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A ‘Tea’ Bagful of Stories

Legends have it that the tea bags were invented in the early 20 th century and but accidentally!

Tea is the second-most consumed drink in the world after water. It is also the most common beverage that is brewed indoors, at homes and offices, regularly, as well as in retail outlets. In fact, as the history of the invention of tea goes, the infusions started growing on people in no time since its discovery in ~2700 BC. It is believed that eventually, ways were devised to make its packaging and preparation more convenient, which led to the arrival of tea bags. Yet, legends put it slightly differently: that the invention of the tea bags were purely incidental or rather accidental!

An accidental happenstance

The invention of tea bags has a rather controversial history related to its actual progenitor. According to popular legends, the tea-bag was invented accidentally by a New York tea and coffee merchant, Thomas Sullivan, in the early 20 th century. Apparently, he shipped the initial samples of tea in silk bag packaging to his customers worldwide, some of whom dipped the bags directly in water to brew tea. Soon, Sullivan started receiving more orders for tea packed in bags. That was when he started producing tea bags commercially—subsequently shifting from silk to gauze material to cut down on the cost. Thus goes the story of ‘the accidental teabag’.


A contrasting story from Wisconsin

Although the Sullivan story has been going around for ages, it lacks documented evidence. Contrary to this story, other sources regarding the invention of tea bags credit two women from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US—Roberta C. Lawson and Mary Molaren—who filed for patent for something called ‘tea-leaf holder’ in 1901. Very similar to the modern-day tea bags, it was designed using stitched mesh fabric to reduce tea waste and prevent tea leaves from floating into the drinker’s mouth.

Convenience-to-preference & vice-versa

To this day, it still remains unknown as to who actually invented the tea bag. Nonetheless, the innovation certainly made tea brewing and disposing used leaves extremely convenient. In fact, by the 1920s, teabags were successfully established as the new way of drinking. Perhaps, it is because of this innovation that tea drinking has become a universal culture around the globe.


Importance of Packaged Tea
The invention of tea bags also introduces us to the importance of packaging of tea. Apart from convenience, well-packed tea ensures that the taste, flavour and aroma of tea remains intact. Trends in recent years reveal that now even the majority of the population of developing countries like India are choosing packaged tea, including tea bags, over loose tea for safety and quality assurance.

What is amazing about certain inventions is that they remain ageless even after centuries of existence and exploits and through evolutions of cultures and
generations. That’s also often termed legendary, and the tea bag certainly makes for a remarkable invention of all times, whether accidental or incidental!

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