The story of tea is as old as nature itself. But we like to think it took its most exciting turn in 1837 when the Tetley brothers went into business in Yorkshire, England. Click on the images above for a brief history of tea, Tetley and the tea bag.
The Chinese emperor Shen Nung is sitting under a tea tree (camellia sinensis) while his servant boils drinking water. Some leaves from the tree blow into the water. So an accidental infusion takes place, and the cup of tea is born. Well that’s the legend, anyway.
By now, tea is the national drink of China. It’s manufactured in brick form: the tea leaves are pounded and pressed into a brick-shaped mould, and then dried.
In the 1600s, the British East India Company has a monopoly on importing goods from outside Europe. Tea’s popularity is spread by sailors bringing home tea as gifts. caption: The great auction room at East India House
The diarist Samuel Pepys discovers tea. In 1660 he writes that he “...did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never drank before.”
Britain is now obsessed with tea but taxes put it out of reach. 5 million lbs of tea are sold legally, but 7 million lbs are smuggled.
The Boston Tea Party: when British ships arrive in Boston, a band of men board the ships, split open its cargo of 342 chests - and throw the lot into the sea. It’s all a protest over British taxes.
The famous clipper races begin in China and go down the China Sea, across the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope, up the Atlantic, past the Azores and into the English Channel. The clippers are then towed up the River Thames by tugs, and the first ship to throw its cargo onto the docks is the winner.
Joseph and Edward Tetley start to sell salt in Yorkshire, England. In time, they add tea to their repertoire. Good move.
The Tetley brothers move to Cullum Street, London, just yards from the tea auction rooms. By 1888 they have an office in America too.
At the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 a heatwave leads tea planter Richard Blechynden to change his plans. Instead of serving hot tea, he adds ice to it. It causes a sensation, and iced tea is born.
A happy accident. A New York tea merchant called Thomas Sullivan sends out samples of tea in small silken bags. Some customers assume they should put the whole bag in the pot and it works.
The first Lyons Corner House opens in London, with waitresses known as ’Nippies’ because of their speedy service. More than 60 years later, Lyons would buy Tetley.
In August 1920, Benjamin Hirschhorn and his brother Louis file a patent application in the USA for a ‘tea cartridge’. It is made from a textile fabric gathered at the top by string, with a tag at the end to act as a handle.
Tetley’s British representative (Mr. T I Tetley-Jones) goes to America and brings back the idea of the tea bag.
The first Tetley teabag machines are known as the ’grey ladies’ and stitch 40 tea bags a minute for export.
Tetley introduce the tea bag to Britain for the first time.
By now, Tetley tea bag sales have soared to 5,000 tonnes a year
J. Lyons of Corner House fame acquires Tetley. Lyons Tetley is formed.
Tetley is the first to launch round tea bags. They are especially well suited to the growing popularity of brewing tea in mugs.
Tetley’s techies are the first to create the dripless drawstring tea bag. Launched first in Australia in 1994, it is now a favourite in Britain, the US, France, Russia and Poland.
The 300 year old London Tea Auction holds its final sale. In its early days tea was sold ‘by the candle’. A candle was lit at the beginning of each lot, and when an inch had burned away, the hammer fell.
By now Tetley offers fruit & herbal infusions, green teas and speciality teas in addition to its classic blend teabags.
Every week, Tetley buys one million kilos of tea, which make countless cups of Tetley tea that the world enjoys every day.
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