Happy Accidents: The Origin of Teabags & How to Brew a Perfect Cup of British Tea


Thomas Sullivan, an American tea merchant, with his love of labor-saving devices, was the first to develop the teabag. In around 1908, Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, started to send samples of tea to his customers in small silken bags. Some assumed that these were supposed to be used in the same way as the metal infusers, by putting the entire bag into the pot, rather than emptying out the contents. It was thus by accident that the tea bag was born!

Responding to the comments from his customers that the mesh on the silk was too fine, Sullivan developed sachets made of gauze – the first purpose-made tea bags. During the 1920s these were developed for commercial production, and the bags grew in popularity in the USA. Made first of all from gauze and later from paper, they came in two sizes, a larger bag for the pot, a smaller one for the cup. The features that we still recognize today were already in place – a string that hung over the side so the bag could be removed easily, with a decorated tag on the end.


The purpose of the tea bag is rooted in the belief that for tea to taste its best, the leaves ought to be removed from the hot water at the end of a specific brewing period. Then there is the added benefit of convenience – a removable device means that tea can be made as easily in a mug as in a pot, without the need for a tea strainer, and that tea pots can be kept clean more easily. But the earliest examples of removable infusing devices for holding tea were not bags. Popular infusers included tea eggs and tea balls – perforated metal containers which were filled with loose leaves and immersed in boiling water, and then removed using an attached chain.

photo source: rubylane

Different types of tea should be brewed at different temperatures for different lengths of time. Opinions vary, but here’s some help to get you started:

photo source: utilityjournel

Rules for a Perfect Cup of Tea:

Do not leave the kettle alone when boiling—as soon as it whistles it’s ready

Always brew the tea for at least 3 minutes or you’ll have weak flavor

Do not leave the teabag in your cup or mug—it will become too strong, plus it’s just not proper!

Never use artificial creamers—self explanatory

NEVER put the sugar teaspoon into the tea—you will contaminate your sugar

Never use a different type of milk than anticipated…No Skim Allowed!

Never ever EVER pour the milk in first—the tea color and flavor will not develop

photo source: dailymail

Hello, Sir & Madame, Would You Like a Cup of REAL Tea?

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37 Comments Add yours

  1. Cute post not much of a hot tea drinker but loveeeeee sweet teas!

    1. Thanks, Cheryl! I love sweet teas too! I read that adding a small amount of baking soda makes the southern recipe perfect.

      1. Hi Lana, a favorite here is Cinnamon Sweet Tea it is always in my refrigerator! Don’t know about baking soda???? I’ll pass and just keep rolling along! LOL

      2. YUM! I’ll need to give this a try! Yea, I wasn’t sure about the baking soda addition…a little goes a long way & could ruin the tea! I ruined an entire pot of pasta sauce once by adding just a small amount of baking soda…never again! Thanks, Hon 🙂

      3. LOL we do have some mishaps in the kitchen! Have a lovely Sunday! Cheryl xo

  2. Meritings says:

    Lovely cup and saucer! I hate tea in a mug, which seems to be the norm nowadays. Best from a china cup!

    1. This couldn’t me more true! Mugs are too bold & bulky for a delicate cup of British tea! Thanks so much!

  3. I just LOVE tea, but no sweetener for me (and I’m even a native-born Texan)! Thank you for all the tea tidbits. I have one of those metal ball infusers, but haven’t used it in years. Now I use it to put the bag of spices for corned beef in it. 🙂

    1. That’s a fabulous idea, Kathryn! We learn something new every day! So clever! I need to remember this for saint Patrick’s day!

      1. Yes, they are great for that! I hate having to scrape the spices off the corned beef afterwards. Nothing worse than biting into a whole clove!

      2. Why can I taste a popped clove in my mouth now?? lol! Thanks, Kathryn!!

      3. LOL that’s funny Lana!

  4. I meant to say I haven’t used it in years for making tea.

  5. Oh Lana, what a lovely post. I felt to posh reading it 🙂 Well, I don’t have the metal ball infuser, but I do have metal spoon infuser, with two end bits with holes in it to act as the strainer, you kind of flip a goodie and the end bits open like a mouth..sorry weird description, but it’s really cool. It has been with my family for generations. Really enjoyed this post 🙂

    1. Aww thank you me lady! Love the idea of your metal spoon diffuser, Lynne! And especially that it has family roots…precious!

      1. Infuser not defuser lol!

  6. So interesting that is how it was started! Love this series Lana!

    1. Thanks, Lynn! We do love a little history don’t we? Makes what we are experiencing more memorable 🙂

      1. yes for sure!

  7. I just love black tea with milk, l have at least a cup every day. Your article is great, l did not know the story behind the now famous tea bag 😊

    1. Thanks as I much, Daniela!! Sounds wonderful…sweetened? Black teas are my favorite too!!

  8. Linda says:

    Every morning Lana! Putting the kettle on to boil and choosing which tea I will drink is the first thing I do every morning when I get to the kitchen! Yum 🙂 🙂

    1. This makes me smile, Linda…sounds so you! Love it! Earl grey with sugar & cream is a personal favorite.we have one large cupboard filled with teas & coffees so l can fully relate! Thanks 🙂

      1. Linda says:


    2. I do use half a teaspoon of sugar. My favourite tea is Earl Grey, although l am very happy with English Breakfast too.

      1. Linda says:

        I have too many favorites!! Tea is just so enjoyable…just holding the warm mug and smelling the deliciousness makes my day! 🙂

      2. Life’s simple pleasures are just the best, Linda! You are such a sweetheart! Thanks so much!

  9. So interesting! Despite using tea bags nearly every day, I didn’t know their history. Tomorrow I will raise my cuppa to Thomas Sullivan!

    1. Haha Jean! I’ll be sure to do the same! Thanks a bunch!

  10. Osyth says:

    I’m English. We are a nation of tea-drinkers and as it happens my Uncle was a tea-planter in what is now Bangladesh for much of my childhood. I never knew where teabags came from …. I will share this fact with him (he is now nearly 80 and lives in Australia) when I speak to him next.

    1. I love this, Osyth! I’m so pleased you are passing along this info…makes me smile 🙂

  11. Sadie's Nest says:

    Great post! I love a good cup of tea:) Love the teapot too!

    1. Thanks so much, Sadie!

  12. awesome write up 🙂

    1. Thank you so much!!

  13. Antonia says:

    Great post! I have been brewing my tea wrong. This is great and I love the history lesson 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Antonia! This was a very fun and informative post to research 🙂

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