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.