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I have been pondering about tea this week. It all started after a conversation with a friend over loose leaf versus tea bags. My husband is a coffee drinker and so granules are part of his daily routine, but I have to be honest and say that I like the 'no mess' approach to tea bags. So it got me thinking, was this the purpose of their invention?
Apparently there is some debate about this and as to who invented the tea bag. A chap called Thomas Sullivan who was a tea merchant was said to have started sending samples of his products in silk pouches in 1908. He did not mean for them to necessarily put them straight into hot water in this way but some did and asked for more of the same. However, seven years prior to this a patent was filed for by Roberta C Lawson and Mary Molaren of Milwaukee (which sounds a great deal like the description of a tea bag) with the hope that their invention would cause less waste. Both inventors recognised the need for the leaves to circulate, and so production in gauze rather than silk was decided upon. I guess it was a convenience and perfect portions that drove sales. I cannot imagine life without them now, and my lovely teapot with its inbuilt tea strainer still remains a little unloved.
Then there is the debate of mugs versus cup and saucers. I have thought about this several times over the last 5 years. At shows and through the occasional email I am often asked for a tea cup and saucer in one of the designs. This is a 'must have' for these customers, they simply do not like drinking tea in mugs and I wonder if this is partially now becoming a generational thing or not. The Japanese have a traditional tea ceremony and I feel that the British do, just in a very different form - afternoon tea. This was invented by the 7th Duchess of Bedford called Anna. She is said to have complained of "having that sinking feeling" during the late afternoon. At the time it was usual for people to take only two main meals a day, breakfast, and dinner at around 8 o'clock in the evening. The solution for the Duchess was a pot a tea and a light snack, taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon.
Obviously this then became rather more elaborate. I think it is lovely to 'go out' now and book a little afternoon tea table, it feels so decadent and special. This is much the way I feel about using a tea cup and saucer. On the other hand there was the invention of the mug around the start of the 20th century. Handles for teacups and mugs are seen by many historians as a very western addition to the beautiful Japanese tea bowls that burnt hands too often. The mug holds an ample amount of liquid and it is also perfect for increasingly popular coffee drinking. We decided at Julia Davey that the size of mug was very important when it comes to drinking tea and coffee. The larger size mug we make is generally viewed by most as a tea mug and the smaller for coffee. We also added a children's mug to our range in Spring as so many youngsters love to be all grown up and have some hot chocolate while the adults have theirs. You would not believe how many mugs we looked at to gauge the thickness of casting, feel of the handle and width/depth of the body. Any feedback on this is always gratefully received.
What do you prefer? Do you think that it makes a real difference having loose tea? And mugs versus tea cup and saucer, is there a better vessel to drink from? I would love to hear what you think!