Over recent weeks and months many a weighty topic has been considered on this blog. Empty homes, unscrupulous private landlords, our precious public libraries and the weak-kneed ‘austerity’ politicians of Westminster have all come under my unflinching, sceptical and occasionally amused gaze. So today I thought I’d deal with another issue that’s been bothering me for some time. Yes, why do tea bags come in twos?
I raised this question via email with a few friends last night, and caused a fair amount of both comment and abuse. So naturally it seemed wise to give the question a wider airing on here.
First, the statistical evidence. Now I’m well aware that not ALL tea bags come in twos. But let’s just wander out to the kitchen here and see what tea bags are currently living there.
Stepping forward proudly and claiming to be from Yorkshire.
And actually a blend of Assam, Kenyan and Rwandan tea leaves.
A breakfast selection?
Rich and malty for later in the day?
Not even a ‘proper’ tea in many eyes?
So there’s your proof. But why do they come in twos?
Is it because that’s how many tea bags you’d put in the average pot? Certainly when I made Sarah here the pot of tea featured at the top of this post I did indeed put two bags in. It was breakfast time and she likes two or three cups sometimes. But the tea she’s just brought in for me now to fuel this important discourse has come in a mug containing one bag. The way it does most of the day.
So why do nearly all of the tea bags in our house come in perforated pairs? I don’t know. But since I’m sat at a computer I’ve put this question to the world wide internet.
- Yorkshire Tea says it’s ‘so they don’t fall over’ and gives some explanation about their manufacture that I don’t understand and couldn’t care less about. (See below for a fuller explanation.)
- Yahoo Answers basically agrees with this, though also gives other answers about ‘easier packaging’ (again about the manufacturer’s convenience, not our’s). Plus one bizarre suggestion that ‘all tea bags are married.’
Seeking wiser advice I turned, naturally, to the UK Tea & Infusions Association, where I found this wise explanation for the existence of the tea bag:
“The purpose of the tea bag is rooted in the belief that for tea to taste its best, the leaves ought to removed from the hot water at the end of a specific brewing period. Then there is the added benefit of convenience – a removable device means that tea can be made as easily in a mug as in a pot, without the need for a tea strainer, and that tea pots can be kept clean more easily.”
All very logical but why do they come in twos? Reading on I’m regaled with the history of tea bags. Delighting to see we British were slow on their uptake:
“While the American population took to tea bags with enthusiasm, the British were naturally wary of such a radical change in their tea-making methods. This was not helped by horror stories told by Britons who had visited the USA, who reported being served cups of tepid water with a tea bag on the side waiting to be dunked into it (an experience which is still not as uncommon in the USA as it should be!).
The material shortages of World War Two also stalled the mass adoption of tea bags in Britain, and it was not until the 1950s that they really took off. The 1950s were a time when all manner of household gadgets were being promoted as eliminating tedious household chores, and in keeping with this tea bags gained popularity on the grounds that they removed the need to empty out the used tea leaves from the tea pot. The convenience factor was more important to the British tea-drinker than the desire to control the length of infusion time, hence the appearance of tea bags that did not have strings attached.”
But an explanation about why they come in twos? Silence reigns.
So Yorkshire Tea’s ‘convenience of the manufacturer’ explanation is as close as we get to an answer then? Seems so, and if that’s really the reason tea bags come in twos then I’m left feeling angry rather than frustrated at the numbers of them I’ve accidentally ripped open over the years. All because the manufacturers are leaving us, the purchasers to finish off the production process for them and tear the pairs in two? It’s not good enough.
So, continuing with the statistical evidence from our kitchen I find some tea bags that don’t, in fact, come in twos.
These things don’t even call themselves tea bags. Opting instead for the downright poncy ‘tea temples’.
And yes, reader, I admit, I bought the things – in a fit of curiosity.
Last night on email I was informed by someone who’d done some work for PG Tips, that they too share this shape.
“I think you will find that the largest selling tea brand in Britain is PG Tips, made with a molins machine similar to those used to make cigarettes. It produces individual tetrahedral shaped bags, often mistakenly called pyramid bags. Approximately 23% of the UK tea bag market and works out at about 1.4 pence per cup.
Goes in dry, comes out wet and can give enormous pleasure to two people if used correctly.”
So that’s us both informed and told!
But do we have to drink tea from bags at all? Let’s go back to the kitchen.
Sarah maintains it ‘tastes better’ and bought herself that attractive tea strainer to go with it. But has it replaced the regular, every day use of tea bags? No, because we don’t like emptying the pot into the compost every day.
Though we do have an alternative device, that’s also not much used.
Yes, sort of a tea bag that you fill up yourself. Funny how it hasn’t come riveted to another infuser. I thought most tea bags came in twos?
Another ‘real tea’ device, mentioned by Cathy in the comments below is this Caddymatic. Something that would reliably deposit tea where you didn’t want it to.
“It always emitted a sly extra spoonful all over the cabinet as soon as you turned away, causing much blaspheming.”
Anyway, time to put the kettle on again. However it’s packaged us English seem to rely on enormous amounts of tea don’t we?OK? Tea break over. Next time we’ll be back to politics, philosophy and all that important walking around stuff!