Clipper ShipSpeedy clipper ships brought tea to America and England. Painting by Bruce Von Stetina | Wikimedia Commons.



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August 2005
Updated January 2010

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Beverages

The History of Tea

Page 8: Clipper Ships & The American Tea Trade; American Tea Inventions; Favorite Tea Books

This is Part 8 of an 8-page article. Click on the black links below to view other pages.



Clipper Ships and the American Tea Trade

By the 1850s, American clipper ships were importing tea directly from China. In the wake of the British East India Company’s downfall and the repeal of the Navigation Acts, which dictated that all tea must be shipped directly from England to colonist ports, clipper ships became the preferred method for transporting tea. Built for speed, these graceful and sleek vessels with three masts easily outpaced trading ships. British and Americans clippers raced back and forth between China and their home ports, carrying the best teas for auction.

American Tea Inventions

During the 19th century, tea drinking played an important role in social life—from tea parties to afternoon tea—in both England and America. New tea traditions began to develop in America as the beverage’s popularity grew.

The Tea Bag

The original tea bags were hand-made, hand-stitched muslin or silk bags. Patents for tea bags exist as early as 1903 (see sketch at right).

However, Thomas Sullivan, a tea merchant from New York, is often credited with creating the first commercially successful tea bag concept. He created the pouches to send samples of tea to commercial customers, and they were a big hit.

Iced Tea

Iced tea originated in 1904 at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. A tea merchant and plantation owner from abroad had intended to provide visitors with free hot tea samples. Due to the unusually hot weather, it was not a big hit.

  Tea Bag Holder
The schematic for an early tea bag, or “tea leaf holder.”

To promote sales, he asked a nearby ice cream vendor for some ice. The American iced tea tradition was born when he dumped the ice into the hot brewed tea.

Tea is the world’s most popular beverage, after water. In the United States, it is fifth in popularity, following water, coffee, soft drinks and juice; although, as so many foods have evolved, it is bottled iced tea sales that make up about 80% of the U.S. tea market. Despite the growing interest in fine tea, grab-and-go bottled tea is likely to remain on top.


Sources:,, Wikipedia, Kendra Wilhelm

Favorite Tea Books: Steep Like A Pro

The Tea Companion The London Ritz Book Let's Have A Tea Party
The Tea Companion—A Connoisseur’s Guide: An authoritative guide to understanding, purchasing and serving fine tea. Click here for more information. The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea: Capture the essence of a traditional British tea. Click here for more information. Let’s Have A Tea Party: Surprise a young dame with a tea party primer. Click here for more information.


Tea Is Served

Teapot Teaspoons Teacup
Modern Teapot: Bring your tea into the 21st century with this modern teapot. Click here for more information. Stainless Steel Teaspoons: An elegant way to stir and sip your tea. Click here for more information. Beaker Teacups: These classic-modern beaker style teacups add an edge to this historic beverage. Click here for more information.


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