Pretty much without mistake we can be sure that everyone reading this article has drunk some tea made with a tea bag. It is the most common way to brew tea and it is easy to see why – it leaves no mess in the cup, it is easy and requires no additional tools. But who was so smart to come up with such an ingenious solution? What tea bags are made of? As usual, this actually was an accidental invention.

Chinese ere using paper tea bags since Tang Dynasty (618–907), but these sewn packages were only meant to preserve tea flavor and smell. Western people had a similar idea, only a little bit later. First tea bag, a fabric bag to contain tea and preserve its properties, was patented in 1903 and went on sale in 1904. Even at that point it didn’t ring a bell to people to shove the bag into hot water to make a mess-free tea drinking experience. But everything changed in 1908.

Tea bags became rectangular in 1944. ( André Karwath, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Thomas Sullivan, tea and coffee importer from New York, started shipping silk tea bags in 1908. It was a nice product, well contained and preserved the delicious taste of the tea. However, people quickly found a better use for it – they started putting porous bags straight into their cups to brew tea. It quickly took off, even though Sullivan never imagined his product being used like this. But, of course, modern tea bags are not made from silk.

Usual tea bags are made from paper fiber – some wood fibers mixed with abaca hemp. Sometimes there is a thermoplastic seal to protect the tea and in other occasions the bag is just folded and stapled together. Although back in a day tea bags resembled a sack in 1944 they became rectangular and now there are many different shapes and sizes.

Some bags are made of bioplastic. ( Aisano, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pyramid tea bags are usually made from bioplastics, instead of paper fiber, which makes them even more porous. Interestingly, it is rarely good tea in tea bags. Manufacturers pack fine left-overs and usually ad some flavouring to make it even more appealing.

It is also interesting that tea bags took off so quickly and are so popular, but efforts to make coffee bags failed spectacularly. It is probably because people like different amounts of coffee powder in their cups.


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