A Brief History of the Teabag

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Although it may seem humble, the teabag has a unique history. Following Tetley introducing it to the UK in 1953, this tiny invention came to alter the nation’s tea drinking habits forever. 

In 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, began shipping Indian and Chinese tea to his customers in little silk sample packages. Assuming they were meant to submerge the entire bag into the boiling water, his customers unintentionally changed the course of tea drinking for generations to come.

Following the popularity of Sullivan’s bags, the fabric was changed to gauze and commercial production began in the 1920s. World War Two slowed down teabag production and simultaneously its adaptation into daily life, however the 1950s saw them really take off. 

After spending time in America and learning of Sullivan’s idea, Tetley brought the first bags to the UK market. They proved so popular, that Tetley invented machines, known as the grey ladies, which stitched 40 bags a minute to keep up with demand. 

Tea leaves give increased flavour when they have more space to circulate and expand in hot water. Tetley’s clever design was roomy enough to allow this to happen, enabling a stronger, smoother cup of tea that brewed in minutes. As this was the era of modernity and consumers were looking for labour-saving products and technology, the convenience of a teabag was favoured over the arduous cleaning and mess of soggy loose leaves from a teapot.

Ever the innovators, Tetley launched the round teabag in 1989, following extensive consumer tests showing Brits preferred a round bag to a square one. This innovation changed the shape of the tea market, as well as the teabag, and encouraged the fashion of drinking tea in a mug rather than a cup, a tradition we still follow.

Tetley’s teabag transformations continue. Introduced in 1997, Tetley’s drawstring technology continues to enable users to get every last drop of flavour into their cups, while avoiding fuss, drips, and mess – perfect for serving tea on the go, or at speed out of home.

Packaging our little creations in individual envelopes has also proven a big hit for front of house foodservice. Protecting the leaves inside, Tetley’s envelopes help operators demonstrate the serve tea from a recognisable and trusted brand, and raise presentation standards, whether served alongside a teapot at breakfast, or offered to guests in hotel rooms.

With 96% of Brits choosing bagged tea, the humble teabag shows no signs of decline, and today meets the needs of 45 million people around the world who enjoy Tetley every day.

Do you have a clever way of presenting or serving tea bags in your outlet? Share your tips and images by tweeting @TetleyTeaOOH, and we’ll retweet the best.

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