Many inventions came about because of something accidental the inventor did. This was the case with the tea bag. Tea salesmen used to have to carry around large containers of loose tea. In the early 20th century, teas salesman Thomas Sullivan decided to put his tea samples in small silk bags. He intended for them to open the bags and use the loose tea leaves. But some of his customers mistakenly steeped the entire bag in hot water. They discovered that it was a convenient way to brew tea without the need for a separate infuser or strainer.
This led to the popularization of the tea bag as a convenient method for preparing tea. Over time, the silk bags were replaced with more affordable and disposable materials, such as paper.
Some inventions happened because of a serendipitous accident, but others are invented through intentional innovation. The well-known tea company Lipton, was searching for a better way to make tea more flavorful. They patented a process that presses the tea leaves to bring out more of the natural fresh tea flavor. Then it was added back to the leaves before they dry and package them. This really accents the flavor.
They also discovered that if they pressed the leaves at different times they would get a different taste. For example, the end of the process has a more intense flavor, with less acidity and bitterness. They call it “The Strong One”.
The creative idea
I constantly tell attendees in my audiences to get ideas from other industries. The idea for the patented process for pressing tea leaves came from the cold pressing method used by companies that have high quality olive oil.
Unilever has filed for a patent on a process for ‘tea juice”. The process is a two step one where juice is expressed from fresh tea leaves.
A lot of new tea innovation is happening with extracts. Tea extracts are concentrated forms of tea that are typically derived from tea leaves or other parts of the tea plant. They are often used as flavorings or additives in various food, beverage, and cosmetic products.
Examples of tea extracts
This extract is derived from green tea leaves and is known for its high content of antioxidants, particularly catechins such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Green tea extract is commonly used in dietary supplements, skincare products, and beverages.
Black tea extract is obtained from fermented tea leaves. It contains various compounds such as theaflavins and thearubigins, which give black tea its distinct flavor and color. Black tea extract is used in flavorings, ice creams, baked goods, and beverages.
White tea extract is derived from the young leaves and buds of the tea plant. It is minimally processed and contains a high concentration of antioxidants. White tea extract is often used in skincare products, dietary supplements, and herbal preparations.
Matcha is a powdered form of green tea that is made by grinding shade-grown tea leaves. Matcha extract is concentrated matcha powder that can be used to flavor various foods and beverages. It is popular in matcha-flavored desserts, drinks, and even as an ingredient in face masks or beauty products.
Rooibos is a caffeine-free herbal tea derived from the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant. Rooibos extract is used to add flavor and color to foods, beverages, and cosmetics. It is often used in herbal teas, skincare products, and natural food colorings.
The next time you steep a bag of tea you can thank inventor Thomas Sullivan who accidentally invented the tea bag. Just one of many tea innovations through the years.