Life beyond the teabag

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Diane Eddy

After America gained its independence from Britain, the young country set about establishing trade routes between San Francisco and Yokohama, Japan. Green teas and oolong teas quickly filled the general stores across the nation. Just as quickly, trade was established with China, resulting in considerable fortunes for John Jacob Astor and others. Furs from the Pacific Northwest were exchanged for Chinese teas which arrived back in New York to be sold at auction. Although tea companies were established in other American port cities, it was New York that dominated, partly due to the 25-cent-per-pound tax that was levied on tea to fund the Civil War in the early 1860s. That tax had to be paid in gold, and gold had to be gotten on Wall Street in New York.

Tea became the commodity that generated enormous fortunes for New York businessmen, such as tannery owner George Gilman. In 1859, the wealthy Gilman opened his first store in New York, selling tea and coffee, as well as sugar and spices. By 1863, the store became known as the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P). Five more stores opened, followed by a nationwide mail order business. A superb businessman, Gilman quickly grew his company to be the largest tea and grocery chain in America. By 1930, A&P operated over 16,000 stores across America, and one out of every six pounds of tea was sold under the A&P label.

One of the best known names in American tea came from a fortuitous conversation in Ruth Bigelow’s parlor. Adapting a Civil War recipe for sweet tea, she served it to friends and was rewarded with the praise, “your tea caused nothing but constant comments.” With that, the R.C. Bigelow Tea Company was launched, and Constant Comment tea became one of the iconic brand names in American business. Today, the company is one of the largest tea packagers in the world, second only to Lipton.

The year 1883 saw experiments in growing tea in America, with the most successful being the tea plantation at Summerville, South Carolina. By the 1950s, Lipton Tea Company acquired some of those plants and established the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, south of Charleston. R.C. Bigelow Company eventually acquired the plantation, and it became the largest commercial tea plantation in America.

Whether you are a tea enthusiast or a tea novice, Diane Eddy, Certified Tea Professional from our tea store Global Tea Mart, invites you to join us on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, for this fun and informative look at American tea companies. Class is held in the Sun Lakes Country Club Navajo Room from 10:00 a.m. to noon. The cost for the class is $5:00, and each student should bring a teacup and saucer.

Class size is limited, and reservations are necessary. Please call Diane at 480-219-6211 or send an email to [email protected] for more information and reservations.