True tea aficionados have always known that different kinds of tea need to be brewed for different periods of time; and tea tastes its best when tea leaves are removed from the hot water at the end of its specific brewing period.

When tea became popular in the late eighteenth century in Britain and America, it was always brewed in pots which needed a tea strainer. Some unknown inventor—who apparently disliked cleaning loose tea leaves out of a pot—came up with the idea of a removable tea infusion device. A perforated metal container filled with loose tea leaves and immersed in boiling water, and then removed using the attached chain. Small egg- and ball-shaped perforated metal containers became very popular as they made it easy to brew tea in a cup. They are still sold.

In 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, started shipping out samples of tea to his customers in small silk pouches. He didn’t intend his customers to put them directly into the hot water, but some tried them in the same way as the metal infusers. Finding these little bags so convenient, they asked for more of the same. Finding that the mesh on the silk was too fine for perfect infusion, Sullivan switched from silk to gauze. In the 1920s, gauze tea bags were developed for commercial production. But it was not until the 1950s, the tea bag too off. In 1952, tea manufacturer Lipton introduced its ‘flo-thru’ tea bag made of paper fibre. A 1952 Lipton advertisement claimed: ‘See how the boiling water gets to the tea faster. That means more complete infusion … better extraction of the full flavor and aroma from the tea leaves.’

In 1964, the finely perforated tea bag was developed with about 2,000 perforations in an average bag. Since then, every possible shape of the tea bag has been patented, even cylindrical. Not only a tea bag saves tea as it uses only uses so much tea as required for the single cup of tea, but it’s also environment-friendly. Even a used tea bag is useful: refrigerate it and place on the eyes to reduce puffiness.

Born by accident, the little mesh bag tied to a string is so brilliant that it has radically changed our tea-drinking habits.

© Surendra Verma 2019

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