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Modern-day tea drinking (part five)
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One of the most significant tea-related developments to impact the second half of the twentieth century was the appearance of the tea bag. Like a few other great inventions – including, most significantly, penicillin – the origins of the tea bag were the result of chance. In the early twentieth century, New York tea dealer Thomas Sullivan created tea samples for his clients by placing small amounts of tea into little silk bags. Some mistakenly infused the bag, rather than taking the tea out of it first, and even went as far as reporting back to Sullivan that the silk was too fine and should be replaced by a different material. Soon Sullivan was producing specially designed gauze tea bags, ideal for infusing in boiling water.

Modern-day tea drinking (part five)

This wonderful contraption by Tecal combines a light, alarm clock and tea- and coffee-making device. As the advertisement explains, the alarm wakes you up when the tea or coffee is brewed.



The tea bag did not reach British shores until 1935 when Tetley added it to its range and even then it took a long time to catch on. By 1968 tea bags still held just 3 per cent of the British tea market. By 2000, however, the figure had jumped to 90 per cent. With the rise of the tea bag came the virtual demise of the teapot. Mugs, ideal for brewing a tea bag, became increasingly commonplace and almost completely replaced cups and saucers. Gone were the days of tea-drinking etiquette and ritual; now all that was needed was an electric kettle, a tea bag and some milk (poured directly from the bottle).


Modern-day tea drinking (part five)

A 1970s Twinings advertisement for Darjeeling iced tea. In the 1980s, iced tea became available in ready-made form, either in tin cans or plastic bottles.



Gone too were the days of fine teas or special blends; what most people wanted was a reliable and consistent ‘quick brew’ – the ideal beverage for an increasingly ‘fast’ and time-poor society.

Over the last forty years, the tea bag has evolved from square or rectangular sachets to circles and, most recently, pyramids. The argument is that pyramidal tea bags - also charmingly known as ‘tea temples’ – allow more room for the tea to brew and expand. Some tea rooms and tea aficionados also infuse fine teas in empty tea bags, featuring a top flap which folds down. Once the tea has infused for the right amount of time, the bag can be taken out of the teapot without the tea going bitter.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a trend for iced tea developed. Backed by an expensive television advertising campaign, Lipton started selling its ready-made “Lipton Ice Tea’. Tea – at least in its ‘iced’ form – had joined the ranks of other convenience drinks sold in plastic bottles and tin cans.

The promoting of tea, like that of any other product, became increasingly elaborate over the course of the twentieth century. One of the most influential promotional tools ever used by tea companies were tea cards, inspired by the hugely popular cigarette cards, which had become available in the 1870s. Tea cards started appearing in Ty˙phoo tea packets before the First World War, but it was only after the Second World War that the tea card craze really took off. It lasted until the 1980s. Collected mainly by children, tea cards covered a variety of topics, such as the history of the motor car, the race into space, exotic birds, trees, adventurers and explorers, wild flowers, dogs, cats, British costume, British kings and queens, and so on. For each topic, there was a set number of cards to collect and often an accompanying album in which to place them.


Modern-day tea drinking (part five)

Times have changed since this postcard, by famous graphic artist Donald McGill, was published in the 1940s. The British have developed a fondness for coffee and can now tell the difference between an espresso, latte and cappuccino.



Since the 1950s television advertising has played a key role in the promotion of tea. Together with the already mentioned Brooke Bond chimps, the Tetley Tea Folk were particularly memorable, appearing not just on our screens, but also on promotional tea towels, teaspoons, mugs, playing card and tins.

Although tea has been facing increased competition from the coffee market over the last few decades, research into the health-giving properties of tea has helped increase the popularity of green tea, said to possess the strongest benefits. Even today, scientists are still making new discoveries into how tea can protect us from illness.

Modern-day tea drinking (part five)

A striking example of Art Nouveau architecture and interior decoration, the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1903 and are still open today.



And while the majority of tea drinkers are still looking for convenience from their teas, the twenty-first century has seen a rise in the fashion for fine teas. Tea devotees are increasingly looking for good-quality ethically produced and environmentally friendly teas, whether in leaf or tea bag form. And maybe a sense of ceremony has no entirely been taken out of tea drinking; after all, going out for afternoon tea – whether at a luxury hotel or in a cosy tea room – is still a popular pastime amongst the British.


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