A Brief History
Discover the ancient origins and fascinating history of tea!
The invention of the tea bag is said to have resulted from the small silk sample bags used by Thomas Sullivan, a New York City tea merchant, in 1908 to send out to potential customers. However the 1920's is said to have been the 'decade of the teabag,' and its commercial use developed from the tea egg or tea ball (a perforated metal container on a chain) into a tea bag.
The first bags were made from cloth or gauze and were so described and illustrated Ukers in 1935, around 1935 Messrs Joseph Tetley who had a powerful associate company in the States made a tentative approach to market teabags in the UK. Initial acceptance was slow but Tetley never gave up. The teabag market eventually began to grow in the UK in the 1960's when approx 5% of tea was consumed in bags. By 1965 it had risen to 7% and now, 96% of tea consumed in the UK is done so with teabags.
The earliest tea cups had no handles, being originally imported from China where cups traditionally were more like small beakers. As tea drinking gained popularity, so did the demand for more British-style tea ware.
This fuelled the rapid growth of the English pottery and porcelain industry, which soon became world famous. Most factories making tea ware were located in the Midlands area which became known as "The Potteries". Today, many of the original Potteries are still producing world famous porcelain such as Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and Aynsley.
In the earliest history of tea drinking, tealeaves were simply boiled in open pans. It was the Ming Dynasty
that led the fashion for 'steeping' the leaves and therefore led to the need for a covered potthat would allow the leaves to infuse and keep the liquor hot. Ewers, resembling the modern teapot, that for centuries had been used for wine were now adapted to tea brewing.
By the time the Dutch started carrying cargoes form China back to Europe, the concept of the teapot had developed further, the teapots that they brought back were small, with broad bases and wide spouts, which would not clog easily. As Europe had never seen such Chinese stoneware, it took Dutch potters until late 1670's to reproduce the heat-resistant pots. Two of The Netherlands' most successful potters the Elers brothers settled in Staffordshire and established the English Pottery industry.
The first containers used for the domestic storage of tea were the jars and bottles that arrived from China with shipments of tea. Gradually, European jars and boxes were developed in a wide range of shapes and sizes - round, square and cylindrical boxes, jars and bottles, in silver, crystal, stoneware and wood. The word 'caddy' was not used until the end of the eighteenth century when the word kati - denoting a measure of approximately 1 pound and 5 ounces - was adopted into English.
Early eighteenth century boxes, called tea chests, had two or three separate compartments for different teas and sometimes also for sugar. All were lockable, and the lady of the house guarded the keys. As tea was far too precious and expensive to risk leaving in the charge of the servants, the caddy stayed in the family drawing room.
The Chinese had started producing fruit shaped containers earlier in the eighteenth century, and English and German wooden imitations appeared as pears, apples, strawberries, eggplants and pineapples. Some were painted but most were varnished and their loose-fitting, hinged lids opened to reveal foil-lined cavity that held the tea. As the price of tea decreased toward the end of the nineteenth century, the use of lockable caddies and ornate jars declined as tealeaves were transferred to practical tins and boxes that were stored in the kitchen.
The earliest caddy spoons were long-handled ladles made for use with box-like tea chests. Fromabout 1770, short-stemmed caddy spoons began to appear, designed to fit into shorter, dumpier caddies and often in the form of a miniature scallop shell. This motif originates from the fact that oriental merchants always placed a real scallop shell in the top of tea chests to allow potential buyers to take a sample from the chest before deciding to buy.
Spoons have been manufactured in the form of leaves, acorns, salmon, thistles and shovels but the most popular has always been the shell, the jockey's cap, the hand and the eagle's wing. The 'caddee shell' motif also often appears on teaspoons, tea strainers and sugar tongs.