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Our Thoughts on Tea Bags

Although we don't sell factory-prepared tea bags, people always ask questions about them. Here are our thoughts on the subject.

In 1908 an American named Thomas Sullivan invented tea bags by mistake. He was a tea importer who sent out samples of his fine teas in hand-sown silk bags. People steeped the whole thing and the tea bag was born. The origin of the tea bag had great potential, but things have gone awry.

As consumers began to enjoy the convenience of pre-measured tea in its own steeping device, tea companies responded. As with any item that has had decades of corporate influence, today's tea bag does not resemble Sullivan's hand-filled tea pouches. Whereas he used whole-leaf teas of distinction, companies began searching for uniform particles of tea that can be easily packaged by the machinery they developed. The "Coca-Cola-ization" of tea began. Instead of small farms, huge mechanized estates were established to supply leaves consistent in taste and size. Culture, history, geography, and diversity were cast aside.

These particles of tea, generally manufactured using CTC processing (Cut, Tear, and Curl -- the name says it all) are called fannings or dust. These are teas that are either left over after grading higher-quality loose teas, or they are manufactured specifically for this purpose with tea grown in Africa, Argentina, Indonesia, and other areas that do not produce great quality loose teas. This allows companies to blend multiple years and regional productions. It's hard to tell whether you are getting fresh tea or not.

The large surface area of the fine particles gives color to the hot water quickly. As a result, we find that many people judge when the tea is ready by the color of the resulting brew -- not by taste. We urge you to taste our teas to determine when they are ready. Many green and white teas barely change the color of the water.

One of the benefits of loose teas is that you can control the infusion through water temperature, quantity of leaves, and steeping time to achieve a cup of tea that is pleasing to you. With a tea bag the infusion rate is extremely rapid. You can't control the caffeine or fine-tune the brew like you can with loose teas.

Tea bags are also generally not packaged in airtight containers and thus are susceptible to degradation from air and moisture.

One of the less-discussed enjoyments of tea is to look at the full leaves both prior to and after steeping. It's here that you can see the efforts that have gone into handpicked and handcrafted teas. The leaves are beautiful and provide the connection among a cup of tea, the earth the leaves grew in, and the skill that is required to make it. Tea bags eliminate the possibility of experiencing this connection. Although everyone has had a cup of tea, not many Americans have seen a whole tea leaf, or even a picture of a tea plant.

TEA BAG ALTERNATIVES

We want to tell you about alternatives to the familiar tea bag that will result in a far better brew, we think. We suggest using a basket strainer like the Teeli to allow the leaves to open fully and release the flavor. Or brew tea loose in a pot and decant it into a second pot when it's ready. A gaiwan, or lidded cup, makes drinking tea from the cup easy by using the lid to sieve the leaves away from your mouth.

We also like the Mono Filio Teapot for brewing tea. These are beautifully designed and manufactured teapots -- the best we have found. The German manufacturer is Mono Tabletop. The large strainer basket allows tea leaves to fully open and infuse into the water, enabling you to get the most out of a tea. The optional stainless steel caddy provides a convenient tray for the strainer basket once the tea is steeped. We sell it in two sizes.

One-Minute Tea Tip, 2000

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