn counterparts, William Hermanson decided to move a notch above. A founder of the Technical Paper Corporation, Boston, Hermanson came up with paper bags sealed by heat. This patent was eventually sold to the Salada Tea Company during the 1930s.
By 1944, the usual shape of the bag was changed from ack’ style to rectangular style ones. This is how our common rectangular styled bags came to be.
During 1952, a new bag, known as the lo thru’ bag was patented by the Lipton Tea Company. The unique aspect of these bags was the fact that they had four different sides instead of our conventional two sides. These bags were designed for people who brewed their tea in a mug instead of a teacup. Just like Pyramid shaped bags, these bags allow more water to pass from the tea leaves that results in a quick infusion and strong brew.
In the wake of aggressive marketing, Tetley came up with its famous round tea bag during 1992. This wasn’t much functional but did result in a visual change.
The pyramid-shaped bags were created by Brooke Bond which is also the parent organization of UK’s PG tips, a brand that is still popular in most parts of the globe. The pyramid bags ended up being popular as they offer more than 50% room than that of the flat bags. This makes way for better and stronger doses of infusion. The best part: they are ideal for both cups and mugs.
Over the last couple of years, ea socks’ have gained massive popularity. Widely loved by full-leaf tea brewers, these aren’t like conventional tea bags and are best defined as big, infusers that aren’t just made from the same materials but can also be easily disposed of. You can fill these bags with any leaves of your preference and then fold, clip, or tie them. This will boost the infusion and result in complex flavors.
Although the American population embraced tea bags with open arms, the British were slightly wary of such a drastic transformation. However, tea bags did make their way in the UK during the material shortages of the World War. By 1950, they were massively popular. Since the simplified the hassles of cleaning teapots, most women preferred using bags over conventional tea. As they also result in better and stronger infusion, most individuals enjoyed using them.
In 1953, Tetley introduced the most common kinds of Tea bags in the British market. But other companies rapidly caught up. By the first few years of the 1960s, tea bags contributed to less than 3% share in the British market. But they’ve been steadily developing since then. Within 2007, these bags contributed to a whopping 96% in the British market and there’s barely any home in the nation that doesn’t use these bags.
Now that you know everything about the accidental invention of teabags, we are quite sure we could answer your burning queries regarding it. So, next time while whipping up a cup of tea with your favourite tea bags, remember how a mere accident made life simpler for you.