We can trace the first examples of what can be considered as tea bags to 8th century China, where tea leaves were packed into folded paper bags to protect its flavor and aroma. However, our modern conception of the tea bag wasn’t invented until the early 20th century. Even more so, the invention appears to have been an accident.
American merchant Thomas Sullivan, attempting to cut costs on pricey metal containers, began sending his customers tea in small bags of silk. Upon arrival they were thought to be meant that way as an infusion method and the tea bag was born. Silk quickly proved not to be the most useful material so it was replaced by paper and later nylon because of its more environmentally friendly nature. Throughout the years, various tea companies have brought their innovations alterations to the tea bag. In recent years, for example, the triangle tea bag has grown in popularity because it is said that the design allows better infusion because of the room for tea leaves to move.
At its advent, the benefits of using tea bags was twofold. Firstly, it made the removal of the tea leaves from hot water after a specific period of brewing time possible, which in turn contributed to the tastes and aromas. Secondly, it is much more convenient. While various forms of tea infusers, like the tea egg, are available today, and have been for quite some time, the majority of casual tea drinkers will be most familiar with the simple tea bag simply because of its ease of use.
Then there are those, usually more avid tea aficionados, who perceive using tea bags as blasphemous. From the start, tea vendors started chopping up their tea leaves in order to be able to fit them within the bags and allow maximal infusion within a small space. While definitely more practical, this process downgrades the quality of the tea in most other areas. Finally, there is always the notion of mass adoption that is reviled by a select few because it might diminish the authenticity of the tea drinking experience. Either way, the tea bag is unmistakably part of tea culture all over the world.