According to legend, tea was first discovered when (get ready for vagaries) some leaves happened to fall into a boiling pot and were found to have a tasty and aromatic effect. Sounds a bit suspicious to me, but here are some actual facts and figures regarding this important beverage of my Southern upbringing, tea.
• There are three basic kinds of tea—Green, Oolong, and Black. In the U.S., 94% of tea consumed is Black, with Green coming in at a paltry 5% (as opposed to 80% Black and 19% Green worldwide). A fourth and more rare type of tea, White tea, is a Chinese tea produced exclusively from the buds or tips of the tea bush.
• Most countries have their own tales of origin regarding tea, but as far as American consumption goes, the Cambridge World History of Food tells us “One great change in American tea drinking came about in the early twentieth century. In 1908, tea merchant Thomas Sullivan, in order to reduce shipping weight, began to package tea samples in silk bags instead of miniature tins. Some of his customers brewed the tea without taking it out of the bags and requested more tea packaged in this way; Sullivan obliged, and teabags were created. Today, in America, most tea is brewed from teabags.”
• More recently, teabags have been seen in the shape of a pyramid. Tea’s Got a Brand New Bag
* Sign In to E-Mail This
* Single Page
Article Tools Sponsored By
By FLORENCE FABRICANT
Published: September 13, 2006
THE tea bag, a clever enough idea at first, went terribly awry somewhere along the way, at least in the view of people who love to savor their tea. Now it is in the process of large-scale reinvention, and some of those who currently shun it with almost ostentatious disdain are very likely to be won over.
Skip to next paragraph
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Garret Lown for The New York Times
CHANGE IS BREWING Harney & Sons’s pyramid-shape pouches hold longer tea leaves.
At age 100 or so, the old bag is increasingly being filled with fine whole leaf tea, the kind connoisseurs brew in their teapots, and the bag itself has been redesigned in shapes that are not only elegant but constructed to allow those flavorful leaves to show what they’ve got.
With tea sales in the United States now four times what they were a decade ago — about $6.2 billion annually, according to the Tea Association of the USA, a trade group — the American tea drinker seems ready for a change for the better.
The change, some say, is overdue. Look closely at a conventional tea bag in your cupboard or in the paper cup from the local deli. Chances are that instead of leaves it is filled with indistinguishable bits, the detritus left after tea leaves are sifted and graded. The tea industry calls it dust, and the beverage it makes is likely to be rusty-looking and often bitterly tannic. But it no longer has to be, nor is it necessary to brew a whole pot of tea to achieve something better tasting.
Perhaps the surest sign that the tea world is changing is this: Lipton, the world’s largest tea company and a division of Unilever, will start selling tea bags containing long leaf teas in supermarkets nationwide next month.
Instead of paper, the leaves will be enveloped by nylon mesh bags in a delicate pyramid shape.
Lipton is following the lead of American businesses like Harney & Sons, Mighty Leaf, Adagio and the Highland Tea Company, which for several years have sold tea bags filled with high-quality full-leaf teas, ones with complex, often floral, herbaceous, spicy or fruity nuances.
Smelling a trend, new companies, like Revolution Tea, Numi Tea, Two Leaves and a Bud, and Tea Forté, have formed expressly to sell fine teas in tea bags. Harrisons & Crosfield, from England, and the luxury Parisian tea purveyors Le Palais des Thés and Mariage Frères have also introduced tea bags.
“We decided to put some of our teas in tea bags because that’s the way most people drink tea,” said Wanja Michuki, the president of the Highland Tea Company, in Montclair, N.J., which sells fine teas from Kenya, the leading exporter of tea worldwide.
James Wong, a Unilever vice president and general manager of Lipton, in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said the company’s research showed that “every consumer is becoming a gourmand.’’
“They want long leaf tea, but they can be intimidated by buying and brewing it,” he said. “We saw an opportunity to simplify it, making it convenient and accessible, and it’s appealing to new consumers as well as tea lovers.”
Lipton’s new line, called Pyramid, took the company two years to develop. It offers six varieties of long leaf tea, all but one flavored with bits of dried fruit or other seasonings. Only Black Pearl, a black tea blend, is unflavored.
“Consumers have reacted positively to the flavorings,” said John Cheetham, Lipton’s Royal Estates tea master, who selects and blends teas. “And we have Black Pearl to appeal to the purist.”
Even the best tea companies have introduced flavored teas in response to consumer demand, but over the years their reputations have been based on the quality of their oolongs, Darjeelings and senchas.
Mr. Cheetham acknowledged that Lipton’s flavored varieties were “entry level” teas. And they are a far cry from Harney & Sons’s Dragon Pearl Jasmine or Mighty Leaf’s Darjeeling Choice Estate, which are sold in bags that cost 30 cents to $2 each and available at tea shops, fancy food shops and online. Lipton’s Pyramid teas, at $3.49 for 20 tea bags, cost less than 20 cents a cup. Ordinary tea bags average 2 to 8 cents a cup.
“Lipton’s Pyramid will bring premium tea to the masses,” Mr. Cheetham said.
That is the very attitude that drove the company’s founder, Thomas Lipton, an English tea merchant. By buying his own tea estates in the late 1800’s, he made tea, which had been an aristocratic beverage, more affordable and popular. Thomas Sullivan, the New York tea merchant who is credited with inventing the tea bag about 100 years ago, used the bags at first to send samples to his customers. The idea caught on, and by the 1920’s the tea bag was commercially established.
But companies began compromising quality, and before long the little paper pouches were filled with the lowest grades of tea. Consumers did not object. In fact, they liked the fact that the minute particles in tea bags required but a few seconds in hot water to produce deeply colored, strong flavored liquid.
In 1929 Lipton began packing tea in paper tea bags. In 1954 the company introduced its patented double-wall tea bag, which exposed more of the tea to the hot water and took even less time to brew.
Brewing tea from fine tea leaves takes longer, as much as five minutes, for the infusion to develop. And the leaves themselves require more space to unfurl, which is why the better teas are put in pyramid-shape bags, or larger pouches, often made of silk, muslin or nylon mesh (and some hand-sewn). You can see the leaves swell as they come in contact with the hot water.
Like coffee lovers who moved up from making instant coffee to grinding their own estate-grown beans fresh for each cup, many American tea drinkers have graduated to whole leaf teas. Though there are myriad gadgets on the market, like little metal infusers, for brewing a single cup from whole tea leaves, they do not eliminate the chore of cleaning up the soggy remains. Recognizing the demand for convenience, Ito En, a Japanese tea company that has a store on Madison Avenue, has introduced fine nylon mesh bags, $1 each, that can be filled with a cup’s worth of tea, brewed and discarded.
Somewhat surprisingly, English tea companies appear to be the slowest to catch on to the trend of fine tea in tea bags. The English often drink tea with milk and sugar, so they like it dark and strong, just the way cheap tea bags make it. “The English consumer is less adventurous than the American,” Mr. Cheetham said.
Until recently, Americans considered the English to be the standard-bearers for proper tea drinking. But the influence of Japan, which was a bigger supplier of tea to the American market before World War II, has grown in recent years. Many Americans got their first taste of green tea at a sushi bar and have come to appreciate its refined delicacy and earthiness. Since 1998 sales of green tea have increased at a faster rate in America than any other kind of loose or bagged tea.
Joseph P. Simrany, the president of the Tea Association of the USA, which is based in Manhattan, said tea sales are projected to grow 10 percent a year for “the foreseeable future,” fueled in part by ready-to-drink bottled iced tea and by an increasing belief that tea, especially green tea, is healthful. Tea bag sales are lumped in with figures for loose teas, so there are no statistics for the growth of the tea bag segment of the market. But, Mr. Simrany said, “the new tea bags are changing consumer attitudes toward tea; the snobbism is gone.”
And even though the better tea bags will produce an excellent cup of tea, some of the finer points of tea making have been lost, like the different water temperatures and steeping times required, depending on whether the tea is black, oolong or green. An exception is the tea made by Le Palais des Thés: a suggested temperature and brewing time is printed on the foil packets that contain the muslin tea bags. But how many tea drinkers pay attention to those arcane details anyway?
“People like good tea but not the work,” said Michael Harney, a vice president of Harney & Sons, in Millerton, N.Y., a company that his father, John, founded. “We see our customers switching from loose tea to sachets all the time now.”
However, if you like brewing your tea loose leaf, you should consider learning how to read your tea leaves. Reading Tea Leaves
GYPSY'S SECRET… The Tea Reading
Put a pinch of tealeaves in the cup and pour boiling water over them, allowing it to stand about three minutes. Drink the contents of the cup leaving tealeaves and a very small amount of liquid in the bottom.
The person whose fortune is to be told, call the "sitter" or "consultant", should then take the cup by the handle in the left hand, rim upwards, and move it in a circle rapidly three times from left to right some of the tea leaves will seem to cling to the sides of the cup while others remain in the bottom. Next slowly invert the cup over the saucer and leave it there until all liquid drains away.
The "sitter" should approach the oracle in all seriousness and during the ritual should concentrate on his or her future destiny and "wish" that the symbol shall correctly represent happenings to come.
The handle of the cup represents the "sitter" in his or her own "sphere" or "residence" and is the "south" point of the compass. This fixed point designates "letters to" the consultant or "journeys away from", "visitors to be expected", distance "to and from", etc.
The cup is divided into three parts. The rim designates the present; the side, events not far distant; and the bottom the distant future. The nearer the symbols appear to the handle the nearer to fulfillment will be the events foretold.
Now the "seer" receives the cup from the "sitter" and proceeds to tell "his" or "her" fortune, unless of course one is to tell one's own fortune. The "seer" should concentrate upon the cup and upon the "consultant". The "seer" will observe that the tealeaves are scattered over the cup in apparent confusion but it will be noted after concentration that they form lines, circles, dots, small groups and figures.
Note carefully the shapes and figures assumed by the leaves. Turn the cup and view from different angles until the symbols become clear. Be patient and search carefully for symbols and not their position. The more you search the clearer they become. Note the resemblance to various objects, and their relation to each other. Sometimes bad omens will be offset by good ones; good ones may be strengthened or weakened by others, good or evil, and so on.
"The tea cup reveals good fortune (1,4,5) for you. I see a lover (3) and much success. I see the letter "L"- perhaps his name begins with "L" but you have not met him yet because he seems to be in the future - not far distant perhaps but not in the present. I see success is about to crown some venture you have undertaken or are about to undertake. But there seems to be difficulties closing in upon (2) you in the near future".
"Fear not in this tea cup good fortune more than outweighs the bad. I see a marriage, possibly you own (4) or a friend's. It seems certain that this good fortune that is coming will be most unexpected".
Such objects as cats, trees, flowers, letters, numbers, etc., will be discerned by the exercise of the "seer's" observation and imagination. Possibly these may be unconsciously strengthened by a keen intuition. Each symbol possesses some significance. They may be large or small and their size may determine their relative importance. For instance: if the likeness of a "Septre" should be observed it would mean that the "sitter" should expect some honor bestowed upon him or her. If the symbol were small, the honor received would be small and if the symbol were large, the honor might be great.
Then again: a few tea leaves may form a group that might in turn form a letter such as "M". If this letter "M" should be close to a symbol resembling a "serpent" which is bad luck, it might mean that the "sitter" should guard against an enemy whose name begins with "M". If on the other hand the letter "M" should appear near a symbol of a bird flying towards the handle of the cup (the "residence") it might mean that the sitter would receive a letter from, or news of, a person whose name begins with "M". If on the other hand the letter "M" should appear near a symbol of a bird flying towards the handle of the cup (the "residence") it might mean that the sitter would receive a letter from, or news of, a person whose name begins with "M". Again: If the bird were flying away from the "residence", the sitter would be sending a letter to the person "M".
The small tealeaves frequently form lines. A line means a journey, a long line a long journey, etc. The direction of the journey may be determined by the direction of the line. If a line should approach and reach the handle and the sitter should be away from home it would mean that he or she would return. If the line should end before it reaches the handle it would mean that the "sitter" would move to another residence. A wavy or broken line means delayed journeys and straight-line quick journeys. If a number such as "6" should be observed it would mean a journey of six days or six weeks; or possibly a journey to be taken in six weeks, etc., etc.
Dots surrounding a symbol indicate money in some form depending on the symbol. Should a leaf cling to the edge or rim of the cup some event foretold by the symbols in the cup is imminent. Someone may be thinking of the "sitter" at the very moment. Look for a letter to find a clue to the identity of this person.
Observe the complete picture as a whole as well as individual symbols for often-bad omens may outweigh good omens or vice versa. One large distinct good omen may outweigh several smaller hazy bad omens. Good and bad should be balanced against each other in determining the forecast.
If mysteries should be revealed to you, question them if you will, but cherish and keep the Gypsy's secret.
• Some of the largest world growers and producers of tea are China, India and Sri Lanka, and the bushes from which tea leaves are harvested are best grown in dense, tropical areas. Now, this sounds like a bit of Monkey News to me, but apparently now you can buy tea that has been hand-picked by, well, monkeys.
• Richard Blechnyden is credited for “inventing” iced tea (this brings me back to considering the “invention” of the chocolate chip cookie—was there really a world with out it?) at the 1904 World’s Fair. Tea Fact Sheet
Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world next to water, and can be found
in almost 80% of all U.S. households. It is the only beverage commonly served hot or
iced, anytime, anywhere, for any occasion. On any given day, over 127 million
Americans are drinking tea.
In 2007, Americans consumed well over 55 billion
servings of tea, or over 2.50 billion gallons. About 82% of
all tea consumed was Black Tea, 17% was Green Tea,
and a small remaining amount was Oolong and White
On any given day, about one half of the American
population drinks tea. On a regional basis, the South and
Northeast have the greatest concentration of tea drinkers.
Iced Tea Consumption:
Approximately 85% of tea consumed in America is iced.
Over the last ten years, Ready-To-Drink Tea has grown
nearly ten fold. In 2007, Ready-To-Drink sales were
conservatively estimated at $2.80 billion.
Tea Bags, Loose Tea &
Iced Tea Mixes:
In 2007, over 65% of the tea brewed in the United States
was prepared using tea bags. Ready-to-Drink and iced tea
mix comprises about one fourth of all tea prepared in the
U.S., with instant and loose tea accounting for the
balance. Instant tea is declining and loose tea is gaining in
popularity, especially in Specialty Tea and coffee outlets.
2007 was the 16th consecutive year that consumer
purchases of tea increased. Retail supermarket sales alone
surpassed the $1.95 billion dollar mark. Away-from-home
consumption has been increasing by at least 10% annually
over the last decade.
The industry anticipates strong, continuous growth over
the next five years. This growth will come from all
segments driven by convenience, by interest in the healthy
properties of tea, and by the continued discovery of
Black, Green, Oolong and White teas all come from the
same plant, a warm-weather evergreen named Camellia
sinensis. Differences among the four types of tea result
from the various degrees of processing and the level of
oxidization. Black tea is oxidized for up to 4 hours and
Oolong teas are oxidized for 2-3 hours. As a result, the
tealeaves undergo natural chemical reactions, which result
in taste and color changes, and allow for distinguishing
characteristics. Green & White teas are not oxidized after
processing and they most closely resemble the look and
chemical composition of the fresh tealeaf. Oolong tea is
midway between Black and Green teas in strength and
Much of the world’s tea is grown in mountainous areas
3,000 – 7,000 feet above sea level, situated between the
Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn in mineralrich
soil. Leading tea-producing countries include
Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya
Malawi, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania.
Tea is nearly 5,000 years old. It was discovered in 2737
BC by Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung, known as the
“Divine Healer,” when as legend goes, some tea leaves
accidentally blew into the Emperor’s pot of boiling water.
In the 1600’s, tea became highly popular throughout
Europe and the American colonies. Tea played a dramatic
part in the establishment of the United States of America.
In 1767 the British Government put a tax on the tea used
by American colonists. Protesting this “taxation without
representation,” the colonists decided to stop buying tea
and refused to allow tea ships to be unloaded. One
December night in 1723, men dressed as Native
Americans boarded British ships in Boston Harbor and
threw more than 300 chests of tea into the sea. This now
famous Boston Tea Party, in protest of the British tea tax,
was said to be one of the acts leading to the Revolutionary
Anna, Duchess of Bedford, is credited with creating
Afternoon Tea in 1840, when she began taking tea with a
light snack around 4:00 p.m. to ward off “that sinking
High Tea originated with the rural and working class
British, who would return to their homes at about 6:00
p.m. for a meal of potted meats, fish, cheese, salads,
sweets, and a pot of strong tea. The U.S. played an
important role in the history of tea, inventing the tea bag
and iced tea, both in 1904. Recently, the U.S. has led the
rest of the world in marketing convenient Ready-To-
Drink forms of tea in bottles.
Tea is an all-natural and environmentally sound product
from a renewable source. The tea plant is naturally
resistant to most insects; oxidation of the tealeaf is a
natural process; and, many tea packers use recycled paper
Tea is a refreshing beverage that contains no sodium, fat
carbonation, or sugar. It is virtually calorie-free. Tea helps
maintain proper fluid balance and may even contribute to
overall good health.
Tea contains flavonoids, naturally occurring compounds
that are believed to have antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, which
scientists believe, over time, damage elements in the
body, such as genetic material and lipids, and contribute
to chronic disease.
Every day, new findings from the international scientific
community lend credibility to tea’s healthy properties.
Recent research has explored the potential health
attributes of tea through studies in humans, animal models
and through in vitro laboratory research. For the most
part, studies conducted on green and black tea, which are
both from the Camellia sinensis plant, have yielded
similar results. Recent research suggests that tea and tea
flavonoids may play important roles in various areas of
health and may operate through a number of different
mechanisms still being explored.
As research continues, here are some exciting recent
The current body of research suggests that drinking 3 to 5
cups of tea per day can offer significant heart health
benefits ranging from reducing heart attack risk to
lowering Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or
“bad” cholesterol. For example, one recent study found
that participants who drank more than 16 fl. oz. of black
tea per day had a 50% lower prevalence of cardiovascular
disease (CHD) than non-tea drinkersi. Another study
found that those who drank more than 3 cups of black tea
per day (>375 mL) reduced their risk of heart attack by
43% as compared to non-tea drinkersii. Additionally, a
study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture
(USDA) found that participants who drank 5 cups of
black tea per day along with a diet moderately low in fat
and cholesterol reduced their LDL cholesterol by about
11% after three weeksiii.
Benefits to gastrointestinal (GI) health reaped by teadrinking
seem to be cumulative and dependant upon the
amount of tea consumed per day as well as the number of
tea-drinking years. Findings include the results of a study
finding that women who consumed the equivalent of 2.5
cups of tea per day had a 60% reduction in rectal cancer
risk, compared with women who drank less than 1.2 cups
of tea dailyiv. An additional study found tea drinkers to
have an approximate 42% reduced risk of colon cancer as
compared to non-tea drinkers. Men who drank more than
1.5 cups of tea per day were found to have a 70% lower
colon cancer riskv.
According to University of Arizona research findings,
participants who drank iced black tea and citrus peel had a
42% reduced risk of skin cancervi and hot black tea
consumption was associated with a significantly lower
risk of the most common form of skin cancer, squamous
cell carcinoma (SCC)vii.
Two recent studies found that tea-drinking women had
higher bone mineral density (BMD) measurements than
non-tea drinkersviii, especially in those who had been
habitual tea-drinkers for six or more yearsix. Higher bone
mineral densities is an indicator of strong bones.
Caffeine Content: Tea is naturally low in caffeine. A cup of Black Tea, for
example, contains about 40 milligrams of caffeine.
Cost Per Serving:
Prepared in the home, tea costs about three cents per
serving, cup or glass. Tea continues to remain one of the
most economical beverages available.
The smart choice for today and the millennium.
Now, 85% of the tea consumed in the U.S. is of the iced variety.
• And of course, no one can mention American tea consumption without speaking of December 16, 1773. That’s the date of the Boston Tea Party. Every American middle schooler is brow beaten to know that 342 crates of tea were dumped into Boston Harbor in protest of British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773. (You guys remembered all that … right? Here’s a refresher.)
• Although we might guess the English, with their tradition of High Tea, to be the world’s number one consumers of the aromatic beverage, it’s the Irish who consume the most tea per capita, with an average person handling 4 cups a day (compare that to the U.S., where the average person has a mere half cup each day!)