What shape of tea bag should you buy for a better brew?

It was a question that might have puzzled the Sphinx, but the answer lies in a simple pyramid.

Due to a storm in a teacup, the question of whether a pyramid-shaped tea bag or a round tea bag brews the best cup of tea has finally been answered — by the British Advertising Standards Authority of all people.

The makers of Tetley tea bags are probably wishing they’d had a nice hot cuppa instead of indulging in a mug’s game over claims that a rival product tasted better than theirs.

Tetley pitted its round tea bags against the pyramid bags of PG Tips in a complaint to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority over a television advert.

Irish tea lovers need not worry: Tea-makers here enjoy more friendly rivalry and are not planning any such competition, with Barry’s sticking to its square bags and Lyons favouring its pyramid-shaped bags.

Tetley said the PG Tips ad, which showed the difference in ‘brewing power’ between a pyramid and a round tea bag, was exaggerated and misleading to viewers.

The ad features comedian Johnny Vegas and a puppet monkey sitting at a kitchen table, demonstrating that pyramid bags are better at releasing flavour than round ones — a claim Tetley said was untrue.

The comedian says in the commercial: “Monkey, you know how you always say: ‘There’s no other tea to beat PG’... What if you’re lying? Like when you said there was an angry owl in the biscuit cupboard?”

The monkey then makes two glass mugs of tea — one with a pyramid bag and one with a round bag. A close-up shows how the pyramid bag begins colouring the hot water, starting the brewing process quicker.

The monkey says: “PG Tips uses pyramid bags, so if we test one against a regular tea bag you’ll see the tea has got more room to move, freeing the great fresh taste for a perfect cuppa.”

Tetley challenged the claim that the PG Tips tea was superior as it had more room to move in the pyramids, thus “freeing the great fresh taste”.

Science won out and, supporting the PG Tips claim, the advertising authority ruled that the pyramid tea bag — invented in 1997 by Brooke Bond, the then parent company of PG Tips — did in fact have better brewing efficiency.

The authority said: “Unilever provided test results which showed that the infusion of tea, at 40 seconds and two minutes into brewing, was greater when using a pyramid tea bag than when using a round tea bag.

“We therefore concluded that the advert did not exaggerate the capability and performance of the advertised product and was not misleading.”

A spokeswoman for Tetley said the decision related only to the speed of infusion which was not “a key factor in determining the quality of a cup of tea”.

“Tetley’s extensive research shows that the round tea bags, combined with high-quality tea, are just as effective as other shaped tea bags. Ultimately, the shape of the tea bag is not as important as the quality and taste of the tea.”

The rivalry here between Barry’s and Lyons is more friendly, with neither tea maker throwing shapes or having a go at the other.

Nevertheless, Lyons said it has statistics to show its pyramid bags help to enhance flavour but pointed out that its bags are not the same as PG Tips, although both firms are owned by Unilever.

“The Lyons pyramid tea bag allows the tea leaves more room to move, infusing the tea with the rich golden hues of the Lyons tea blend more quickly than a standard square or round tea bag,” said a spokeswoman.

“Given that most Irish people [72%] allow their tea bag to brew for less than a minute, this means tea lovers can enjoy a great tasting cuppa more quickly,” she said, adding that the Lyons pyramid tea bag is unique to Ireland and specifically developed for Irish tastes.

For Barry’s — Ireland’s homegrown tea maker — it’s all about the quality of the leaf and the expertise of the blending. “We believe that what goes into the bag is more important than its shape,” a spokeswoman said. “The quality of great tea always comes through, regardless of the shape of the tea bag.

“The talk at the moment seems to be all about the shape as opposed to the tea. And at Barry’s Tea, we believe the quality begins with the leaf. It’s the quality of the leaf, the blend, and the expertise that goes into tea that gives Barry’s Tea its much loved taste and unmistakable quality.”

Need to have a cuppa after all that.

Have a cup

- In Ireland, we drink up to five cups of tea per day — that works out at 300 litres of tea per person every year.

- Tea contains about half the level of caffeine as coffee, so you could drink up to six cups of tea per day and it would still be considered a moderate level of caffeine.

- 72% of Irish people allow their tea bag to brew for less than a minute.

- The number-one selling tea in Ireland is Lyons Tea and it has been in Dublin since 1902.

- All tea comes from the same plant — an evergreen shrub called Camellia sinensis. The only difference is in the way the leaves are processed. If its leaves are not dried quickly after picking, they wilt and oxidise. To control the oxidation process, the leaves are dried at different stages depending on the tea type — green, black or oolong.

- The Irish tea market is worth an estimated €78m.

- Barry’s Tea accounts for 40% of all tea sales in Ireland.

* Facts from the websites of Barry’s Tea and Lyons Tea


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