Continued from Sir Tea – Part 1
Before long, he had the world believing Orange Pekoe, the old tea term used to denote the largest grade of leaf, was not the name of a leaf size but a type of tea unto itself for which they should accept no substitutes. “It’s brisk!” his advertisements explained, “brisk” being simply taster’s jargon for any tea that is not stale or flat- tasting. He was a showman new to the tea trade and showing off the new tea terms he had learned.
An innovator, Lipton pioneered the use of a cable transport system between the steep mountainside gardens and the valley factories for more efficient production. At a time when most tea was sold directly from open tea chests and weighed out for each customer, Lipton sold his tea in individual packets for consistent quality and freshness and guaranteed weight. After ten years in the business, the millionaire grocer became a multimillionaire tea merchant worldwide.
For his American headquarters he chose a warehouse in Hoboken, New Jersey, because the huge Lipton’s Tea sign he erected on it could be read from any point in New York harbor. The name Lipton was no longer just the name of a chain of shops, it was now identified as the trademark of an international commodity.
Lipton was knighted by Queen Victoria and became Sir Thomas in 1898. That year he also took his private company public as Thomas J. Lipton, Ltd. though he retained personal control of his American company. At the same time he undertook his most romantic quest: he issued a challenge to the New York Yacht Club for the America’s Cup, yachting’s most prestigious prize.
“Sir T” failed in five attempts to return the Cup to Britain, but his sportsmanship and good nature won him wide admiration and affection throughout the United States. Sir Thomas often expressed regret that “my only blood relatives in America are some New Jersey mosquitoes.” A lifelong bachelor, he died in 1931, at the age of eighty-one.
Lipton Tea was to be the tea trade’s largest worldwide success throughout the course of the twentieth century. It was a triumph for the British Empire. Colonial tea, led by Lipton’s, replaced China tea decisively in the West as British colonial-built industries took root in the new tea lands of India, Ceylon and elsewhere. It was black, black tea and nothing but from then on and the ancient China trade dwindled into insignificance. It is no more than fitting that we revisit, if only by way of conclusion, the homeland of tea and source of this gift to the world.