The Brisk Tea

The Brisk Tea

Do you really want to work for a company that is being run by a dead guy? That’s what the ad read in some Gen X magazine that I was flipping through back in 1996. The ad showed a long dark corporate hallway with rows of company founders, who were now –as the ad indicated-dust in their graves. That ad struck a nerve with me because back in 1996 I was welcomed every morning by the somewhat serious face of Mr. Thomas J Lipton.  I was horrified… I was supposed to be in a company run by young cool young people, not dead people!  What was I doing here? 

(two years later they merged with Best Foods, had a major layoff and I didn’t have to worry about that anymore!)

I forgot about that magazine ad until just recently when I attended a lecture about tea by James Norwood Pratt, at a function that was organized by Virginia Dare. James informed us (in a facetious way) that Sir Thomas J Lipton was actually a tea “fraud”- Sir. Thomas J managed to convince world that “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 a tasters jargon for any tea that is not stale or flat tasting”.

This play on words reminded me of how often companies will misuse the world “quality” when it comes to manufacturing. Quality is, essentially, an indication that a product is “within specification”-it does not mean that something is high end or fancy, which is what we sometimes believe quality to mean. Thomas J Lipton took a quality term and made the world believe it was something of a very special, unique and “high quality” nature and not just a standard of identity!

Wow, so as it turns out I was working for a very sharp Scottish (not English!) fellow after all! I have not been in the Lipton (now Unilever-Best Foods) building for many years but I hope they still have his picture hanging up there, the man was a genius! I am sorry to say that  Sir. Thomas J Lipton is no longer with us (he died in 1931, at the age of 81, a lifelong bachelor), so who can you go to now for tea information? Especially if you are a manufacturer and don’t really have time or space to brew thousands of gallons of tea? Virginia Dare, a flavor manufacturer located in Brooklyn, NY  carries a whole line of tea powders, tea concentrates and tea flavors, including those “quality” (as in fancy not within spec in this case) varieties like Keemum black Rooibos (an herbal non-tea), First flush Darjeeling and Da Hong Pao (Oolong).

And admit it, you know you hit their booth every year with the hopes of scoring a bottle of the vanilla extract that they pass out. They don’t only do vanilla extract, they also do tea!

Ring a Bell?

By the way, I know I was going to write an elaborate detailed story on what really goes on behind the scenes at the Bell Flavor House Party but then I decided that I don’t want to ruin the mystique of it all. So if you really want to know what goes on in those mad parties that they throw every year, just buy their products and they will happily provide you with a party pass!

About Rachel Zemser