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In the bag.

Teabags have been around for longer than most of us can remember, and are an easy, convenient way to make a perfect cuppa every time. Not many people stop to wonder why the paper doesn't disintegrate in the hot water or even how tea got into the bag in the first place, but since the first teabag was "discovered" in the 1920s, technology has moved forward apace. The seemingly simple teabag has quietly evolved through a sophisticated blend of scientific disciplines into a marvel of design and practicality--and now seeks to carve its own niche in the heart of the specialty market.

In the 1920's, tea taster's samples were wrapped in muslin. One day, according to Michael D. Black, general manager, of Ahlstrom's food products fiber composites division, "a sample bag fell into some water and the tea brewed, and a taster realized that putting tea portions in muslin bags could be a very convenient way of dispensing tea,"

The costs were high though, and it wasn't until the 1930s that Dexter, a company Ahlstrom purchased in 2000, invented a way to make very lightweight and strong paper in a continuous production cycle with their wet laid inclined wire paper machine,

At about this time, abaca was introduced as a very strong natural fiber, economical to process, and the first commercial teabags began to roll off the production line in the mid 1930s.

Evolution

Teabags evolved in decade-spaced leaps and bounds from the 1960s on, when perforations were first introduced. As new technologies and refinements became available and clearer understandings of tea steeping processes infused the industry, teabag machines became faster and more sophisticated, and fiber suppliers developed new ways to keep pace with increasing demands on their products. Today, a textilization process allows producers the option of including their logo or message on the teabag, and ensures that the strength, porosity, particle retention, speed of infusion and blend of fibers is correct.

The fiber supplier in essence designs and supplies a unique material conforming to precise chemical, physical and mechanical specifications to the teabag manufacturer.

Teabag manufacturers also have many new options open to them. Heat-sealed and ultrasonic welded seams, bio-degradable and unconventional materials, metal-free tag attachments, different shapes, sizes and infusion characteristics are all in demand,

A recent innovation that seems to be catching on is the tetrahedral pyramid design, which is claimed to offer superior infusion characteristics. Lipton launched one such teabag in the U.K. in 2003. Herb and specialty tea producers race different challenges getting their product into a bag, and machine manufacturers have developed effective solutions for these segments of the market as well. Many machines can handle different types of filler, and can blend and pack various products to high standards of consistency.

Asked what he sees as being the major trends in the teabagging industry, IMA's Marius Olzewski quickly identifies the specialty markets. "Specialty tea has the largest potential in out industry. Over the last 10 years, the specialty tea segment of the market has shown the most growth. In the black tea market, consumption has been stable in industrialized countries, but to be more efficient, factories are replacing older equipment with fully automated lines, in developing markets, we see high consumption of loose teas but with a faster pace of life evolving, there is a growing interest and higher consumption of tea in the form of the teabag."

One size doesn't fit all

Teabag manufacturers come in all shapes and sizes, from multinational global suppliers to small specialty growers and packers, and the market has developed to embrace the best solutions for all types of producers.

Machinery for high volume production lines and small-scale specialty or herb tea packers is available off the shelf, and complete production line solutions, from advanced, electronically monitored and controlled high volume complete leaf to warehouse systems to highly functional low-tech leaf to bag to box lines are also popular. Innovations crop up regularly, and new ideas are constantly being assessed and developed.

Teabag materials are undergoing constant change and refinement, and consumers are becoming better informed as to their choices and the benefits each brings to the cup of tea in their hands, and simple teabag no longer seems quite as simple as we thought.

But in this age of convenience and speed, the humble teabag is definitely with us to stay.

Teabag Machine Manufacturers

NASA Corp.

The Japanese company NASA Corp. designs, manufactures and exports high quality teabag machines to Europe and North America as well as supplying a large segment of the domestic Japanese market. Among products Nasa has developed is a high tech polyester mesh tetrahedral pyramid teabag with invisible ultrasonic seams. The bag looks as though it is made from one piece, and when it has tea inside, it somehow looks as though it is the perfect tea steeping system. NASA also supplies biodegradable teabags and systems aimed at the Japanese market, and expects to introduce these for export to Europe by 2005.

IMA

Among its many industrial lines, Industria Machine Automatiche of Italy--or IMA as they are more widely known, has been manufacturing teabagging machines for over 40 years now. IMA enjoys product penetration of around 60% worldwide, reaching as high as 90% in some markets, and counts tea producing nations and highly industrialized countries among their most valued clients.

The latest machine, the C24, sets a new trend, producing up to 350 teabags a minute. "The C24 filter bag is based on a traditional non heat sealable double chamber bag that guarantees optimum infusion efficiency enabling the natural tea aroma to flow out," says IMA North America's Marius Olzewski. "No metal staple or additional packaging materials are required to fix the tag and the cotton thread to the bag. The C24 is the first of its type to cover all segments of the tea market providing customers with many choice: single or double chamber, string, pillows. You can easily set it up for herb teas and changing product lines is simple and quick.

"This machine sets the trend. A single rejection system for faulty bags ensures all bags going into the box are perfect," says Olzweski. "There's a camera system checking the shape of the string stitch, if its out of spec, the bag is rejected. If there's no tea, the string or tag are missing or in the wrong position, the bag is rejected. This is the only machine available with this system."

IMA designs and installs complete teabag and coffee pod production lines for clients around the world, working with over 2,500 international agents.

H & S Tee

H&S Tee is another teabag machine manufacturer and exporter. An innovative company since 1949, H&S Tee supplies the teabagging and tea packing industries with machinery, produce their own brand of tea and also packs teas on contract for clients. This is an ideal solution for a small company that wants to see its products bagged but can't afford the set-up costs involved in purchasing the machinery, or whose production run doesn't justify the expense, while appealing to large companies looking to set up a new teabag line.

H&S Tee has introduced a new, larger-sized teabag suitable for pot infusion a large, holding 9 to 10 grams of tea. The bag has an innovative cardboard flap that sits over the lip of the pot and displays a printed logo or message.

"The seam is concealed, the product looks good and the tea infuses better," says H&S Tee's Holger Kiesewalter.

H&S Tee supplies high quality, affordable teabag production lines and has found many satisfied export customers throughout Asia, especially in Sri Lanka, and in Russia and the Ukraine. "We specialize in smaller companies with lower productions runs," says Kiesewalter "Our machines run at perhaps half the speed of some of out competitors but are up to one third of the price. Low energy consumption is another point to consider as our machines use less electricity than a hair dryer, you can produce 175 teabags a minute for less than one kilowatt."
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Title Annotation:CupService; origins of the teabag and the companies that manufacture them
Author:Mitchell, Heneage
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:1345
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