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Tea bag

Three different tea bags
Three different tea bags
A Turkish tea bag
A Turkish tea bag

A tea bag is a small bag that holds tea leaves or herbal tea infusions, either the amount needed to brew a single cup of tea; popular in countries such as the United States, or a larger one, of which one or two are used for a whole teapot; found in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. The tea is brewed still inside the bag, making it easier to dispose of without a tea strainer.

The tea bag was accidentally invented by American tea importer Thomas Sullivan in 1908. He had sent samples of his tea out to customers packaged in silk bags. His customers put the entire bags into the pot, thinking that was what Sullivan had intended.

Tea bags were commercially produced in America by the 1920s. The silk was replaced by gauze and later paper. Tea bags took off in the United Kingdom by the 1960s—today in the UK 85% of tea consumed is brewed using a tea bag.

A well-produced tea bag, with enough space for the tea to infuse properly, is a convenient alternative to loose leaves. However, tea bags are often let down by the poor quality of the tea—small, dusty leaves from many different sources which tend to release tannin more quickly, making the tea taste harsh.

Traditionally, tea bags have been square or rectangular in shape. More recently circular and pyramidal bags have come on the market, and are now quite common. These are often claimed by the manufacturers to improve the quality of the brew, although it is doubtful whether they make a significant difference.

Many people think that loose leaves brew a superior cup of tea, and believe that the ritual of leaves is part of the experience of your tea. Many blends of tea are not available in tea bags, and with loose leaves you are free to experiment with your own creations.

The concept of pre-measured portions to be infused in disposable bags has also been applied to coffee, although this has not achieved such wide market penetration (Strongly reminicent of the fate of instant tea as compared to instant coffee).

The term tea bag is also used for the paper or foil wrapper that surrounds the actual teabag. They are usually square or rectangular envelopes with the brand name and flavour printed on them. Many people collect tea bag envelopes, with some collections containing over 20,000 teabags.

In early January 2005 it was revealed that an EU directive meant that used tea bags were now classified as an animal by-product, as they could potentially have come into contact with milk from contaminated cows.

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