With remarkable unanimity, several players in the tea industry have set about trying to solve one of the biggest problems in the modern beverage market.
The reason is straightforward. The only practical way to make tea for takeaway use is with a tea-bag, in which case the perennial problem is - what does the consumer do with the bag when they're ready to drink the tea? They don't want to leave it floating in the cup, nor do they want to hold a wet tea-bag while they look for somewhere to dispose of it.
For some time, there has been a PG Tips product, which uses a pyramid tagged tea bag pre-threaded through the cup lid. The brand argues that the caterer does not need to supply somewhere to put used tea bags, as this is pulled through and locked into the lid, to be thrown away with the empty cup.
In recent weeks, a great deal of attention has been given to the new version of this by Halssen and Lyon, the giant German tea importer. This brand has devised an entirely new kind of tea-bag, big enough to take the large-leaf tea which is generally considered to be the very best quality.
The tea-bag is attached to a card header, which is slotted through a hole in the takeaway cup lid - when the consumer reckons the tea has steeped sufficiently, a tug on the card brings the tea-bag up into a pre-formed holding socket inside the lid, where it can stay until the entire cup is thrown away.
Two more new products have now come to light.
Mighty Leaf, the British arm of an American tea company, has introduced the TeaTop lid, which features a cross-shaped slit. Mighty Leaf also uses bigger-format tea-bags to allow for large-leaf tea, and explains that the tea pouch tag is posted through from the underside before the tea is brewed. The caterer fills the cup, and places the lid in position - when the consumer pulls the string after brewing, one corner of the tea pouch enters the slits, which grip it tightly.
By far the most novel option seems to be the newest product of all, the Tea2Fly from Crem of Lancashire (a company which was until very recently called Style Café) and which may be the first attempt to serve loose-leaf tea in a takeaway setting.
This product is a Danish invention, and the unique aspect of it is a membrane in the inner part of the sip-through lid. This membrane captures the residues, and although the tea brews loose in the hot water, as it would inside a teapot, the membrane allows only the liquid to pass through, and captures the leaves.
Meanwhile Vegware, the UK's only totally plastic-free food packaging company, has won the Caterer and HotelkeeperEquipment and Supplies Excellence Awards, for inventing the compostable hot-beverage takeaway cup lid. This is a major step towards the other great problem with takeaway beverages - the waste mountain caused by plastic lids.
Vegware's MD and founder, Joe Frankel, says: "In a consumer-led industry, people do want an eco-led package.
"This is already out in the field being used, in some of the fashionable coffee bars in the heart of London (notably, Dose and the Espresso Room), in a lot of workplace catering, and in a hospital which has just switched entirely to eco-packaging.
"We haven't thought of the tea question yetâ¦ it was hard enough work to achieve the compostable lid. But when one format wins through, we shall be ready to work with the happy designer on a compostable version of it!"
By Ian Boughton