Tag Archives: history of tetley tea

Brewing up a storm: Tetley tea

Joseph Tetley became the largest tea packer in America. The business popularised the tea bag in Britain.

Joseph Tetley & Co
Joseph Tetley (1811 -1899) and his brother Edward began to sell salt from a horse and cart in Bradford, Yorkshire from 1837. Before long, tea was added to their wares.

The business had relocated to Huddersfield by 1851, and employed 14 people. The Tetley brothers relocated to 25 Cullum Street in London, close to the tea auction houses of Mincing Lane, from 1856. The business employed 18 people in 1861.

Edward Tetley left the business in 1865. Joseph Ackland entered the business as a partner and the business traded as Joseph Tetley & Co.

Tetley & Co became the first firm to introduce India and Ceylon tea to the British market. Previously only Chinese tea had been sold.

Joseph took on his son, Joseph Tetley Jr (1850 – 1935) and long-term employee Samuel Furniss as partners in the business from 1871. Tetley & Co also expanded into blending and packaging tea for itself.

Joseph Tetley and his son acquired the Ackland and Furniss stakes in 1880. By this time the premises were at 31 Fenchurch Street.

Success in America
Joseph Tetley & Co established a sales agency in New York from 1888. The firm became the first to introduce India and Ceylon tea to the American market.

Joseph Tetley & Co was the second largest tea blender in the world by 1901, behind only Thomas Lipton. The two businesses dominated the market for Ceylon tea.

Joseph Tetley & Co was incorporated as public company in 1907, and as a private company a year later. Tetley was the largest purchaser of India and Ceylon tea by this time.

Joseph Tetley was the largest tea business in the world by 1911.

An American subsidiary was established in New York from 1913. Due to difficulties importing packaged tea from Britain during the First World War a six storey tea packing plant was acquired on Greenwich Street in New York in 1917.

Tetley Ironside Tetley-Jones introduces the tea bag to Britain
Joseph Tetley Jr died in 1935 with an estate valued at £75,000 (equivalent to £29.5 million in 2015). His nephew, William Tetley-Jones took over the company, but died just a few months later. The company was inherited by his son, Tetley Ironside Tetley-Jones (1912 – 1990).

Tetley-Jones visited America in 1939, where he encountered the growing popularity of the tea bag, as opposed to brewing with loose leaves. Tetley-Jones pioneered mass production of the tea bag in Britain from 1940. Initially production was for export only, due to rationing in Britain.

The London premises were damaged during the Blitz in 1941, and a new production facility was opened at Bletchley in Buckinghamshire. By this time the head office was at Mansell Street, still close to Mincing Lane.

Joseph Tetley & Co was converted back into a public company with a share capital of £410,000 (£50.7 million in 2015), in 1951. Net assets were valued at just under £600,000 (£74 million in 2015). The company ranked among the four largest tea packers in the United States.

The end of rationing allowed Tetley-Jones to introduce the tea bag to the British consumer from 1953. Tetley-Jones spearheaded the initiative, and had to fight the scepticism of his board of directors. The head tea buyer for Brooke Bond, the largest tea company in the world, announced that his company would never produce tea bags, which he believed imparted the taste of paper to the product.

The Bletchley plant was divested in 1958, and all production was relocated to a new factory at Eaglescliffe in County Durham. The same year, a new factory was opened at Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Total company capital rose to £750,000 (£58 million in 2015).

Joseph Tetley & Co is sold to Beech-Nut Life Savers
Tetley Ironside Tetley-Jones believed that the business was too small to compete against larger companies such as Brooke Bond, and had been searching for a buyer for years. Joseph Tetley & Co was acquired by Beech-Nut Life Savers of New York for £2.3 million in cash (£148 million in 2015) in 1961. Whilst a leader in the small British tea bag market, most company profits came from the American subsidiary. Tetley-Jones was retained as chairman.

Beech-Nut Life Savers provided the capital necessary for expansion of production and marketing of the tea bags. Tea bags had taken five percent of the British market by 1964, and all the production belonged to Tetley. It was only that year that the major tea packers introduced their own tea bags.

Tetley tea bag sales grew by 58 percent to the catering trade, and by 41 percent to the domestic trade in 1965. The company was exporting millions of tea bags every year.

Tetley tea bag sales rose 63 percent to a total of two billion bags in 1967. Tetley held two thirds of the retail market for tea bags, and 50 percent of the catering market.

Tetley sold 5,000 tonnes of tea bags in 1968. Tetley held 65 percent of the British tea bag market in 1969.

Tetley-Jones retired in 1970.

J Lyons acquires Tetley
J Lyons, the British catering giant, and a major tea producer itself, acquired Tetley for £23 million (£524 million in 2015) in 1973. Following the takeover, Lyons Tetley held around 17 percent of the British tea market.

The “Tetley tea folk “advertising campaign was launched in 1973.

The Eaglescliffe plant was the largest tea bag factory in the world by 1986.

Tetley introduced the round tea bag from 1989.

Tetley was acquired by Tata, an Indian conglomerate, for £271 million in 2000.

Tetley is the fourth highest-selling tea brand in Britain as of 2019.

Note: all current day wealth calculations are measured as a percentage of GDP, and are taken from measuringworth.com