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teatips.info :: types of tea :: tea bags: to use or not…

Machine for producing tea bags.
Machine for producing tea bags.

In 1904 Thomas Sullivan, an American tea trader, started to pack the samples of his tea into silk pouches, which his clients by mistake began to put straight into the pot with boiled water without unpacking them. According to another version he did it in 1908. Still another version says that there was no ‘mistake of the clients’, and the brewing by dipping the pouches into water was premeditated. Finally, the fourth version claims that tea bags were invented at the frontlines of World War I (in 1914) by the brave British soldiers, who suffered from the lack of the habitual drink. They poured tea into some kind of socks (the term ‘tea sock’ is still in use) and brewed it in kettles. As is usual with history, the truth is very difficult to find out — and is not necessary indeed. Let us think that the tea bag was invented in 1904 — and then in 2004 it turned 100 years old.

In all those one hundred years the tea bag had undergone hefty changes. Silk pouches had long ago become a rarity — they were replaced by paper bags. At first the paper for the bags was made from Manila hemp — such paper had neither taste nor flavor. Honestly speaking, I do not know what they produce this paper from now.

Tea bags acquired threads and labels, they began to be enclosed into special wrappers, ‘no dripping’ tea bags and separate tea bags for tea-pots and tea cups appeared — in a word, the tea-bag industry progress is in full swing.

The share of the tea bags is constantly growing on the tea markets of all countries — I have written somewhere already that in good old England it makes up about 90%. Tea bags have become an indispensable attribute of most offices and almost an integral part of business life. Gradually, tea bags penetrate into restaurants and onto family tables — even tea rooms of the very England do not always strain themselves to brew tea leaves, and infuse tea bags instead.

Tea from tea bags.
Tea from tea bags.

In a word, it is simply necessary to pay some attention to tea bags — if only to examine its merits and demerits. I should probably start this ‘tea examination’ with one absolutely obvious declaration.

Tea bags can be good and bad. This is trite — but the recognition of this fact prevents one from such categorical statements as “Only those who understand nothing in teas can use tea bags”.

Putting on the market good tea in bags the producers strive to make money on creating convenience for their consumers. Thus, there come into being the posh tea bags for tea-pots with large-leaf tea from Ronnefeldt or Whittard — they not only allow people to brew good tea but also give them aesthetic pleasure. Tea bags for cups by Ahmad, Newby, and Twinings are almost just as good (although, poor tea is also sold under these trade marks sometimes).

Putting on the market poor tea in bags the producers strive to make money on the sales of the product produced of low-grade and cheap raw stuff — as a result of such striving, on the market there appears the tea which cannot be called otherwise than ‘sweepings off the floor of a tea warehouse’. There is a grain of truth in this name — quite often for the production of tea bags tea leaves of the D (dust) standard are used — that is everything left after decent tea leaves have been used.

In short, tea bags are not ‘a priori’ bad or good — they possess rather objective merits and demerits.

The merits of tea bags are not numerous, but significant. They are very convenient. The number of the utensils necessary for making tea decreases; the problem with the dosage of tea leaves disappears; it is easy to dispose of the used tea bag (disposing of the drawn tea leaves in an office, for example, is not always convenient); within the framework of a single tea-drinking one can try different teas by simply infusing different tea bags. Tea bags do not let tea leaves penetrate into the cup (I like tea leaves tough) and are useful while traveling. Tea bags guarantee the quality of the drink — when one infuses tea straight in the cup, it becomes difficult to mix anything into tea — and it is absolutely impossible to infuse a tea bag repeatedly and serve it as a fresh tea. Tea bags on trains completely drove out the previously wide-spread practice of brewing tea with cooking soda (train conductors used to save a lot of tea leaves on this).

Tea bags can fly!
Tea bags can fly!

Tea bags’ drawbacks are also a few — and they are also rather significant. First of all, 80% of the money spent on tea bags goes to the garbage can. Because approximately 80% of the tea bags’ prime cost is the cost of the packaging — the tea bag itself, the thread, the label, and other painted details.

Second, tea in tea bags is less flavorful than loose tea leaves. Flavored teas are an exception, of course, — their scent can be sensed a mile away — but these teas should not be taken into consideration.

And, finally, third, tea bags are fussy — because they eliminate from the tea life a certain number of unhurried and very pleasant operations connected with the tea pot mostly.

This very last reason is determinative for me — and I use tea bags extremely infrequently…

Concluding this by and large banal article I cannot help telling you an amusing story which I heard not long ago from my old acquaintance. She is a Swede married to an Englishman — she had lived in Great Britain 10 years. So, she disclosed me the recipe of the true English tea.

Having moved with her husband to Great Britain and realizing that she was in the country with rich and scrupulous tea traditions, my Swedish acquaintance asked her mother-in-law to impart the recipe of the true English tea to her. And the latter told her, “Why, but it is very easy, my dear! You take a cup. Put one tea bag into it. Then pour hot water into the cup. And wait a little — then the tea will have good color. But do not wait too long — or the tea will be cold. And do not pour water full to the brim — so that you could add some milk into tea.”

One more thing — tea bags fly wonderfully…

Denis Shumakov (denis.shumakov@gmail.com)

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