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I am investigating the possibility of making my own reusable tea bags. There are several types of textiles to choose from, each with their own pros and cons:

  • Paper tea bags are cheap and common, but tend to impart a bleach-like flavor onto the tea.
  • Nylon is also a common choice, but I have concerns about its tendency to leach micro plastics into the tea.
  • Cotton bags are easy enough to clean, but aren't convenient because of how they might carry over flavor from previous brews.
  • Finally, there is silk, which I consider to be the best option because of its more hydrophobic quality.

So, here are my questions:

  • What type of silk should I ask for at the textile store? I found the following types to choose from: Charmeuse, Chiffon, Crêpe-de-chine, Dupion, Georgette, Habotai, Organza, Satin, Tussah, and Velvet
  • At what temperature would this type of silk start to decompose? (Anything above 100C should be fine)
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  • Given that the silk worm in its cocoon is boiled to release the silk and kill the pupa, I think 100 C should be fine.
    – bob1
    Mar 9, 2023 at 22:16
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    Beyond the interesting challenge, why are you looking to make bags rather than use a typical metal tea infuser?
    – dbmag9
    Mar 10, 2023 at 0:32
  • … or a tea-strainer, much loved since Victorian times, if not before. It just sounds like a solution trying to find a problem. Just make the tea in a pot, like generations before the tea bag.
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 10, 2023 at 18:46
  • Allow me to explain 😁. You see, I lead a nomadic lifestyle - having things available to me on the go is very important to me. Thus, I have searched for tumblers that would let me brew and drink tea away from home. For reasons that are too long to explain here, I settled for a glass tumbler with two separate cavities - one for loose leaves and the other for water. With a single rotation, I can let the two mix and even brew tea twice. Problem: Cleaning out loose tea from the bottom cavity on the go is a tedious task. Ideally, it should be as effortless as putting in the first serving. Mar 10, 2023 at 20:19
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    A metal tea infuser (e.g. this generic example: cupoftea.co.uk/stainless-steel-tea-ball-large/p297) would seem to serve your purposes well and is certainly portable.
    – dbmag9
    Mar 11, 2023 at 16:45

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This is an interesting idea, but I don't think it's all that practical - or at least not as good as you seem it to be. Still, you can try it, just don't expect wonders.

At what temperature would this type of silk start to decompose?

Strictly speaking, at about 40 to 45 degrees Celsius. Silk is, after all, made out of proteins. This is why silk clothing, if washable at all, is labelled for 30 degrees wash.

I said "strictly speaking", because it won't decompose the way a paper towel decomposes in the washing machine. It will change its texture, but not fall apart. It will get more brittle each time you use it - but you will get multiple uses out of it, unlike a paper bag.

Out of the silk types you listed, I would go with organza. There are commercial (synthetic fibre) teabags which mimic organza, and they work well. It is permeable enough to be a good filter, and quite form-stable. A second choice would be chiffon, and maybe etamine if you can ensure only large plant parts. Habotai/ponge of the thinner kind would also be permeable, but it's so fine I suspect it won't last too long. Other kinds (twill, georgette, velvet) are decidedly too dense, and also quite expensive.

You will have to pay lots of attention to the construction. Silk is very delicate, and frays easily. And since you will be cooking it frequently, and possibly exposing them to sticks and berries and hard leaves, you can expect damage to emerge soon. You'll need an overlock, and I wouldn't just seam-and-serge in one, but really do overlock on the exposed sides, and additionally do the side seam, maybe even a jeans-strength seam.

And a last note, while cotton is indeed very absorbent, I would still expect flavor to carry over between brews with any natural fibre you choose. Silk may be less prone to it, but not zero. And pay attention to what kind of tea you are making in it, because silk is more reactive to alkalis than to acids, so some herbs will damage it more quickly than others. Keep it out of direct sunlight, even for drying it, since it's rather sensitive to UV. And finally, pay attention to signs of mold, it can happen during storage, and your bags, unlike clothing, will be frequently wet.

Added thoughts: With all these caveats above, you might after all look into fabrics that are not pure silk, to reduce the speed of disintegration. Ideally, you'll accept some amount of synthetic fibres, since they are what can make a fabric strong. If not, maybe look into something like a silk-flax voile, if you can find it. But since not all fabrics of the same content are created equal - a silk thread around a synthetic core will create a many times stronger fabric than a silk thread shot with a bit of lurex for sparkles, even if both say "90% silk, 10% nylon" - it is best to go to a specialized store and get advice in person. Also, very important - touch the fabric, evaluate how dense it is, how stable, and whether you have the skills to sew it (silk is notoriously difficult and requires a good sewer and a good machine). This means that you shouldn't go to the corner fabric shop that caters to quilters and organic-jersey-moms, but to somebody who specializes in rare natural fabrics, for example for theater supply or historic reenactment.

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  • Thank you so much for your insight and advice! 😁 I realize that my request is unorthodox, but I can assure you that it has a perfectly rational explanation. I think the silk-flax voile fabric may be my best choice here, but I’ll probably try the pure silk organza as well to be sure. Mar 10, 2023 at 20:06
  • @rumtscho, I had no idea you were such a fabric geek
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 11, 2023 at 6:13
  • @AndrewJackson happy to help! In light of your comment on the question, I am afraid that fabric tea bags are even less suited to your situation than to using them at home. It may be prudent to first make a low-cost, low-effort test with ready-made cotton bags, and only if the logistics turn out to be favorable (and the taste unacceptable) go ahead with silk, which is more hassle to source and to maintain. If you do want to go for silk-linnen, you may also check embroidery supply stores, they stock high quality undyed natural fabrics. The downside is that there, high density is preferred.
    – rumtscho
    Mar 11, 2023 at 12:03
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    @FuzzyChef I am! In another life, I may have gone for a designer career. For now, I just spend some time and money on getting fabric and clothes made from sumptuous fibres, glorious to the touch and beautiful in shape, then have them hanging in the closet while I run daily errands in jeans and a sweater. :/
    – rumtscho
    Mar 11, 2023 at 12:05
  • @rumtscho, update: I ordered a silk/cotton textile blend and had my designs made! Unfortunately, the fabric ended up not being entirely suitable... But I honestly think that the project is still feasible - perhaps if I tweak the design and change the fabric. I actually found a new one online called 'NeoSoilon' developed by NASA, of all people. Apr 28, 2023 at 13:03

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