Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea importer, mistakenly invented tea bags in 1908 when he sent the loose leaves to clients in small silk bags to cut costs. In turn, they steeped the entire bag to make their brew. As a result, his buyers were more interested in having their brew pre-packaged in silk sacks than they were receiving the leaves in loose form. Sullivan didn’t realize this until many of his most important clients started to complain that the orders they received were not in bags. Since silk was too expensive, he opted to used gauze sacks to package his blends and fulfill his orders.
Leftovers from tea processing in the form of “fannings” and “dust” were used to fill the bags, as is done today. Tea fannings (small broken pieces of leaves) and tea dust (that has the consistency of rough powder), typically yield an inferior taste and drinking experience for true connoisseurs.