Thursday, 3 June 2010

All Hail the Teabag!

Illustration: John Tenniel 

After the melodrama of the alarm clock first thing in the morning, I am someone who prefers the more gentle approach of a cup of tea instead of the instant ‘bang on the head,’ provided by a cup of coffee. Reaching for the kettle and the teabags is a daily ritual and makes juggling a tin of cat food (for the screeching cat), and the contents of the fridge for the wherewithal for my son’s packed lunch, a little more bearable with half opened eyes.

It seems that teabags have been around since 1904, when Thomas Sullivan a tea and coffee merchant from New York, decided to send his customers samples of tea in hand-sewn silk muslin bags. This was instead of sending the somewhat bulky and expensive to send tins, that were normally used by merchants of the time. It is said that his customers being totally confused by the new packaging threw the tea in hot water, bag and all. This revolutionized making a cuppa and as a result the ‘teabag’ was born. Being an instant hit this meant that after this Thomas Sullivan’s customers wouldn’t settle for anything else, so he continued to ship tea in his new creation the ‘teabag’.

What could be better? A gloriously quick solution, coupled with a simple design filled with your favourite brand or flavour on the end of a piece of string! Also, adieu to the sewage found at the bottom of a teapot.

But sad to say generic paper teabags, whether they are oblong, round or square do not contain the best grade of tea possible. Due to the limitations of size, teabags have for years contained only the inferior dust remnants found at the bottom of the tea barrels. So the brown beverage in your cup although drinkable, is not the best quality that can be brewed from a tealeaf. The customer is definitely not getting the ‘full flavour’, as promised by some bright spark in the marketing department of many a brand.

Enter the pyramid teabag…yes, the Egyptians were onto a good design. Because of its shape, whole leaf and more exotic mixes of tea can be used. Made of woven synthetic muslin the process of infusion is improved resulting in tea with a superior flavour all the while still fitting perfectly in a cup, and still not creating any problems when it comes to packaging. These teabags have been around since the 1980’s originating in Japan and its more modern cousins are even available in a biodegradable jacket. Esoterically these charming teabags are a pleasure to the eye with the leaves and blooms on show, and may finally be able to unite the divide between the teabag in a cup drinker and those who prefer loose tea in a teapot. Both can enjoy a decent cup of tea.


© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #19 Spring 2008 

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