Posted in Kafevend Blog

Teabag technology

There's been almost as much furore surrounding the recent change to the iconic Toblerone as to the result of the U.S. Election last Tuesday. Tampering with a much loved product is always likely to be contentious, and it occurred to us that it's something which has happened in the world of tea too. It was the pyramid shape that got us thinking; we're talking teabags of course!

Getting started

Teabags were something of an accidental invention in the first place. Although perforated metal balls had been available as a handy tea brewing device during the preceding century, the teabag only emerged at the turn of the 1900s when an American tea merchant by the name of Thomas Sullivan sent out tea samples in small silk bags; some of his customers put the whole thing in the teapot and then asked him why he hadn't used a more porous material for the bags. Thus the idea of the teabag as we know it today was born.

It took several decades before the teabag put in an appearance here in the UK, specifically 1953 when Tetley decided to promote the idea of a convenient, mess free pot of tea. Other tea companies followed suit in due course. Back then teabags were a basic rectangular shape, which is still the default shape to this day. However, both Tetley and PG Tips have given us a different take on the standard as part of their bid to win over a higher percentage of tea drinkers.

Circle, square or triangle

Tetley's round teabag hit the shelves in 1989, a design which encouraged a shift towards brewing tea in a mug for those who hadn't already taken a notion to cut out the use of a teapot. While the change in shape created the novelty that drew in a wider customer base, it didn't impact on the taste of the tea for existing Tetley stalwarts.

Not to be outdone, PG Tips countered the round bag with their very own pyramid version, which was promoted as having more space for the tea leaves to move around in and create a better brew. And while the change in shape also did nothing to antagonise those who were already PG fans, the claims made on behalf of the newly shaped bag did cause a certain level of ill feeling between the two big names in UK tea. Following a PG Tips advert featuring Johnny Vegas and Monkey, in which the characters make two cups of tea, one with a pyramid bag and the other with a round bag and declare the former to produce the better cup of tea, Tetley went to the Advertising Standards Agency to complain. Ultimately, their complaints were not upheld; the ASA considered the round bag to be ubiquitous enough for the advert not to be directly denigrating Tetley. It was also felt that the British public would not view the advert as scientific evidence for the greater efficiency of the pyramid teabag. Just goes to show what a contentious issue product shape can be. Let's all calm down with a nice cup of tea, but hold the Toblerone!

Tetley's history
History of PG Tips

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