A way to get a self-contained, no-muss jolt of caffeine may seem like a quintessentially 21st-century need—but the original single-serving, low-cleanup caffeine delivery method actually hit the market more than 100 years ago ago.
There’s some debate about who invented the very first tea bag. One of the most popular legends has it that American tea importer Thomas Sullivan shipped out samples of his product in silk pouches in 1908, not intending his customers put them directly in the hot water that way, but some tried it and asked for more of the same.
Seven years earlier, though, Roberta C. Lawson and Mary Molaren of Milwaukee filed for a patent for a “tea leaf holder” that also resembles what we use today. “By this means,” they wrote, “only so much of tea-leaves is used as is required for the single cup of tea,” making less waste. As they detailed in their application, the bag needed to hold the tea leaves together so that they didn’t float into the drinker’s mouth, but not so tightly that the water could not circulate through them to be infused. Their design used a stitched mesh fabric; Sullivan, too, would later switch from silk to gauze after he saw that the weave of silk was too fine for optimal infusing.
No matter who got to it first, the invention solved two problems at once: how to make single serving tea-brewing more convenient, and how to reduce cleanup—throwing out a teabag is much easier than cleaning loose leaves out of a pot.
Tea manufacturer Lipton, which is the world’s biggest tea company, celebrated its 125th anniversary this summer. Though Thomas Lipton’s initial venture wasn’t the first to use bags for individual servings of tea, the company does claim credit for the idea of printing brewing instructions on the tags, as seen in the photo above. And, while the brand has made a few tweaks over the years, its basic tea bag has remained the same for six decades. Even the contents have hardly changed: “The amount of black tea that Lipton uses in a teabag has stayed the same since the ‘flo-thru’ bag was introduced in 1952,” explains John Cheetham, Lipton Tea Master. (That’s about 30 leaves per bag.)
Some have tried to revolutionize tea-steeping; Keurig, for instance, has even manufactured tea pods for its K-Cup machines, taking the wait time out of steeping. Others have tried to de-evolutionize tea steeping; there are loose-leaf purists just as there are pour-over coffee enthusiasts. But the teabag is so brilliant, it really does not need improvement; from Bigelow to Twinings, the little mesh bag stapled to a string works every time. As John Harney of Harney & Sons once said, all a teabag needs to be lifted to perfection is “furiously boiling water” and five minutes’ steeping—“no more, no less.”
The simple teabag has required no modification since its invention a century ago—and a century from now, it’s a safe bet we’ll be brewing our cuppa the same exact way.
The “pye”—as it used to be spelled—is a venerable dish, which can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. But those pastry-based dishes weren’t the desserts we tend to think of today. Instead, they were overwhelmingly savory dishes. And for good reason: the crusts could help the contents of the pie (meat, typically) last a little longer than they would otherwise.
Even apple pies didn’t used to look the way they do now:
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Pie
Eggnog is centuries old, it turns out:
But it wasn’t always associated with the end-of-year holiday season. That happened when the drink came to the Americas; even George Washington had his own signature recipe for eggnog, which by his time had begun to be made with rum.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Eggnog
This peculiarly patterned breakfast staple has a surprisingly long and illustrious history. The ancient Greeks used a tool kind of like a waffle iron to make cakes, and the treat came to the New World with some of its earliest European settlers:
But it wasn’t until the 1930s that a California family combined instant waffle mix, electricity and ingenuity to come up with a way to mass-produce waffles. The eventual result, if you haven’t already guessed, was Eggos.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Waffles
Peanut butter’s origins are a bit mysterious. Contrary to the popular myth that George Washington Carter came up with the idea, there’s evidence that some version of peanut butter was being made at least a couple decades before he published his 1916 text How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption:
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Peanut Butter
Unlike peanut butter, Buffalo wings have a an easily identified origin: Buffalo, N.Y. But what exactly happened to spark its birth is a little blurrier:
In one version of the story, the dish was invented merely to get rid of a surplus of chicken wings; in another version, Bellissimo’s son specifically asked for wings.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Buffalo Wings
The American maple-syrup industry can be traced back to the 17th century, when farmers began to tap the trees on their properties for a sweetener that was, at the time, cheaper than sugar:
The old system of making maple syrup—leaving buckets under taps, collecting sap, hauling the buckets to the sugar house to be heated—was eventually widely replaced by a method that used tubes and vacuums rather than buckets and gravity.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Maple Syrup
Salt isn’t technically a food in itself, but it makes so many foods taste so much better that we couldn’t leave it off the list. Plus, its history is one of the longest, most interesting food stories out there, dating all the way back to the days when, as TIME put it in 1982, “animals wore paths to salt licks [and] men followed.” Salt was, eventually, one of the pillars of civilization:
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Salt
Though the word “barbecue” is misapplied to all manner of grilled meats, it actually refers to a specific process (indirect heat, slow cooking) and comes from a specific tradition:
Eventually, barbecue separated into several regional styles with their own preferences for meats and flavors.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Barbecue
So, you run out and make or buy all these foods, now that they’re on your mind, but there’s no way you can eat them all right away. Which brings us to leftovers. It’s not as if someone had to “invent” the idea of saving what remains at the end of a meal—after all, in the pre-modern feast-and-famine cycle, saving the fruit of the harvest was a matter of life and death. But that doesn’t mean that the look of leftovers hasn’t changed over the years. Thanks, largely, to refrigeration:
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Leftovers
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