I’ve been writing about tea gadgets at this fine site for a while now, and not so long ago I began writing a regular monthly feature on the topic – with a side of offbeat tea-related news tossed in for good measure. Yes, I do run across enough tea gadgets in a month’s time to allow me to write a regular column. That’s a lot of gadgets.

Which is nothing new, really. As I wrote in an earlier article, one of the first tea-related patents in the United States was for a device with a rather fancy name but that was essentially just a teapot. But as I skimmed through the patent office files for tea stuff patented prior to 1900, it became apparent that the problem of what to do with tea leaves was one of the main issues inventors of the day sought to resolve.

If you thought for even a moment that the many tea balls and strainers that are available nowadays were a new concept, guess again. As far back as 1861, an enterprising chap named Nathan Ames had come up with a clever but incredibly simple device that attached to the spout of the teapot and solved the problem of what to do with the leftover tea leaves after you’d made your tea. It was just a decade and a half later that Ohio resident John Brewster took a crack at solving this same problem with a removable strainer that ran the length of the teapot and thus could be slipped out and easily rinsed.

Then there’s the tea ball. Tea purists will be only too happy to remind you that these little gadgets often don’t give tea leaves enough breathing room for the water to circulate properly and thus extract the greatest amount of flavor. But that hasn’t stopped enterprising inventors from devising them for more than a century now. For more on this theme, check out these gizmos that were both patented in 1892.

It wasn’t all that long ago – perhaps about a week – that I wrote an article for this site in which I sought out the earliest patent for the humble tea bag. There are said to be such creatures dating back as far as 1896, but in my researches I didn’t run across this device from 1893. The inventor calls it a Tea-Strainer but judging from the drawings and the description it doesn’t seem all that far removed from a you know what.

Last up and perhaps one of my favorites in the Way Out category is this Design for a Sign for Tea Dealers, as the inventor calls it. It was patented in 1881 and I’m pretty sure it will never win any awards for political correctness, but it is an interesting historical relic nonetheless.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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