The Original Single Serve
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The Original Single Serve

Jun 12, 2023

By Anne-Marie Hardie

Long before the first tea pod, capsule, cartridge, or k-cup there was the tea bag (also known as the tea dip). While controversy over who was the initial creator of the bag remains, one thing is certain, the public immediately responded to this convenient, mess-free format.

Beginning in 1908 several companies experimented with a variety of materials to discover which produced the best infusion. Silk gave way to hand-filled cheesecloth, gauze, and muslin which were popular but expensive. Then, in 1930, William Hermanson developed and sold his heat-sealed paper tea bags to the Salada Company. Strings and tabs enhanced the utility but the design was so practical it remains dominate even now. Over the years, the format has evolved, in 1952, Thomas Lipton patented the flo-thru bag and in 1992, Tetley, launched the round tea bag. More recently foil cylinders and stir sticks filled with tea

Knit PLA tea bag

Silk tetrahedral (pyramids) that afforded much greater space for tea leaves to expand were introduced by Brooke Bond/PG Tips in 1996. Innovations have since involved a range of compostable and biodegradable papers and polylactides.

Efficiency mandate

Mainly focused on bagging (cut, tea, curl) CTC tea, once settled on a format, companies seek machinery to maximize their output, at minimal cost. The largest factories can produce billions of tea bags annually.

"One of the current challenges for manufacturers of teabag packaging machines is to meet both the demand and market requirements," said Guillermo Mai, president, IMA Mai S.A, Buenos Aries, Argentina. A leading supplier of single chamber tea bag machines, Mai S.A. is responding to market demand for equipment that improves productivity using faster machinery with increased automation and performance. Their latest innovation, the EC24, does exactly that. Equipped with automatic cartooning, this machinery fills, tags, seals, and packs up to 240 tea bags a minute. "The future for tea equipment is to get faster and highly automatic machines that provide a production with extremely high yields and have a conception in design that allows them to be flexible to achieve the teabag with its final packaging without making changes to the machine," said Mai.

Photo courtesy of IMA Mai S.A.

This IMA MAISA EC24 carton maker is an example of advanced automation in packaging. The machine fills, tags, seals, and packs into cartons up to 240 tea bags a minute.

Advances in research and development, has enabled manufacturers to develop tea bag machinery that does more. On example of this is Teepack's Compacta HS module which can be attached to the basic machine to pack the products in heat sealed foil to protect the integrity of the tea. The knotting unit has also been refined, providing a stable tight knot without requiring an expensive needle upgrade. "With the new knotting unit customers need less spare parts for their machine and can reduce maintenance time resulting in lower costs," explained Roland Delapille, head of sales, tea bag machines, Teepack, Cologne, Germany.

Individual tea bag over wrapping for a tea bag is becoming more common both to preserve freshness and for those consumers wanting hygienic and premium design. Manufacturers are beginning to seek out machinery that not only forms the bag, but will also wrap the product. FUSO's FT-II responds to this needs by overwrapping up to 3,000 pyramidal tea bags an hour. The overwrap machinery can be used as a stand-alone machine or through interlocking the system with the tea bag making machinery.

FUSO translucent tea bags

With increased interest in hot tea, the US consumer has become more sophisticated shifting their consumption to loose leaf tea. Within black tea, Euromonitor's January 2017, Coffee in US report stated that loose (standard and specialty combined) grew by 5% in off-trade volume terms compared with a 3% decline for bags (standard and specialty combined).

Tea was no longer being purchased for its convenience, but for its quality, with consumers actively looking for products that had larger leaves, and visible spices and flowers.

The double and single chamber format traditionally used CTC tea, as the consistent size of the leaf, ensured an efficient and consistent infusion. However; the limited space in these bags and smaller openings impacted the infusion of larger leaf products.

To appeal to this growing sector, tea bag manufacturers needed to offer a bag that reflected that premium experience. The solution was the pyramid sachet. These sachet were first introduced to the tea drinking population in the early 90s, providing an elegant yet simple option for these on-the-go consumers. "Whole leaf tea, herbal tea, flower and fruit tea can be packed in the triangular tea bag without any damage," said Tomomi Yajima, sales administration department, NASA Corporation. "While the mesh filter lends itself towards a better extraction." Triangular sachets is an investment that manufacturers should not take lightly. Consumers perceive these sachets as a premium product, and manufacturers need to ensure that their product delivers this experience. "Many copy-cats are getting into this segment with inexpensive machinery," said Yajima. "However; manufacturers need to also pay attention to production efficiency and product quality, if they are spending all the time repairing their machinery then the investment is wasted."

Andrea Testi -

Capsule machine by Spreafico Automation

An additional challenge for manufacturers is the increased production time for sachets. The FUSO line of pyramid tea bag machinery ranges from 50 bags a minute to 120 bags a minute for a triangular sachet, compared to 200 plus bags a minute for single and double chamber products. The right machinery can ensure that the product delivers the premium experience, and the higher price tag, associated with these types of products.

Innovations in the material of the sachet has also helped to expand the pyramidal market, with biodegradable options responding to the environmentally conscious consumer. While the type of weave of the fabric, will have an impact on the overall extraction. One of the newest method is the knit weave, which is created through forming the PLA fibres into a mesh layer." The knit is made from multifilament, compared to a single filament," said Yajima. "This design naturally provides a better extraction."

For those companies that are still wanting the higher production levels of a rectangular tea bag, IMA's CT30 offers manufacturers a completely transparent tea bag that can be filled at a production speed of 300 bags per minute. The single chamber tea bag can be produced with both woven or nonwoven filter material, which is then sealed using an ultrasound technique.

Pyramids are commonly sold in nitrogen filled envelopes produced 50-60 bags per minute on equipment like that from Tecpacking, a global manufacturer based in Tianjin, China.

Not just for tea

For those consumers that are wanting to brew multiple cups, there are now hand bag and long tea bags available. This is also ideal for those manufacturers who want to offer an iced tea selection for their customers. However; one of the newest trends is tea bags for coffee. FUSO's drip bag filter is one example of this, with the ability to flush nitrogen right into the single serve product preserving the freshness of the grind. "In Japan, there are approximately 2 billion cups consumed each year, it's an extremely large market," said Yajima. "And this trend is expanding throughout Asia."

Consumers desire for convenient and innovative packaging will continue to drive an interest in tea packaging. Although there has been a slight decline in tea bag purchases in the US, the largest segment of the market retains a preference for tea bags. Continued research and development ensure the humble but versatile teabag will continue to evolve.

By Anne-Marie Hardie Efficiency mandate Not just for tea