Tetley, best known for devising the round teabag, has just spent two years and pounds 250,000 re- inventing string - specifically, the sort which is attached to teabags.
Yesterday, the company launched a new high-tech personal teapot, which contains a built-in lever to lift the teabag out of the tea, once it has brewed to the desired strength.
Its patented design is the result of intensive consumer research, materials science and computer-aided design. It is intended to solve the perennial problem encountered at countless cafes and motorway service stations: stainless steel teapots which dribble and dent.
The new pot is made from the same tough plastic as crash helmets, rendering it crack- and chip-proof, and is computer-designed to be dribble-free.
But this latest example of British design flair did not impress Geoffrey Gann, owner of Rocco's Cafe in Lambeth Walk, Waterloo, London. "Someone's wasted a lot of time developing this," he said when shown it. "It's really ugly. It doesn't look right. And as for this lever thing, it's just as easy with a spoon. Or a teabag with a string - that's a much better way of doing it."
The principal reason for launching the product - which is designed to work only with its round teabags - is that people drink more than twice as much tea as coffee when at home, yet prefer coffee over tea outside. Helen Hinde, who runs Tetley's food service division, explained: "In a restaurant or cafe, they don't have any control over what brand of tea they get or how it's made."
The answer, apparently, is to let people control their own tea-making away from home. Hence the high-tech replacement for the piece of string. This consists of a hinged plastic sieve which initially rests the teabag on the bottom of the pot. When the tea is ready, a small button is pushed to lift the bag clear.
Ms Hinde insists that caterers are "very positive" and that the new teapot will soon start appearing in service stations. But the real measure of its success will not be how many appear, but how many disappear - swiped by admirers.