History

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.

2737 BC

2737 BC

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.

2737 BC
600 AD

600 AD

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.

600 AD
Early 1600s

Early 1600s

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.

Early 1600s
1660

1660

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.”

1660
Early 1700s

Early 1700s

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.

Early 1700s
1773

1773

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.

1773
1834

1834

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.

1834
1837

1837

Joseph and Edward Tetley start to sell salt in Yorkshire, England. In time, they add tea to their repertoire. Good move.

1837
1856

1856

The Tetley brothers move to Cullum Street, London, just yards from the tea auction rooms. By 1888 they have an office in America too.

1856
1904

1904

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.

1904
1908

1908

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.

1908
1939

1939

Tetley’s British representative (Mr. T I Tetley-Jones) goes to America and brings back the idea of the tea bag.

1939
Late 1940s

Late 1940s

The first Tetley teabag machines are known as the ‘grey ladies’ and stitch 40 tea bags a minute for export.

Late 1940s
1953

1953

Tetley introduce the tea bag to Britain for the first time.

1953
1968

1968

By now, Tetley tea bag sales have soared to 5,000 tonnes a year

1968
1973

1973

J. Lyons of Corner House fame acquires Tetley. Lyons Tetley is formed.

1973
1989

1989

Tetley is the first to launch round tea bags. They are especially well suited to the growing popularity of brewing tea in mugs.

1989
1994

1994

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.

1994
1998

1998

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.

1998
2004

2004

By now Tetley offers fruit & herbal infusions, green teas and speciality teas in addition to its classic blend teabags.

2004
2010

2010

Every week, Tetley buys one million kilos of tea, which make countless cups of Tetley tea that the world enjoys every day.

2010