Monica Ferry Newsletter

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, October 2020, Tea Notes

Amer A. VargasTea Notes

by Monica Ferry


“One of those new-fangled tea bags” … by Irrational_cat

Plastic teabags? Amazing though it may seem, they really do exist. It appears that over the years, tea companies around the world have started replacing those little paper bags that were once used to present us with sufficient tea for a single cup, with bags made of a type of plastic, or bags that use plastic components. The idea was to add plastic to the paper in an effort to strengthen the bags, or in some cases to glue them shut, or even to take the place of the whole paper bag.

Needless to say, we were unpleasantly surprised when this came to our attention recently. Especially when, to make matters worse, we learned that some researchers from Canada’s McGill University published a study in September 2019, where they revealed an even more shocking fact:

“We show that steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature [205 degrees Fahrenheit] releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage,” concluded a team led by Nathalie Tufenkji. She’s a professor of chemical engineering at McGill University in Montreal.

Even though this news didn’t reach us until a year later, we thought we’d better share it with you, dear reader: since providing a good cup of tea to our employers or guests, if not ourselves, has always been one of the key skills in a professional butler’s arsenal we felt that you, of all people, should be aware of this problem!

First of all, here is the link to the Canadian study itself, for those of you who are interested:

But there is much other information about this issue on the internet, and you may want to research it further for yourself. If you, your employers or your guests, DO drink a lot of tea and you use a lot of tea bags, you’ll need to find out which brands are available in your area or country, that offer a safe alternative (thankfully it appears that more and more brands are now beginning to do so). And don’t think that this is a problem that is limited to the cheaper, more commercial brands: apparently the worst offenders have been high-end tea brands which often present their tea in so-called “silkies” – triangular little pyramid-shaped bags that look so very elegant but turn out to be made entirely of plastic in many cases…not silk at all!

Ideally, simply switch to using loose leaf tea, which can be purchased in bulk and is anyway often of much better quality than the tea used in tea bags. But we recognize that this is not always possible outside a more controlled private household environment, and especially in the hospitality world.

Here is one article that provides more data about brands that have shifted to better quality tea bags that do not include plastic. The good news is that, since this data has started becoming known, more and more companies are recognizing that the effect of imbibing millions of nano particles of plastic with every hot cuppa, cannot be good in the long term for the drinker, nor for the environment (since plastic bags do obviously not decompose or degrade at all).

Mrs. Ferry is the Institute’s Executive Director—feel free to contact her via email, monicaferry @

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.