hand putting a pyramid tea bag in a hot water cup in the morning
Михаил Руденко/iStock/GettyImages

Going to an afternoon tea party may mean drinking tea that has been steeped using a tea ball or loose leaf tea. However, the majority of people use tea bags to brew their black, green or herbal tea drinks. Dunk the tea bag in hot water, swirl it and allow it to steep, remove it and drink your tea with no loose leaves floating in your cup. What could be simpler? Tea bags have been popular in America for the past century, but the material the bags are made from has changed drastically in that time.


A tea bag is a small porous bag or envelope that holds tea or herbs. This bag is dipped into hot water and allowed to steep. It can then be removed to keep the tea free of loose leaves. Most tea bags are made out of a paper fiber.


Tea has been used as a beverage for more than 4,000 years. Loose leaf tea was not replaced by tea bags until the 20th century. In 1908, a New York City tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan sent samples of hie tea to customers packaged in small silk bags. Many of his customers dunked the bags into water to steep, and thus was born the tea bag. The silk bags were replaced by gauze and then, eventually, by treated paper bags.


Tea bag paper is made primarily from abaca hemp, a product of a Philippine banana tree that is also known as Manila hemp. This hemp is bleached and processed. The tea bags are then treated with a heat-sealable thermoplastic such as PVC or polypropylene on the inside.


While the majority of tea bags are made out of paper, there are still some bags made from silk, nylon or muslin.


The majority of tea bags are shaped as rectangular or square envelopes. Some newer shapes include round bags and pyramid shapes. The latest trend in tea bags is to have a strainer bag with an open top that boiling water is poured through rather than a closed bag that steeps in the water. The newer shapes cut down on the amount of adhesive used in the bags.