Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chai

2 whole cloves
1 cardamom pod
1 cinnamon stick (broken into pieces)
1 1/2 cups water
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/16 teaspoon black pepper (optional)
1/4 cup of milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon black tea

* Crush the cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon.

* Place in a pan and add water, ginger and pepper and bring to a boil.

* Remove from heat and allow to brew for five minutes.

* Add the milk and sugar, and boil again.

* Remove from heat, add tea, cover, and brew for three to five minutes.

* Strain and serve.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Orthodox TGFOP Darjeeling


This one due to the price and the taste is most likely my favorite tea. I buy this Darjeeling by the pound!

The Bad Part About Tea

The bad part about tea is that some of the single estate teas you have and grown to love - soon run out. I have bught from Upton Tea Importers a few times "Tongsong Estate FTGFOP1 CL Second Flush" This is a Darjeeling Tea that I love very much (I'm drinking some as I write this). This tea is not delicate like many Dajeelings, and has a strong finish. I sure hope that the Tongsong Estate would come out with more this coming second flush.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Kali Cha

I tried this little jewel one day when I was sitting in the Orlando tea shop called Infusion. I was so impressed with this tea after drinking a cup I bought 125 grams to take home when I paid my tab. Kali Cha seems to have Oolong overtones, but not as smoky as Oolong teas. This tea is a Darjeeling tea with a taste that is very different from any other Indian teas I have ever drank before. I find that this tea is best when hot and with no milk or sweeteners.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Citron Green

Now I'm not much of a flavored tea drinker, but there is a green tea that Adagio Tea sells called Citron Green. All of the green teas that I drink are not flavored, but this tea is flavored with a hint of citrus that when is taken hot is out of this world.
Adagio, bravo on this green tea and I'll be buying more soon!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tea Room in Orlando


I am glad to say we have a tea room here in Orlando, Florida. It's located in College Park right near downtown, and easy to get to from anywhere in the metro area.

The name of the tea room is Infusion Tea, and I like to go there with my wife and have a cuppa or two.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The best way I have found to brew tea


I have used this tea pot for many years now. The company that sells this claims:

The most convenient teapot you will find anywhere - we guarantee it. When tea is ready, simply place it atop your cup. This will cause a valve at the bottom to release: crystal-clear tea flows down, while the mesh filter retains all the leaves with one of the best infusers on the market. Super easy to clean and dishwasher safe. And it's microwaveable - perfect for the office or the road. You will wonder how you got along without one. Made in Taiwan of food-grade plastic.


I use an eltric kettle to heat the water for steeping my tea and just pour it right over the tea inside the tea pot shown above.

Kertasarie Estate FOP Java High-Grown (BlackTea)


This tea is a dark leaf tea that brews into a medium to dark liquor with a bold taste. I enjoy this one in the mornings hot and mid-day iced.

This tea is Indonesian in origin, and is very economical in price.

Tongsong Estate Darjeeling FTGFOP1 (Black Tea)

This tea is one of my favorites and is no longer available. I am a Darjeeling Tea enthusiast. Darjeeling teas are grown in very high elevations, usually above 5,000 plus feet above sea level. Luckily there are many different Darjeeling single estate teas to choose from and I'll give more info here as time permits.

Temi Estate Sikkim FTGFOP1 CL (Black Tea)


Temi Estate Sikkim is a good alternative for Darjeeling tea lovers (like myself). The tannin level in this tea is often accentuated by a natural fruity note that resembles a grape aroma. The leaves have silvery tips that produce a cup that is rich with a medium body. The tea is best served hot, but can also be served iced.

Some Advice on Premium Teas, Mix Them!

I have found that if you buy a lot of premium teas like I do, and when you get low on the quantity of any certain kind of tea (I'm using black teas here from my example), get yourself a spar tin and start mixing the teas that are leftover into the spare tin and label that tin "Black Mixed Tea" and in no time you'll have a unique blend all of your own. And as you keep using the tea from the "mixed tea" tin and adding more back into the tin with the other low teas you'll find that your unique blend will keep on having subtle changes in the flavor.

The same works with green tea and white tea. Just don't mix black tea with green tea or white tea with the other two. Keep the teas in the same family.

But remember that all teas have a shelf life (except for Pu-Erh teas which actually improve with age), so don't over do it with a whole lot of teas. A good rule of thumb is to only buy the amount of tea you can drink in six months or so.

Organic Shou Mei White Special Grade


This white tea that I am drinking right now is a fine organic selection with a herbaceous aroma, full flavor, and clean aftertaste. The cup has a subtle sweetness and is well-balanced, with delicate walnut flavor overtones.

How to "brew" the perfect cup of tea.

Brewing a good cup of loose tea is quite simple, and attention to a few crucial details will generally assure excellent results. Good water, the correct quantity of tea, accurate steeping time, and a proper teapot are important for success.

If your source of water is suspect, try using bottled spring water or purified water; many teas have a variety of subtle flavors that can be destroyed or masked by poor water that contains heavy concentrations of iron or other impurities. Correct water temperature is essential as well. Black teas should be brewed with water that has just come to a rolling boil. Oolongs are often best when steeped with water near the boiling point. For green and white teas, always use water that is less than boiling to avoid a bitter infusion.

Steeping instructions often advise the addition of a teaspoon of tea for each cup and "one for the pot." However, a small, preheated pot will generally not require this extra spoonful, especially if high quality tea is used. Begin with a teaspoonful per cup or use our brewing suggestions listed for each tea in the online catalog, but do not hesitate to adjust the amount until you find the right balance of flavors. Each tea is unique -- as is each tea drinker.

Steeping time depends on the type of leaf and its leaf grade. Many teas yield a pale liquor, so steep by time not color. If milk is to be added, the steeping time must be long enough for sufficient flavor elements and tannins to be extracted. Too short a steeping time will result in a thin, insipid tea. Conversely, over-steeping will yield a bitter tea with an overpowering imbalance of tannin.

The Chatsford Teapot makes the preparation of loose tea quick and easy for everyday use. Fitted with a convenient tab for effortless removal, the ample mesh infuser basket allows full infusion without restricting leaf expansion. Rinse the pot thoroughly with boiling water to warm it, and then pour this water off. Place the infuser basket with tea leaves into the pot and add the hot or boiling water. Cover with the lid, and a cosy if desired, and let the tea steep for the desired time. Once the infusion is complete, pull out the basket to halt infusion. Since dust-sized particles will inevitably pass through the infuser and continue to steep, serve the tea as soon as possible.

If you wish to steep the leaves loose in a pot or cup, be sure to pour the excess liquor into another pot to prevent over-steeping. A high-quality, metal strainer or nylon infuser will remove most particles of tea and result in a perfectly infused cup of tea.

Consideration of these few simple factors -- good water, the correct amount of tea, accurate steeping time, and a quality teapot -- will result in a great pot of tea.

China White Snow Buds Imperial Reserve


This white tea has a full yet delicate taste, nutty flavor notes and sweet aroma. The leaf sets are impressive, with down-covered leaves and a large percentage of white tips. The taste is one that will get you back to the pot for more.

Organic Pai Mu Tan


I just finished a pot of tea called "Organic Pai Mu Tan". This white tea is a flavorful tea with a delicate liquor that is smooth and pleasingly sweet. I would not add any kind of sweetener to the infused liquid, for in my belief any kind of sweetener can ruin the taste of most teas. I also think that the only way to drink this tea is hot.

In God's Grace,
Ric

"Capturing the Retail Market for Tea"



A receipt from a Tea Importer and Distributor in Philadelphia, dated July 1, 1869. (From the collection of Upton Tea Imports)


Part 1: Setting the Stage

Historians and tea aficionados already know that Camellia sinensis has played a role in politics and commerce for centuries. The monopoly of the English East India Company, the tea boycotts of Colonial America, and the trade imbalance that eventually lead to the Opium Wars are often cited as extreme examples. Some accounts of these events would equate the thirst for tea during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to that of oil during the twenty-first! This would certainly be a stretch, but it is safe to say that the commerce of tea is, in many ways, a paradigm for international commerce.

Over the centuries, the commerce of tea has evolved in many ways. Sri Lanka and Kenya had no indigenous tea two centuries ago. Now they are the two largest exporters of tea, with Kenya having overtaken Sri Lanka as the world’s largest exporter of tea. China, once the primary source (along with Japan) of tea for the Western world, lost nearly 90% of the market during the twentieth century. Today, China is regaining its well-deserved status as a major supplier to the specialty tea trade, and the growing interest in green and white teas is certain to further that trend.

Changes in the retail marketing of tea over the past two centuries have been no less significant. Tea was the most popular non-alcoholic beverage in Colonial America, a preference that lasted well into the twentieth century. The early settlers were, by necessity, largely self-reliant, but products like tea, coffee, cocoa, and spices were only available as import items and, as such, the prices were relatively high. This was compounded by the fact that competition for some of the more common staples, like flour, sugar, and butter, was very stiff. Tea became one of the more profitable items on a grocer’s shelf, generally selling for over a dollar per pound. This provided an opportunity for Jacob and Joseph Stiner, who arrived in New York from Bohemia in 1855 with limited savings and no particular plan on how to make a living.

Shortly after their arrival, the Stiner brothers discovered that they could purchase a few teas directly from a shipping captain on the docks of New York, bypassing the normal wholesale resellers and speculators, who always added their sizable markup to the cost of the tea. They spent their life savings on their first purchase of tea, reserving just enough to open a small tea shop at 64 Catherine Street. Selling all of their teas, regardless of cost, for one dollar per pound brought instant success. Within a few months they opened a second location and by 1860 the Stiner brothers were Manhattan’s largest tea merchants, operating five stores and planning several more.

The rapid success of the Stiners was not unnoticed by the competition, which included a young man named George Huntington Hartford. George’s older brother, John, had a small tea route in a rural area at the outskirts of New York, an area that would one day be mid-town Manhattan. When John’s health failed, he convinced George to take over his small, horse-drawn tea cart. George had no problem selling tea, and he quickly learned all there was to know about the business. The problem was, he had to spend the entire day in his horse-drawn cart, traveling from house to house, making only the occasional sale. George Hartford was far too energetic and ambitious to last long in such a slow-paced venture, so he quickly abandoned the tea business in favor of something a little more exciting – at least for a few years.

Hartford’s next venture was entirely different from the tea business. He got a job with a New York leather company, owned by George F. Gilman, and was sent to St Louis to procure hides for the New York leather market. While Gilman made most of his money dealing in leather, he dabbled in a number of other businesses, including shipping and importing. Gilman occasionally imported small consignments of tea, which he sold to wholesalers and distributors.

Gilman and Hartford were both from Augusta, Maine, and took a liking to each other from the start. Although Gilman was older and more experienced, he respected Hartford for his creativity and drive. The topic of greatest mutual interest was the retail tea market and the opportunities that they might explore as partners. Hartford was ambitious, hard working, and had learned a lot about selling tea. Gilman had capital, and was well versed in shipping and importing. Together, they would start a company that would reshape the tea market.

At the time, tea often sold for over one dollar per pound at the retail level. Some sold for as much as two dollars. Part of the success of the Stiner brothers was the attractive price of one dollar, regardless of the tea. To Gilman and Hartford, one dollar per pound was still much too high. They reasoned that, by eliminating all of the middle-men in the distribution cycle, they could offer teas well below this price and give the Stiners some serious competition. Moreover, with railroads now connecting the major cities of the East, and soon to reach the farthest settlements in the West, it would be possible to sell teas to a much wider customer base. This was the underlying premise on which The Great American Tea Company was founded in 1863. It was located at 51 Vesey Street, next door to the newest shop of J. Stiner and Company.

George Gilman has been referred to as the P.T. Barnum of the grocery business. His flamboyant style and bigger-than-life personality added drama to the hard-working, even style of George Hartford. From the start, the team of Gilman and Hartford proved to be tough competitors, determined to make a major statement in the tea trade. An advertisement published in an 1865 issue of the New York Tribune stated that The Great American Tea Company had five branches in New York City, including the largest tea store in the world, located at Broadway and Bleeker Street.

1865 was also the year that fourteen-year-old Thomas Lipton bought a steerage ticket from Glasgow to New York for eighteen dollars, leaving him less than eight dollars for spending money upon arrival.

Lipton would return to Glasgow in 1869 and apply what he learned about marketing and retailing in New York to his parents’ neighborhood grocery store in Glasgow. Concurrently, Gilman and Hartford started another tea company, operating in parallel with the Great American Tea Company, called The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), which became the world’s largest retail chain. Thomas Lipton, who was in himself a combination of the flamboyant Gilman and the hard-working Hartford, would create his own grocery store empire in the United Kingdom. The commerce of tea, as well as that of retail grocery marketing, was about to change forever.

We will explore the success of Gilman and Hartford, as well as that of Sir Thomas Lipton, in the next issue of the Upton Tea Quarterly.


References:

Walsh, William I. The Rise & Decline of The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. Ontario: Musson Book Company, 1986.

Hoyt, Edwin P. That Wonderful A&P. Ontario: Hawthorne Books, Inc., 1969.

"Capturing the Retail Tea Market"



Part 2: From Mail-Order to Retail Giant

Improvements in global transportation, as well as the growth of the United States in population and geographic area during the late 19th century, provided many opportunities for enterprise. The completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 allowed steamships to deliver tea to the major markets of London, Boston, and New York in record time, and at lower cost. Short-haul local railroads were being joined into a network of railways that would connect all of the major cities, east and west.

George H. Hartford and George F. Gilman were uniquely poised to take advantage of the opportunities at hand. Their original concept was to capture a large share of the rapidly-growing tea market, first in New York and the neighboring states, and then on to the rest of the expanding United States. Their first venture, The Great American Tea Company, located on Vesey Street in New York, sold teas directly to the public, at prices far below their competition's. They imported teas from producers in China, rather than buying from distributors and wholesalers, and sold at margins that were thinner than the competition. With their New York retail operation a success, Gilman and Hartford began expanding to other cities.

Almost two decades before Richard Sears began selling watches and jewelry through his first mail-order catalog, Gilman and Hartford launched a nationwide mail-order tea operation from their warehouse in New York. Teas were sold at aggressive prices, guaranteed to be lower than those of local tea merchants. To offset any fears of substandard quality, Gilman and Hartford offered something quite unusual for the time, an unconditional money-back guarantee if the product was found to be unsatisfactory upon arrival. As an added bonus, they gave premiums to mail-order customers to encourage customer loyalty. Again, Gilman and Hartford found that competitive pricing and aggressive marketing were hugely successful.

As their mailing list grew, Gilman and Hartford adopted a novel marketing concept whereby customers were recruited as sales staff for the company. Existing mail-order customers were sent fliers, encouraging them to form tea-buying clubs, whereby large group orders from club members would receive discount pricing and special premiums that were of greater value than those shipped with smaller, individual purchases. As a result, local tea merchants noticed that their sales were shrinking.

Several tea merchants confronted Gilman and Hartford with claims that teas of The Great American Tea Company were inferior, often blended with spoiled teas and even used tea leaves. While these claims were without merit, Hartford had formulated an inexpensive tea called Thea Nectar, which was blended from leftover stocks and teas that arrived at dock with damaged chests. It was marketed as “a black tea with a green tea flavor” and had a rather neutral taste. Priced below other teas, the product sold well, and Gilman and Hartford continued to capture more of the tea market. They would not be stopped by critical protestations.

Several tea vendors chose to compete head-to-head with The Great American Tea Company and entered the mail-order market with aggressive pricing, similar club-plans, and generous premium programs. By the latter part of the 19th century, the concept had reached grand proportions. A circular from The Great London Tea Company, located on Washington Street in Boston, illustrates this well. The teas offered for sale in this small brochure require one and a half pages, while the list of premiums and testimonials from club members required six. Premiums begin with one-dollar purchases:
With every order for $1 worth of Tea we give a Plain Glass Syrup Cup, or a 7-in. Round Scalloped Nappie, or a Family Egg Beater, or a Majolica Creamer, or an English China Pickle Dish, or a Glass Covered Pickle Dish, or a large size Glass Covered Butter Dish, or a Spoon Holder, or a Creamer, or a Sugar Bowl.
Premiums for $1.50, $2.00, $2.50, $3.00, and $4.00 are progressively more generous, and:
With every order for $5 worth of Tea we give a Silver Plated Caster, or a very handsome Sauce Dish (silver plated standard), or a French China Fruit Dish, or a Silver Plated Butter Dish, or a very handsome Pair of Vases, or a pretty Toilet Set for the Bureau, or a pair of Silvered Glass Candlesticks, elegantly decorated, or a Silver Plated Sugar Bowl, or a Silver Plated Syrup Cup, or a very handsome Majolica Fruit Dish, or a Majolica Pitcher, or a Britannia Teapot, large copper bottom, or a large Washbowl and Pitcher, or one dozen 6-in. Tea Plates, or a Glass Flower Stand, decorated in gold and different colors.
The most generous premium:
With every order for $60 worth of Tea we give a Lady’s Elegant Gold Watch, solid Gold Hunting Cases, and a very fine watch in every respect.
To put this into perspective, $60 in 1881 is equivalent to $1,200 today! The allure was strong and, for many, the premium was more important than the product. Some testimonials in the brochure seemed to ignore the tea:

Taunton, Mass., May 22, 1880

Gentlemen: - My order for $60 arrived safely Saturday A.M.; [I] am perfectly satisfied with the premium. This makes the seventh order I have sent you, and shall soon send you another. Yours truly,

Mrs. Maria C. Lynch

Besides direct mail-order competition Gilman and Hartford noticed new retail operations opening in densely-populated urban locations, with names similar to The Great American Tea Company. Mail-order sales were dwindling in part from the confusion caused by these new stores, as well as from the likes of The Great London Tea Company.


The Great London Tea Company Was one of the many tea companies that tried to compete directly with the aggressive pricing and club-plan programs of The Great American Tea Company.

Gilman and Hartford decided to focus less on mail-order and grow their retail operation more aggressively. They did so as The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, rather than their original Great American Tea Company. In order to optimize the use of their store space, additional items were added to the shelves, including butter, sugar, baking powder and, of course, their famous Eight O’Clock Coffee. Each store was the same in size and layout. Customers who frequented the A&P in their neighborhood could easily find the same items in a remote A&P, located in the same area of the store, on the same shelf. To encourage customer loyalty, the company introduced A&P trading stamps, which could be exchanged for premiums, much like those given to tea-club buyers. It was a model that would prove successful for several decades.

Gilman and Hartford could open a store almost overnight. When Mrs. O’Leary’s cow destroyed much of Chicago in 1871, they sent a trainload of goods to the city and opened a new store before most local retailers could rebuild. Business was so brisk that they removed the back wall of the store to handle the traffic. By 1881, they had over 100 locations, reaching as far west as the Mississippi River. The pace picked up dramatically as they poured their profits back into the company. At the height of their growth, A&P opened an average of three stores per day!

The team of Gilman and Hartford worked well: Hartford ran the daily operations, and Gilman planned expansion and promoted the company. Their partnership was informal and never documented. This was fine until Gilman died in 1901, leaving no will. It took four years for Hartford and the extended Gilman family to reach an agreement whereby Hartford, with his two sons George Jr. and John, could purchase full control of the company from the Gilman family. It was a privately-held company until 1958, by which time both sons had died childless.

A&P enjoyed success throughout the first part of the 20th century. Their huge buying power gave them a tremendous advantage. Eager to sell to A&P, vendors offered special discounts and advertising allowances that smaller operations did not enjoy. Competitors cried foul. Congress became involved, and eventually forced vendors to charge A&P the same price for their stocks as the smaller competitors. It did not stop there. A bill was introduced that would have taxed interstate chain stores at rates that would have made such operations unprofitable.

By this time, A&P was already producing many of their own store-brand products. The loss of volume incentives by the major brands was further inducement to expand their private-label line.

As their private-label line increased, so did their competitive edge. Certain legislators considered this defiance and threatened to break up the company. A&P's legal fees mounted.

They weathered the Great Depression, survived Congressional probes into alleged predatory practices, and tried their best to face each new competitor head-on. According to Ukers, they were once the purveyor of one out of every six cups of tea consumed in the U.S. In 1933, the number of clerks employed by A&P exceeded 2.6 million, which was over 2% of the entire U.S. population! For a moment in history, nearly fifteen percent of the coffee consumed in the U.S. was sold by A&P, from over 17,500 stores!

But by the late 1960’s, it became obvious that the company had lost its edge. They were rapidly losing market share to a new generation of supermarket chains. By at least one account, mismanagement after the Hartford brothers died was chiefly to blame. Somehow, A&P lost track of their original identity and failed to provide the products and services that ensured customer loyalty. Along the way, they also lost track of their original goal of serving the U.S. tea market. Perhaps that was less important, as American tastes had changed and coffee became king. As A&P expansion began in the U.S., Thomas Lipton was slowly building a grocery store chain from his parents' neighborhood grocery store. His tea empire was just one facet of his operation. We'll continue our series next issue with a brief look at the Lipton story.


References:

Walsh, William I. The Rise & Decline of The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. Ontario: Musson Book Company, 1986.

Hoyt, Edwin P. That Wonderful A&P. Ontario: Hawthorne Books, Inc., 1969.

"Capturing the Retail Tea Market"



Part 3: Lipton Enters the Tea Market

In Part 2 of this series, we observed how the two-man team of Gilman and Hartford created The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company with a combination of skillful promotion and hard work. The flamboyant George Francis Gilman handled promotions, and the serious George Huntington Hartford rolled up his shirtsleeves and handled daily operations. This harmonious blend of talents created one of the most successful chains in the history of grocery retailing.

By contrast, Thomas Lipton was strictly a one-man show, but his gregarious personality and innate work ethic made him a single-handed force that rivaled the Gilman-Hartford team. The parallel developments of the A&P in the U.S. and the global Lipton empire are interesting for their similarities as well as for their contrasts.

Lipton came from a family of modest means. His parents left Ireland during the Potato Famine and settled in Glasgow, where industrial expansion provided ample work at modest wages. The frugal Liptons saved a small amount every week, and within a few years saved enough to open a tiny provisions shop in their neighborhood. Their selection was limited to a few local products, mostly hams, eggs, and butter. In his memoirs, Lipton referred to his parents store as a “tiny, wee shop … so small that half a dozen people would have had to jostle to get inside it at the same time.”

Thomas took a keen interest in his parents' venture, and soon revealed a precocious knack for salesmanship. When he observed his father counting out six eggs for a customer, and noticed that the eggs looked rather small in his father's large hands, he later suggested, “Why don't you let mother serve the eggs … [her] hands are much smaller than yours and the eggs would look much bigger in her hands …”.

Lipton attended school for a brief time, but he was never much interested in his classes, and was, by his own admission, an undistinguished student. By the age of nine he quit school, took his first job, and became a contributor to the family fortunes. No matter how busy he kept himself at various jobs, Lipton found himself drawn to the docks where ships were constantly arriving from and departing to places that promised adventure and fortune. Almost on a whim, he booked steerage passage on a ship bound for New York and, at the age of fourteen, announced to his parents that he was leaving for America. It was a bit of a shock to his parents, but he was determined and would not be dissuaded.

Upon arriving in New York, Lipton found that the thirty shillings he had left in his pocket would not last long if he had to pay for lodging. Innkeepers were waiting at the docks, trying to lure passengers who would need accommodations upon their arrival. Lipton quickly hatched a brilliant scheme. He approached one of the innkeepers who had a familiar Irish accent and bargained a free week's rent in exchange for delivering a dozen paying guests. He had made many friends during the long passage, and was easily able to deliver thirteen on the promised twelve guests. This transaction was of the sort that would become classic Lipton over the decades to come. He was able to seize upon opportunities that others would not see, make decisions quickly, and utilize his wits and outgoing personality to close a deal in short order.

Jobs were not as plentiful in New York as Lipton had expected. Civil War soldiers returning from war were hired preferentially over new immigrants, and the economy was in disarray. Prospects were rumored to be better in the devastated South, so, with a few dimes left in his pocket, young Lipton headed for Virginia, where he found work harvesting tobacco.

The first few years of Lipton's adventures in America are poorly documented. In Leaves from the Lipton Logs, Lipton provides a few anecdotes, but mostly glosses over this period with a single sentence: “I feel I could go on indefinitely recalling these youthful experiences in different parts of the States, but I must really pass on to the chain of events which had so much influence in moulding my whole future career.”

After a few years of exploring the South, Lipton was compelled to return to the excitement and commerce of New York. This time he found a job in a prosperous grocery store, where his natural salesmanship and quick wit brought rapid promotions and financial stability. There was a dynamic to New York merchandising that galvanized young Lipton, especially in contrast to what he remembered from the traditional marketing that was prevalent back home.

It is certain that Lipton would have done well had he stayed in the U.S. He loved retail, especially on the grander scale of New York, compared to that of his native country. But after four years’ absence, Lipton longed to see “the old folks at home”. He returned to Glasgow in 1869, anxious to see his family and eager to apply “New World” marketing ideas to the family business.

He did what he could with the tiny shop, decorating the windows, setting out the provisions in attractive displays, and relating to the customers in a more sociable style. In a short time he was able to shore up the struggling business and before long the bank account had a balance that it had never seen before — just over 100 pounds! For Thomas, it was time to expand and open another store, but the elder Lipton was far more cautious than his impetuous son. He would have none of it.

Frustrated and impatient, young Tom Lipton decided that he would have to embark on his own. At the age of twenty-one, Lipton outfitted a small shop on Stobcross Street with half of his savings, keeping the rest as reserves for unforeseen expenses, as well as to tide him over until he started to turn a profit. This did not take long, for on his first day the tiny shop had proceeds of two pounds, six shillings. It was far more than his parent's shop had ever sold in a single day.

Lipton's store stood out among others in the area. He kept it spotlessly clean inside and out. At night he kept the gas lights ablaze, making sure that everyone would notice attractive displays in the brightly lit windows as they passed. He advertised frequently and in novel ways to widen the audience for his store. Lipton was one of the first retailers in the U.K. to realize that a store could be a destination and attract customers from miles away, rather than simply providing for the immediate neighborhood. Judicious advertising and bold promotions were tools that Lipton utilized throughout his career.

Three years after the opening of his first store, a second shop was opened, to be followed by a third a few months later. Each store was profitable from the start, and since Lipton did not extend credit, the profits were realized as cash in the bank. Lipton was never comfortable with debt, either from his customers or for himself, so he never extended credit and never borrowed to open a new store.

In spite of this conservative approach, he became the sole proprietor of twenty stores after five brief years, and each was hugely profitable. Expansion continued at an escalating pace, and Lipton's reputation began to spread throughout the United Kingdom. Landlords were quick to offer properties to Lipton as soon as they became vacant, for everyone knew Lipton would keep the property in top condition and the rent would be paid promptly. He had his pick of real estate and was quick to sign a lease when a location was right. He was just as quick to walk away if an offer did not appeal to him.

For decades to follow, Lipton was focused entirely on expansion. The strategy was simple: new stores would open as fast as cash flow permitted, and as long as attractive locations were available. Once, when asked by a member of Parliament for his political convictions, his reply was simply, “My politics are to open a new shop every week!”

Having hundreds of shops to provision soon became a challenge, as local farmers could not keep up with the demands of his growing list of loyal customers. At the height of his empire, the chain of Lipton stores sold tons of butter and thousands of hams per day. He turned to Denmark and Sweden for butter and other supplies. Sales of Lipton hams eventually outstripped the capacity of all of his European sources.

Lipton's solution was to purchase meat processing plants in Chicago and Omaha, where he would be able to ensure adequate supplies at very competitive prices. Acquisitions and product purchases were always paid for in cash, except for one occasion, which Lipton documents in his autobiography:
"… there was one occasion in my early career when I did put my name to a bill for a comparatively trifling amount … probably I had been buying goods in fairly large quantities and had not sufficient money at the moment to foot the bill…. At any rate, the thought of this bill became a mill-stone round my neck from the moment I had put my signature to it. I went off my sleep. I couldn't eat. I couldn't work. … Three days after arranging the bill I redeemed it and so restored my peace of mind. I remember to this day the feeling of intense relief with which I tore up the dread document!"
And so it went, for several decades, without any serious involvement in tea! Today Lipton's name is synonymous with tea, but few people realize that Lipton's empire was in full operation well before he entered the tea trade. As Lipton, himself, stated in his memoirs:
"My name has become so inextricably associated with the merchandising of tea in the minds of nine out of every ten persons that I feel I must make this point clear -- my entry into the tea business only took place after I had more or less achieved all I originally set out to do in the general provision trade. Not till then did I begin to see the tremendous possibilities of tea as an adjunct to the other commodities in which I was dealing."
The precise time at which Lipton entered the tea market could not have been better chosen. Tea from the British-owned tea plantations in India were rapidly replacing the China teas that had long dominated the market. As prices drifted lower, demand began to increase at an exponential rate. The tea market was very inefficient at the time. Wholesalers purchased tea from brokers on Mincing Lane, London’s center for commercial tea trading since 1834. Wholesalers would sell to distributors who would add their profits and sell to retail merchants. This distribution model was comparable to the one Gilman and Hartford circumvented in their A&P operation, which allowed them to sell teas significantly cheaper than the competition. Lipton would take an even bolder approach and become a tea planter!

Around the time Lipton was evaluating alternatives to purchasing tea from brokers on Mincing Lane, he uncharacteristically announced plans to take a pleasure trip to Australia. More than likely, Lipton, whose motto was “there’s no fun like work”, had another agenda in mind. This became obvious when he cut his pleasure trip short with a stop in Ceylon, which at the time was in the midst of a financial crisis due to the failure if it’s principal export crop — coffee.

In the November 6, 1869 issue of The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, mycologist M. J. Berkeley reported on a previously unidentified fungus that was just beginning to attack certain coffee plantations in Ceylon. No existing fungus treatment seemed to work.

Recall that 1869 was also the year that Lipton returned to Scotland to work in the family store. Less than two decades later, Lipton had hundreds of stores that were perfect outlets for tea. In that same period, the tenacious coffee fungus, documented by Berkeley in 1869, devastated nearly every coffee plantation in Ceylon.

In the next issue of the Quarterly, we conclude our series with an account of how Thomas Lipton became the largest tea planter in Ceylon. The period between 1888 and 1898 was considered by him “to be the most significant in [his] career”.


References:

Sir Thomas Lipton, Bt. Leaves from the Lipton Logs. Hutchinson & Co., 1931.