The most challenging problem that tea faces today is the popularity of tea bags.
Today, tea bags make up close to 95% of all tea sales in the U.S. These bags, however, usually contain the cheapest materials possible, delivering little more than a brown-colored liquid.
With this as the popular standard, it's not surprising that tea's popularity has faded.
In fact, tea bags came to life due to an accident.
Thomas Sullivan, a tea merchant from New York, was looking for ways to cut production costs by sending loose tea in small, hand-sewn silk pouches instead of costly tins – the standard at the time. His clients, confused by this new packaging, started throwing the bags with tea in hot water.
Sullivan started getting many requests for these "tea bags" and realized he had struck gold. Tea bags first began appearing commercially around 1904 and quickly gained popularity around the world. The silk bags containing tea leaves were quick and easy to clean up, making them enticingly convenient.
This convenience, unfortunately, came at a high price: flavor.
In order for a tea leaf to fully release its flavor, it needs room to expand. Because tea in bags had less room to open up, the quality diminished. So the merchants came up with a solution – smaller leaves, which need much less room to open up.
With this decision, the slippery slope of tea's decline began. Since the size and quality of tea leaves no longer mattered, merchants started using much cheaper grades of tea known as "dust." It is the lowest ranking that tea can achieve – the bottom of the tea barrel. Such "tea" can color the water but retains almost no flavor.
This state of tea mediocrity has been plaguing the west for several decades now. Most sellers in the U.S. offer only bottom-of-the-barrel tea products, leaving consumers to believe there is nothing better available. That is but a far cry from the abundance of flavor and aroma in a cup of full-leaf premium tea.
Rebuilding tea's reputation in the west may seem like a long shot, but let's keep in mind that there once was a time when coffee was all canned, instant, and stale. Then, a few innovative and passionate roasters came along to show consumers how much better it could be. Most people are no longer drinking instant coffee.
The same holds true for tea. So we are working on educating people and providing them with good quality tea, hoping that someday most folks won't be drinking dark-colored water with tea bags inside. Instead, they will enjoy all the flavor, aroma, and health benefits of good quality tea.