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Tea democratised (part three)
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The tea produced in India and Ceylon was mainly black, whereas Chinese tea was both black and green. Over the course of the nineteenth century Britain became – and still is today – a nation of black tea drinkers. At the same time, tea, since it was now manufactured as an industrial product often in huge plantations, became cheaper and more widely available. Some tea merchants, including Thomas Lipton, went as far as buying their own tea plantations. By cutting out the middleman, they were thus able to reduce prices. In 1890, Lipton bought four tea estates in Ceylon, after which he adopted the slogan ‘Direct from the Tea Gardens to the Tea Pot’, which appeared on colourful tea packets and advertisements. He made sure his name, which soon developed into a successful brand, was placed on as many items as possible, including the wooden boxes of tea carried by the elephants and the tea pickers’ baskets.

Tea democratised (part three)

Entire ‘villages’ were erected around the tea plantations. The tea factory, used for the processing of tea leaves, is the large white building.

Another element relating to these new tea plantations may also have had a significant impact on the British tea drinker. This was the fact that tea, now produced in British colonies, had become, in the eyes of some at least, a truly ‘British’ drink. Gone were the days when tea was an exotic commodity; it was now a British product and part and parcel of the British way of life. So much so, in fact, that the nation’s tea consumption rose from 23 730 000 lb in 1801 to 258 847 000 lb in 1901 – higher than the phenomenal population increase of nineteenth-century Britain.

Tea democratised (part three)

Tea democratised (part three)

Thomas Lipton was a canny self-publicist, using every opportunity to flaunt his brand, as can be seen here in these two promotional postcards.

In the 1840s, the appearance of tea clippers added a fresh excitement for the tea-drinking public – and this may also have helped boost consumption. Replacing the bulky East Indiamen, these sleek, super-fast ships, each one capable of carrying over 1 million lb of tea, cut the journey time from Canton to London from 200 to about 120 days. When the clippers set sail in May or June with the new season’s tea, they immediately entered into a frenzied race, as the first tea to arrive in London would fetch a much higher price than later shipments. British newspapers enthusiastically reported on the race, bets were taken over which clipper would arrive first, and in the autumn crowds gathered at the docks to wait for the ships. Such was the cachet of winning the race that some captains barely went to bed during the three- to four-month voyage, opting instead to catnap on deck. The days of the tea clipper came abruptly to an end with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Soon thousands of tea-carrying steamships plied this new route between the Far East and Europe via the Mediterranean.

Tea democratised (part three)

Boating that you had paid the biggest weekly tea-duty cheque was a great way of affirming your position at the top of the tea market. Both Lipton and Mazawattee used such news in their advertisements to bolster sales.

Back in Britain, new commercial developments were starting to affect the tea-drinking market. The growing importance of packaging, advertising and retailing – what is now referred to as the four Ps of marketing: product, price, placement and promotion – was an almost inevitable consequence of the industrial boom. Gradually, the selling of products became a sophisticated ‘game’ and the growing breed of specialist tea merchants was quick to learn its rules.

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