In 1907, American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began distributing samples of his tea in small bags of Chinese silk with a drawstring. Consumers noticed they could simply leave the tea in the bag and reuse it with fresh tea. However, the potential of this distribution/packaging method would not be fully realized until later on. During World War II, tea was rationed in the United Kingdom. In 1953 (after rationing in the UK ended), Tetley launched the tea bag to the UK and it was an immediate success.
Tea leaves are packed into a small envelope (usually composed of paper) known as a tea bag. The use of tea bags is easy and convenient, making them popular for many people today. However, the use of tea bags has negative aspects, as well. The tea used in tea bags is commonly fanning’s or "dust", the waste product produced from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea. However, this is not true for all brands of tea; many high quality speciality teas are available in bag form. Tea aficionados commonly believe this method provides an inferior taste and experience.
The paper used for the bag may also be tasted, which can detract from the tea's own flavor. Because fanning and dust are a lower quality of the tea to begin with, the tea found in tea bags is less finicky when it comes to brewing time and temperature. Additional reasons why bag tea is considered less well-flavored include:
Dried tea loses its flavor quickly on exposure to air. Most bag teas contain leaves broken into small pieces; the great surface area to volume ratio of the leaves in tea bags exposes them to more air, and therefore causes them to go stale faster. Loose tea leaves are likely to be in larger pieces, or to be entirely intact.
Breaking up the leaves for bags extracts flavored oils. The small size of the bag does not allow leaves to diffuse and steep properly. The "pyramid tea bag" (or sachet) introduced by Lipton and PG Tips/Scottish Blend in 1996, attempts to address one of the connoisseurs' arguments against paper tea bags by way of its three-dimensional tetrahedron shape, which allows more room for tea leaves to expand while steeping. However, some types of pyramid tea bags have been criticized as being environmentally unfriendly, since their synthetic material is not as biodegradable as loose tea leaves and paper tea bags.