Consumption up!

Ben Wolford

For 100 years the tea bag has been “leafing” its mark in steaming cups of water around the globe.

When New York tea importer Thomas Sullivan’s customers mistakenly brewed his tea leaves in their little silk packages in June 1908, the world’s second-most consumed beverage (behind water) reached a new level of convenience.

Before then, tea drinkers were forced to steep the leaves directly in the water and then filter them out, which some people still like to do.

“I prefer loose leaves,” said Emily Douglass, manager of Susan’s Coffee and Tea in Kent. “But tea bags are more convenient.”

Sullivan and his serendipitous customers apparently had the right idea.

According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., which compiles statistics on U.S. tea retail trends every year, more than 65 percent of tea brewed in 2007 was made from tea bags.

Loose leaf tea accounted for less than 10 percent.

In all, Americans drank more than 2.5 billion gallons of tea in 2007.

Lipton, one of the world’s largest tea brands, has 79 varieties and has made some modifications to the typical paper bag, now selling pyramid-shaped nylon mesh tea bags.

Starbucks has yet to cash in on that innovation, but there isn’t a loose leaf to be found.

“The tea that we brew is the same line that we sell (Tazo tea brand),” said Emily Walter-Daigneau, manager of the Kent Starbucks. “It’s all tea bags, which I guess is appropriate (in light of the centennial).”

While tea sales in the U.S. have gone up every year for the past 16 years, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., it’s still not the caffeinated beverage of choice in the States like it is elsewhere in the world.

The National Coffee Association found in 2007 that 79 percent of Americans drank coffee at least occasionally; 50 percent drank tea.

But while coffee is the clear favorite at Starbucks, Walter-Daigneau sells a steady supply of tea.

“We’ve always had a pretty consistent base of tea drinkers,” she said.

Nathan Gibson, senior interpersonal communications major, is one of them.

He drinks tea daily, and comes in “just to sit and read,” he said as he nursed a sweating iced black tea.

It’s the same at Susan’s, where coffee is outselling tea, but they have tea-drinking minority, Douglass said.

They don’t come in and sit down for afternoon tea, though.

“Usually they come in on their way to work like most of our customers,” she said.

And why shouldn’t they? Sullivan’s tea bag makes brewing it quick and easy.

Contact principal reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].