Not for “All the Tea in China” . . .

Who remembers this phrase?  “No way, no sir, not for all the Tea in China!”  That phrase was not to be challenged.  You meant ‘no’ and you were standing firm.

I believe the phrase began around the turn of the century.  China was the largest producer and exporter of the world’s most popular beverage and everyone knew it.  With more than 45 countries producing tea today, China still continues to produce more tea than any of the other tea-growing countries.  They have, however, dropped to No. 3 in exporting.  India, Kenya and Sri Lanka have taken over as the largest exporters of tea. These three countries alone produce the more popular CTC (crushed, torn, curled) grade of tea, which is blended and appears in your grocery stores as tea bags.  But apparently India, Kenya and Sri Lanka are producing too much black tea because now there appears to be a glut of tea in the marketplace and prices are falling.  It seems consumers (especially Millennials) are finally demanding higher-quality teas, green teas, oolongs and specialty teas.

Who is drinking all this tea?  According to Quartz, the biggest tea drinkers in the world live in Turkey!  Which is amazing to me.  I would definitely have thought it was the U.K.  Having been to Turkey, I did not notice an overwhelming tea-drinking culture.  Tea was served in restaurants, cafes, and always offered in upscale retail shops and tourist areas, but statistics don’t lie.  They report that each person in Turkey drinks, on average, 6.96 pounds of tea each year, whereas a U.K. tea drinker enjoys 4.83 pounds each year.  Could it be that in Turkey they use twice as much “tea” to make a cup?

So how much tea does the average American drink?  In 2014 AmFotolia cover man drinking teaericans enjoyed over 80 BILLION cups of tea!   But this research is also flawed, because Americans drink more ready-to-drink bottled tea than any other country, not to mention powdered tea-drink mixes. According to the Tea Market Report by the American Botanical Council tea-drinking Americans still prefer black tea –  84% drink black tea – while only 15% drink green and the remainder drink oolong, white, etc.

It’s almost impossible today to watch television and not see an advertisement for one bottled tea or another.  Lipton may be the leader in most ad dollars spent, but six years ago Snapple introduced an ad that had everyone talking about tea.  See if you remember this ……

The ready-to-drink, bottled tea market is huge today and negatively impacting the soft drink market.  Sales of carbonated soda beverages have dropped steadily for the past nine years as consumers are choosing healthier alternatives in a ready-to-drink beverage.  Chai concentrates are another way of enjoying convenient, prepared tea and are very popular.  Another fast growing segment of today’s tea drinking society is actually not tea at all, but herbal beverages.   (Yes, I know, everyone still calls it “tea”.)  The herbal ready-to-drink market is also growing rapidly, with the most popular herbs being chamomile, ginger, echinacea, mint, dandelion and valerian root.

Matcha-flavored KitKat Bars

Matcha-flavored KitKat Bars

But it’s not all about tea drinking.  When was the last time you went into CVS or Target and noticed all the ‘tea-related’ products.  Not only can you buy green tea concentrates and capsules to supplement your diet and help you lose weight, you can choose from a variety of green tea shampoos and conditioners.  Green teas and white teas are incorporated into soaps and body washes, face and body creams.  Have you tried green tea ice cream?  It has been around for years and is delicious!  How about Earl Grey-infused truffles?  Matcha-infused KitKat bars?  Not to mention Tea-smoked duck and Lapsang Souchong bbq sauce?

Green Tea Mint Julep

Green Tea Mint Julep

Mixologists in all the upscale hotels and restaurants are using tea concentrates in their cocktails.  Tea-tini anyone?  According to the Sterling Rice Group, a Boulder, Colorado-based communications firm, TEA is one of the top food trends this year.  Chefs everywhere are incorporating TEA into their recipes.  If you haven’t already, you’ll soon be seeing tea on menus in everything from appetizers to entrees.

There are cookbooks now dedicated to using “tea” as an integral part of the recipe.   CULINARY TEA by local chef Cynthia Gold is fabulous with over 150 recipes using “tea”.  TEA COOKBOOK by Tonia George is another great cookbook using whole leaf tea in its recipes.  Whether sweet or savory, tea is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many recipes …… and we haven’t even talked about how good it is for you!

So jump on the “tea trend” and enjoy your tea.  It’s not just about “All the Tea in China” anymore.  It’s tea anyway you can get it!

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Top 10 Tea Producing Countries

and the amount of tea they produce*

1. China = 1,000,130 tons  –  2. India  = 900,000 tons  –  3. Kenya = 303,000 tons
4. Sri Lanka = 295,000 tons  –  5. Turkey = 175,000 tons – 6. Indonesia = 157,000 tons
7. Vietnam  = 117,000 tons  –  8. Japan = 89,000 tons  –  9. Argentina = 69,000 tons
10. Iran = 84,000 tons

* These figures are lower than the overall high production of 2013.

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References:  World Tea News, Tea Market Report, Quartz, TEA USA

Orange Pekoe?

During my 15 years of tea lectures, exhibitions and shows where I’d present information about tea’s origins, types of teas and their unique properties, classics vs flavored, health benefits, steeping instructions, folk lore and traditions, inevitably at the end of the presentation someone would ask me if I sold “orange pekoe” tea.  Aghhhhhhhhhhh!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a big intake of air, and  s-l-o-w-l-y regaining my composure, I’d say “Yes, I do.  Would you like to purchase some?”

Orange pekoe tea!!
I have Estate teas, Chinese Keemuns and Yunnans, Kenyan teas, Darjeelings and Assams, teas from Sri Lanka and Nepal – all grades!  I have English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast.  I have blends with Assams and Darjeelings.  I have blends with Keemuns and Assams.  I have blends with Keemuns, Ceylons and Darjeelings, but, no, they want that “orange pekoe”.

I loved my customers and I appreciated each and every purchase.  If they were interested, I really did try to give them a bit more information.  A knowledgeable customer is going to make a more educated purchase (hopefully).  But, how has this name, Orange Pekoe, become synonymous with good quality black tea (and, yes, despite my attempts to educate otherwise, some people do believe it is orange flavored).

Let’s start at the beginning.  Tea originated in China.  But it was the British industrialists who began to capitalize on the burgeoning tea market.  In China, after the tea leaves are plucked, they are withered naturally, rolled and shaped by hand, wok fired and then sorted for size and quality.

Sorting Room in Chinese Factory.

Sorting Room in Chinese Factory.

This was far too slow and time consuming for the British industrialists.  It wasn’t long after the British established plantations in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) before these innovators created machines to do this work.  Heated tables for withering were invented.  Rolling machines were invented.  But having machines do the work created another problem.  The whole leaf was now broken into particles which required a process to ‘sort’ the different leaf sizes.  This led to a process of using fine screens (much like window screens) of various sizes to separate out these particles by size.  Now there was a need to have a standardized sorting or grading system, which would identify the leaf by its size.  With every solution came another problem.  A grading system had to be created.

The system began quite simply with a single letter representing the descriptive grade.  Today, however, the grading system is much more complicated with all types of fancy add-ons.  Again, this grading system is not for Chinese teas, but only for teas from India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, etc. The letters are:

S = Special
F = Fancy
T = Tippy
G = Golden
F = Flowery
B = Broken
O = Orange
P = Pekoe

Oops, did I say “O = Orange and P = Pekoe”?  Could it be that “orange pekoe” is a grade or size of tea, such as “tippy golden”?  BINGO!

Tea Grades

Tea Grades

Let’s start at the top of the list, assuming SFTG was probably the best ‘grade’, wouldn’t BOP be the lowest?  Hmmmm.  This doesn’t necessarily mean this tea wouldn’t taste good.  It does mean, however, that it was/is the lowest grade of tea.

All the letters seem to have a logical description for a leaf … “special”, “fancy”, “tippy”, “golden”, “flowery”.  But “orange” and “pekoe” … where did these strange terms come from and what exactly do they mean?

A Chinese belief is that the tea was originally scented with orange blossoms, hence the use of the word  “orange”.  Plausible but highly unlikely.  A more likely explanation is the term “orange refers to the Dutch royal House of Orange-Nassau.  Tea was first brought to Europe by the Dutch in 1675 and it is believed that the Dutch tea traders coined the term to imply a higher classification of tea, suitable for their nobility.

The term “pekoe” (which is pronounced peck-o and not peek-o) could be derived from the mispronunciation of the Chinese words for “white hair” which are “bai hao”.  “Bai hao” refers to the downy-like white hairs on the leaf just below the bud, which would be the bai hao leaf or in pidgin English, the pekoe leaf.tprint

The next size down from the pekoe leaf would be the orange leaf; then the souchong leaf.  The more mature the leaf, the less flavor the tea would contain.  As a result, a fine plucking would consist of the unopened bud, or tip, along with the next leaf or two leaves, resulting in “orange pekoe”.  After processing and sorting the leaves, you might end up with BOP, FOP, GFOP, TGFOP, FTGFOP or even SFTGFOP.  The more letters, the better the grade of tea.

All this can be quite fascinating or painfully boring to you.  The real question is how did the average tea lover get to believe that ‘orange pekoe’ tea was the best tea on the market?  For that we have to look at that Scottish marketing genius, Thomas Lipton.

It was 1850, and although still very expensive, Great Britain and the new Americas were now consumed by tea, and Thomas Johnston Lipton is born.  The youngest of five children Thomas Lipton was born in Scotland to Irish immigrants.  Although not an academic, Thomas learned his three R’s and looked to move into the business world for his future.  After a few failed encounters, Thomas found a job he loved, working as a cabin boy.  This love of water and ships would continue throughout his life.  Saving his money, at the age of 15, Lipton booked steerage passage on a steamship bound for New York.  A few directionless jobs later, Lipton managed to secure a position as assistant at a successful grocery store in New York City.  He was fascinated by American advertising and marketing and by how different American grocery stores were compared to the British stores.

Back in Glasgow, Thomas’ parents had opened a small grocery shop.  After three years in NYC, at the age of 18, Thomas now returned to Glasgow to work in his parent’s shop.  It didn’t last long because he wanted to replicate the NYC grocery store he had worked in.  Two years later, Lipton opened his own store.

Thomas  Lipton

Thomas Lipton

Preferring to deal direct with the producers of the food, and not the middlemen, Lipton was soon buying direct from farmers.  His Americanized concept along with eliminating the middleman was successful.  It wasn’t long before he had opened many more grocery stores and with the opening of every new store, Lipton would create outrageous advertising campaigns.  One Christmas Lipton announced that his cheese would contain sovereigns (about 20 shillings or half a one pound note) and half sovereigns.  When the cheese went on sale, within two hours every last piece of cheese was sold. These cheeses became so large and so much a part of Lipton’s annual Christmas displays that the manager of Lipton’s Nottingham shop hired an elephant to transport the cheese through the town.

Vintage advertisement for Lipton Ceylon Tea.

Vintage advertisement for Lipton Ceylon Tea.

With over 300 stores, Thomas now decided to turn his attention to tea.  Continuing with his theory of cutting out the middleman, Lipton decided to visit plantations in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and learn the process himself.  This was the time when the coffee blight struck the coffee plantations in Ceylon and the coffee crops were wiped out.  Within a short period of time, Lipton scooped up five defunct coffee plantations and created tea gardens …. thus becoming the grower, the producer, the middleman, the wholesaler and the retailer!

Lipton was masterful, he made his tea affordable to everyone.  He did not stop with just selling his tea in his own shops, Lipton distributed his tea everywhere, exhibiting Lipton Teas at the London and Paris world fairs, continuing his relationship with American grocers, and opening corporate offices in Hoboken, NJ.

thomas lipton orange pekoe“Direct from the tea garden to the tea pot.”  Who wouldn’t want the freshest tea possible?  Soon the famous goatee and captain’s hat became associated with good quality tea and was found in cupboards all around the World.  And what could he call his tea to make it seem as if it was the best quality available ….. how about calling it “ORANGE PEKOE”.

References:  Liquid Jade by Beatrice Hohenegger,  Mitchell Library, Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, Wikipedia.

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