On the scale of human misery, having to handle the wet tag of a tea bag ranks pretty far down, somewhere between dribbling a blob of toothpaste onto the edge of the sink and famine — but closer to the toothpaste end, obviously. Even so, it would be wrong to suggest that it is not worthy of contemplation.
Last month, I wrote about life’s minor irritations and minor joys. Among the former was the way that pouring hot water into a mug rapidly can yank the string of a tea bag, pulling the tag over the edge, and creating a floating, sodden paper square that you have to fish out of the liquid.
Just thinking about it makes me want to retire to my fainting couch.
But help is at hand. Many readers wrote in with helpful suggestions on how to prevent this micro-catastrophe. And many included photos and illustrations.
Lynda Maudlin of Chevy Chase had a straightforward solution. “Tie it to the handle,” she wrote.
A Silver Spring reader named Laura wrote, “Place a clip like the one below on your cup and use it to clip the tag end of the tea bag to the outside of the cup while the tea bag is steeping inside. The tag will never again fall into the cup and the world will not end!”
Well, the world will end — eventually. It just won’t be because of a wet tea bag tag.
Wayne Williams of Lake Ridge explained that his tea bag tag expertise came about after much practice. He and his wife enjoy a cup of tea while watching TV at night. “It is my job to make the tea,” Wayne wrote. “I found a solution to keep the tea bag tag in its place.”
The photo he sent illustrated how to wrap the string around the handle of a spoon before you pour.
The photo that Thomas Leo Briggs of Rockville sent included two mugs, each showing a different approach to this vexing problem. The one on the right represents his wife Jerol’s solution. “I eventually rejected it because I sought something that provided an easier way to get rid of the tea bag after the tea was ready to drink,” he wrote. “Too much trouble wrapping it around the cup handle and then unwrapping it.”
Thomas’s solution is on the left: the tag resting under the mug, the string taut. “It keeps the bag in place, leaves it right where the hot water can flow into it, and in one easy motion I can remove the bag and pop it into the trash bin.”
Jane Smith of Herndon wrote: “I suggest pouring the water into the mug first, adding the tea bag, and tucking the string and tag through the handle. I haven’t had a floating tag in a long time.”
The District’s Randall R. Bovbjerg had a tip that was similarly simple: “Just put your thumb or finger on the string against the side of the cup/mug. It won’t get hot fast enough to hurt. Or, hold it against the handle.”
Of course, some people would never find themselves in this situation. These are purists who scoff at tea bags, preferring to use loose tea, employing a tea ball or straining out the leaves. Is loose tea superior?
Not necessarily, said Bruce Richardson, Kentucky-based tea expert and co-author with Jane Pettigrew of the upcoming “A Social History of Tea.” The problem with tea bags used to be that they were too small, constricting the tea and preventing the even flow of water. They also were usually filled with poor-quality milled tea. Now high-end tea suppliers are adopting pyramidal sachets, which are large enough to hold high-grade loose tea.
“I call it a tea bag you can be proud of,” Bruce said. Many of these new bags don’t have strings or tags at all, meaning my “problem” may become a thing of the past.
Bruce noted that there’s still the issue of what to do with the used tea bag when you’re at a restaurant. Squeezing it to get more flavor is a faux pas. And putting it on your saucer makes a mess.
“You don’t want to leave it in the cup, because then it oversteeps,” he said. “Encourage your readers to ask for a separate side dish to dispose of it with.”
Consider yourselves encouraged. Now, should I put the kettle on?
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.