PACKAGING / Tea Bags

Tea Bags

It was in America, with its love of labor-saving devices, that tea bags were first developed. In around 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, started to send samples of tea to his customers in small silken bags. Some assumed that these were supposed to be used in the same way as the metal infusers, by putting the entire bag into the pot, rather than emptying out the contents. It was thus by accident that the tea bag was born! Responding to the comments from his customers that the mesh on the silk was too fine, Sullivan developed sachets made of gauze - the first purpose-made tea bags. During the 1920s these were developed for commercial production, and the bags grew in popularity in the USA. Made first of all from gauze and later from paper, they came in two sizes, a larger bag for the pot, a smaller one for the cup. The features that we still recognize today were already in place - a string that hung over the side so the bag could be removed easily, with a decorated tag on the end.

But while the American population took to tea bags with enthusiasm, the British were naturally wary of such a radical change in their tea-making methods. This was not helped by horror stories told by Britons who had visited the USA, who reported being served cups of tepid water with a tea bag on the side waiting to be dunked into it (an experience which is still not as uncommon in the USA as it should be!).