The humble tea bag was invented completely by chance by American tea merchant, Thomas Sullivan. In 1908, Sullivan sent pre-weighed samples of his tea to customers in small silk bags. His intention was purely to save time, so that the customer could simply decant the tea sample into a pot and brew it as normal. However, customers made the mistake of thinking that the bag was designed to aid the brewing process and put the whole bag in the tea pot.
Thomas Sullivan, the accidental inventor of the teabag
Sullivan went on to redevelop the bag to make it more porous, after customer feedback that the silk was too fine and caused the tea bag to disintegrate. He changed the silk to gauze and the first commercial use tea bags were born.
Today more than 96% of all of the 60.2 billion cups of tea consumed each year in Britain alone is made by tea bags.
Here at Tèaura, the answer is an overwhelming no and with some very good reasons.
Unlike at the start of the 20th century, today the contents of tea bags are usually made from low tea grades, such as fannings. Fannings are small pieces of tea leaves that are left after the higher grade tea is sold. In the past, they were considered to be rejects of the manufacturing process.
Fannings have a larger surface area than whole leaves or loose tea leaves. This means there are more possibilities for the essential oils in the tea leaves, which give tea its distinctive aromatic flavour, to evaporate. This leads to a stale and dull cup of tea.
This is one reason why it is difficult to retain the freshness of tea bags. There are methods to help maximise the freshness, but it is not the same as the freshness of loose tea.
Tea bags can also limit the brewing process. Loose leaf tea has the space to absorb water and to expand as they infuse in the water. This allows the water to extract a plethora of vitamin, minerals and aromas.
Tea bag manufacturers have attempted to rectify this problem by redesigning and attempting to improve the water circulation in tea bags. Pyramids, circular and sock-shaped bags have all been on or are currently on the market. Although the result is slightly better, it still results in a tea which is not as flavourful as it could or, more importantly, should be.
On first glance, tea bags might seem to be a lot more convenient, but the truth is that preparing loose tea takes the same amount of time to prepare. It only takes a matter of seconds to put the loose tea into a tea diffuser and allow it to brew, much the same as putting a tea bag into a pot. However, loose tea continues to produce the more refreshing cup of tea and brings out more flavours from the leaf, due to the extra space for them to expand.
Surely, a more aromatic and flavorful cup of tea is worth ditching the tea bag for? Why not try it yourself and taste the difference.
If you asked someone to name something that is quintessentially British, along with answers like cricket, a Sunday Roast and fish and chips, you would probably also hear the answer afternoon tea. The tradition of taking afternoon tea started long after tea became a popular drink in Britain and was created almost by chance.
Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is credited with being the inventor of afternoon tea in around 1840. During this time, it was common for upper classes to dine between 8 and 9pm. As it was customary to have only a light snack at midday, this left people feeling hungry throughout the afternoon.
While visiting the 5th Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle, the Duchess complained of having a “sinking feeling” and asked for a pot of tea and some light refreshments to be brought to her quarters to ward off hunger until the evening.
Her idea was so successful that she soon decided to invite a few of her close friends to her private rooms for tea in the afternoon. The event became an occasion to share news, catch up with friends and receive visitors.
The Duchess was a friend of Queen Victoria, who was also introduced to the new social event. The Queen was an enthusiastic advocate of afternoon tea and the trend rapidly gained popularity. Announcements were made to friends to tell them at what time tea would be served. It was possible to be invited afternoon tea on every day of the week and establish a strong social network.
This popularity had a positive impact on manufacturing across the country. Capitalising on the new phenomenon, English china manufacturers and silversmiths began to produce fine accessories to be used to accompany the service of afternoon tea.
The tradition soon evolved into including more elaborate foods to be served with the tea: finger sandwiches, pastries and scones with jam all quickly becoming firm favourites. The main idea was to have small portions that would be easy to serve in a sitting room.
Centuries later, this tradition is still going strong. Many reputable hotels and restaurants, both in Britain and around the globe, serve their own interpretation of afternoon tea in decadent surroundings. While the selection of light refreshments remains similar, the choice of teas to choose from is far greater than would have been available to Anna Russell and her friends. The most arduous task today is choosing which tea to accompany your refreshments. You could argue that there are simply too many options to choose from.
We prefer our tea without milk to taste the nuances of the quality leaf, but, being the base of many fine English Breakfast Teas, our Keemun couples very well with milk bringing out its malty notes.