Tea is one of the nation’s favourite beverages, with tea bags accounting for a staggering more than 95% of all tea sales, but how much do you really know about what goes into making the ever-popular tea bag most of us use every day? Read on to find out more about this unexpectedly complex cupboard stable…
The art of packing tea in paper bags dates back to medieval China, where the Tang Dynasty was known to use this process as a means of preserving the delicate flavour and aroma of tea. The first modern tea bags were made from hand-sewn fabric, and date back to 1903.
They started appearing for commercial sale the following year, in 1904 – and a significant marketing push from 1908 onwards, championed by US tea and coffee importer Thomas Sullivan, saw the popularity of tea bags begin to break through into mainstream use.
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Tea bags work by sealing and infusing the tea, helping to ensure the preservation of taste and scent. Designed for convenience, as a means of making the ordinary tea break far less messy and quicker, by removing the need to rely on loose tea leaves and infusers. Essentially transforming what frequently took 5-10 minutes to now only 2-3 minutes.
Making the perfect cup of tea is quite a hotly contested issue in the major tea-loving countries, where opinions differ radically as to how long a tea bag should be left in hot water, and whether any add-ons such as milk and sugar should be placed in the cup before or after the tea itself.
Commercially-sold modern tea bags are usually comprised in large part of plastic. This includes everything from PVC to food-grade nylon polyethene terephthalate (PET for short). Nylon and PET are classed as two of the safest plastics for use in foodstuffs, as they can withstand higher than usual heat levels – meaning there’s far less chance damaging plastic chemicals will seep out of the tea bag and into your cup of tea.
However, there are other components in tea bags which cause concern for health professionals. Some of the molecules of plastic begin to decompose when placed in boiling water, and paper tea bags present different threats, such as the pesticide epichlorohydrin, which is regarded as a potential carcinogenic. To ensure a much healthier brew, tea drinkers are advised to seek organic alternatives wherever possible.
Using biodegradable tea bags in your gardening regime is a fantastic way of encouraging plant growth, and many domestic gardeners swear by this simple trick to help their gardening projects flourish.
First, ensure you are using a truly natural tea bag – free from plastic – and then add cooled tea bags to your compost bucket, where they will degrade down and help with retaining moisture and repressing weed growth within your garden.
This is an excellent and ‘green’ method of using your discarded tea bags in a good cause, and can also help encourage helpful earthworms and improve the structure of the soil.
The use of tea bags to reduce eye puffiness is a very popular home remedy, reducing dark circles and redness in no time at all. To try this remedy for yourself, simply place the tea bags in water as if making a cup of tea, then remove excess water from the bags and leave to cool or chill for approximately 10 minutes.
Apply the tea bags to your closed eyes for 15-30 minutes, then remove. The best types of tea to use for this remedy are organic variants of black, white and green tea, to get the very best of their caffeine-infused antioxidant power.
The environmental impact of tea bags is rarely discussed, in large part because they seem like such insignificant items in the grand scheme of things. Yet over 25% of each commercial tea bag is made up of plastic – and this makes them very difficult to recycle and impossible to compost.
The UK drinks around 165m cups of tea per day, which amounts to a huge quantity of plastic finding its way into the environment every year. Always check with the manufacturer to ensure you are drinking biodegradable tea bags to help lessen the environmental impact and ensure tea bags remain recyclable.
Answering this question requires careful assessment of the way tea bags are stored and handled. Since they are often stored in communal spaces, tea bags can carry lots of germs from hands – but if kept in a safe place and only ever touched by clean hands, the risk of bacteria is greatly reduced.
Loose leaf tea is entirely plant-based, and the majority of herbal teas are naturally vegan-friendly too. There are however some alternative teas which contain flavouring with animal additives, such as honey, milk or dairy.
Check the infusion ingredients list carefully if hoping to remain on a vegan diet and stick to pure teas rather than blends to avoid accidental consumption of non-vegan products.
Growing awareness of the plastic content in tea bags has led to a new crop of plastic-free tea bags taking the tea industry by storm - but finding these products can often take a little time and extra research!
According to the UK Tea Council, in the 1960's tea bags made up only about 3% of the total tea sales in Britain. By 2007 this had grown to a staggering 96% of total tea sales, mainly in part to the success of the household brands like Tetleys, PG Tips and Twinnings.
Fortunately, however, following the adoption of pyramid tea bags the last few years and launching of some new artisan speciality tea brands, we are spoilt for choice. Now more than ever, it is essential we make the right buying decisions given the environmental impact of tea bags - supporting brands that have not only biodegradable organic tea bags but also sustainable and recyclable packaging.
Tea giant PG Tips have stated that as of 2019, their tea bags will no longer contain plastic – and other brands such as the Co-Op are developing biodegradable tea bag options for release this year.
At Chateau Rouge, our range of organic tea bags is just the ticket for tea fans who want to find a new and more ethical way of enjoying their favourite brew, with everything from Organic Black Tea to Earl Grey and delightful Wildharvest Honeybush tea delivering a real and convenient treat for tea lovers everywhere.
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Seán Farrell – Founder, Chateau Rouge