It is ubiquitous: that tea-filled gauze bag attached to a string with an identifying tag at the end. The tea bag is perhaps one of the great injustices thrust upon tea drinkers everywhere. It wasn’t always so. In fact, the tea bag wasn’t invented until the 20th century. The story goes that an American tea purveyor named Thomas Sullivan began sending out samples of his teas to customers in little silk bags. His customers, thinking this was a more convenient way to brew tea, placed the packets directly into their cups of hot water rather than dumping the tea into the pot directly, as was the tradition. Thus the tea bag was born. Silk eventually gave way to gauze, and today approximately 90% of tea prepared in Britain and America is from such bags.
There are inherent problems with the reliance on tea bags as a means for tea enjoyment. The most glaring is that some of the worlds best teas are not produced for tea bags, so to drink only bagged tea is to miss a huge selection of fabulous teas. A second and related problem is that the tea that is bagged is often no more than the dust from good loose tea. This is often not even bagged in sufficient quantities. The result is a cup of weak tea that lacks the depth of an authentic cup of tea.
There is another less obvious and more philosophic problem with bagged tea. It has to do with how we as modern people approach life. At this point it’s pretty much a given that the pace of our lives has quickened. Everything from information and communication to food preparation has sped up dramatically in the past decade. More and more people rely on fast food for their sustenance (this issue alone is topic enough for another post, or whole blog, or really doctoral thesis) and the results are obvious. Our population is becoming increasingly obese and unhealthy. How do we counteract this epidemic? I believe that one way is to slow down. Take time to prepare a meal, instead of wolfing down something from the golden arches as you drive in your car. Stop and take the ten minutes required to brew a pot of authentic loose-leaf tea and then breath and enjoy it. If we spend our lives racing around, by the end all we’ll remember is the race and not the life.
I, for one, would prefer to savor the pot of Earl Grey I shared with my husband over breakfast of eggs strata and fruit, given the option between that and a breakfast McSandwich grabbed on the fly with some burnt coffee. And there is always that option. We live the lives we choose for ourselves. If we don’t actively decide to slow down and live a life more balanced, then we will get swept up into the sped up flow of contemporary life. So put down your travel mug, ignore your microwave for a week, stop buying tea that come in bags, and try brewing a pot of Monk’s Blend; you might just find that slowing down and creating a little ceremony in your life is good for you. I know I have.