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Tea 101

Loose vs. Tea Bag

Artisan loose leaf tea vs. commercial tea bag tea

Why do we choose to produce artisan loose leaf tea over commercial tea bag tea? It all boils down to freshness, quality and flavor.

Brewing tea in its loose leaf form allows the hot water to infuse every inch of a high-quality, whole leaf tea, producing the freshest, fullest flavor possible.

The commercial tea bag is a modern invention designed to make tea drinking easy and convenient, but in its history gave us a lower-quality tea product that produces a one-dimensional flavor profile.

Here are the biggest differences between artisan loose leaf tea and commercial tea bag tea:

Artisan Loose Leaf Tea Commercial Tea Bag Tea
*Produced in the artisan orthodox method *Produced in the machine-driven non-orthodox or Crush-Tear-Curl (CTC) method
Whole leaf, high-quality grade tea Cut leaf, low-grade tea dust and fannings
Subtle nuances and flavor extracted from whole tea leaves that are allowed to expand fully in hot water One-dimensional flavor profile meant for a strong brew that can stand up to milk and sugar
Packaged loose in airtight containers to seal in freshness and flavor Often bagged in bleached paper material that can add chemicals and off flavors to your brewed cup
Produced seasonally in small quantities in an artisan method that involves hand-picking and hand-sorting quality tea leaves Machine-produced in high volume to be warehoused and stored for long periods of time
The same leaves can be steeped multiple times for several cups of tea Flavor is fully extracted after just one steeping

*For detailed information about orthodox vs. non-orthodox tea production, visit our “How is Tea Made?” page.

History of the tea bag

Most modern day commercial tea bags that contain CTC tea are made of bleached paper fiber and contain heat-sealable plastic. But the very first tea bag was made of hand-sewn silk and contained whole leaf tea.

Discovered by accident

During the first decade of the 1900s, New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began shipping small samples of his whole leaf teas packaged in hand-sewn silk tea bags to customers around the world.

Sending samples in silk tea bags was an inexpensive way for Mr. Sullivan to get his newest teas into customers’ cups without having to pony up the cost of packaging and shipping in tea tins.

The whole leaf tea was supposed to be removed from the silk bag to be brewed, but customers found it easier to just brew the tea contained in the bag. So when customers re-ordered tea from Mr. Sullivan, they requested he send it to them packaged in tea bags.

Evolved over time

Hand-sewn silk tea bags proved costly and time-consuming to produce, so Mr. Sullivan moved to a gauze material and produced tea bags commercially for his customers during the 1920s.

Since Mr. Sullivan never patented his tea bag discovery, other merchants began to introduce their own versions of the tea bag to market—very smartly patenting their own inventions—and various versions of the tea bag evolved over time.

  • German tea company Teekanne reportedly created their own version of the tea bag for World War I soldiers. Dubbed “tea bombs”, the bags were made of fine cotton and were included in all German soldiers’ provisions.
  • William Hermanson, founder of a Boston paper company, patented the first heat-sealable paper fiber tea bag in 1930.
  • Tetley Tea, inspired by the American tea bag invention, is credited with inventing the first square tea bag in England in 1944. They developed a tea bag machine that could stitch 40 tea bags per minute for export.
  • The Lipton Tea Company, founded in Scotland in 1880, patented the four-sided, flow-through paper tea bag in 1952. The double chamber bag allowed the tea greater contact with water and more room for the tea leaves to expand in the bag.
  • Tetley Tea was the first to introduce the round paper tea bag in 1992. This was mainly a marketing invention designed for tea drinkers who preferred drinking tea from a big mug rather than a dainty cup. They also reduced some packaging waste, since round tea bags were typically free of the string and paper tags attached to square tea bags.
  • Brooke Bond, the parent company of the United Kingdom’s PG Tips, is credited with inventing the pyramid tea bag in 1997. The tall pyramid shape, they claimed, would perform like a teapot, giving tea leaves 50 percent more room in the bag than flat tea bag varieties.

Traditional Tea Bag

Dominated by machine

As the popularity of and demand for tea bags grew, tea merchants and producers looked for ways to cut costs and increase production.

Since customers proved to care more about the convenience of the tea bag than the quality of the tea, commercial tea producers moved to the machine-driven CTC method of tea production to keep up with tea bag demand.

Tea producers typically sourced lower quality tea and shredded the leaves to fit into small tea bags that could be machine produced, sealed with plastic or glue, and packaged with tags and strings for a more grocery-store marketable packaging design than loose leaf tea.

Improving the tea bag experience

At Teatulia, we’re able to give customers the best of both worlds – loose leaf quality and tea bag convenience. Just like New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan in the early 1900s.

How? Tea bag technology is improving and we’ve discovered eco-friendly ways to offer tea bags to our customers, without sacrificing freshness and flavor.

Both of Teatulia’s tea bag options are made of unbleached, compostable materials that are chemical-free. There are no tags, strings, staples or extra packaging for our tea bags, so we’re able to deliver convenience with less waste. And both of our tea bags contain only fresh, flavorful, artisan-produced tea leaves.

Our pyramid tea bag: We offer our organic, whole leaf teas packaged in single-serving corn silk pyramid tea bags. Our pyramid tea bags are large and roomy to give the fresh tea leaves plenty of space to interact with hot water for full flavor extraction. They can even be steeped multiple times, so you can get several cups of tea out of one tea bag.

Teatulia's Pyramid Tea Bag

Our round tea bag: For customers who’ve asked for the ultimate in convenience plus the strong flavor of a full-bodied tea, we’re now offering tea in round, unbleached paper bags. Unlike commercial tea bags filled with low-grade, shredded tea leaves and tea dust, our round tea bags are filled with fresh, organic, fine-cut tea leaves. The resulting brew is fuller-bodied and stronger than our pyramid tea bag brew.

Teatulia's Round Tea Bag

Learn about how tea is processed.

Learn what it means to be certified organic.

Learn more about Teatulia’s single garden direct organic tea.

Sources:
History of the Tea Bag by United Kingdom Tea Council
Tea Bag by Wikipedia
The History of the Tea Bag by Teekanne
A (Tea) Potted History by Tetley
History of Lipton Tea by History of Business
Brooke Bond's 'Gotta Brand New Bag' by The Free Library
The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, Ten Speed Press, 2007
History of Tea by Wikipedia