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Teabag Wicking

November 18, 2013

If you drink tea at Cafe Dawn, you have noticed that tea service includes a hand-filled teabag, part of which is carefully folded down the side of the teapot.

Things are clean, hot, and carefully done. It’s very nice. However, if you leave the teabag folded down, you will have a puddle of tea on your table. The fabric wicks the tea out of the pot and leaves one to fussily dab at the puddle—pinky in the air.

It is my habit immediately to fold the bag up, but none of my habits are ingrained enough to be fail-safe, especially good ones. So, Saturday I got a puddle. I handled it with grace, and then, since my laptop was at hand, looked up “teabag wicking” via Google.

This is both the glory and the scourge of the World Wide Web. The glory is information at your fingertips. The first page of results from Google gave links to various aspects of teabag wicking.

The first hit was “Change in string causes tea to wick down and puddles under mug.” It was a complaint to customer service at Mighty Leaf Tea. For eight years, this customer had left his teabag in his tea as he drank. Last year, the string changed and became a wick, soaking his desktop. He wanted the string changed back.

Customer service departments might note how not to respond. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this response, except that it is robotic and smacks of dubious sincerity: “Thank you for your interest in Mighty Leaf Tea and for taking the time to contact us. We regret that the tea pouches you purchased blahblahblah … We do take this very seriously … blahblahblah.”

The discussion thread was marked as “Solved.” However, last month customers noted it was still happening.

Another hit pointed to Physics Stack Exchange, a discussion site for physicists, and there someone wondered about curious behavior in the wicking along his teabag string: It seemed to stop at the edge of the cup.

There were cogent comments analyzing the phenomenon, but also some chuckling by those who came to the discussion thinking it was about string theory and Wick rotation—important stuff but less so than tea.

Google results can be amazingly accurate, and they can also return spectacularly false hits. Recently, I searched for “adjustable noise level indicator” and was pointed to a sex toy for sale. I think when Google finds few or no hits, it returns fabulously wild results as a last ditch effort.

In fact, there is a strategy for a complex search yielding nothing in which one adds a single nonsense or unrelated word to the search, merely to shake up new results.

“Teabag wicking” also returned a link to a patent for teabag construction and to the Sloane Tea Company, which touted its non-wicking string, among other fine features.

There was a 20-year-old article in Tea & Coffee Trade Journal about teabag string. At the time, the teabag string industry was buying one million pounds of cotton worldwide.

Teabag string has several handy uses, but my daily black tea is PG Tips, which is stringless. Instead, the bag is pyramidal and usually a corner floats at the surface, where it is easily grabbed with fingertips and flung toward the trashcan.

So, what is the scourge of the WWW? Distraction. It can even stop conversation as your companion pulls out his iPhone, makes those funny gang signs over the screen, and begins searching to verify your last statement of fact.

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