Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

All the tea is not in China

By Dick Hirsch

It appeared to be such a simple process that few people ever required assistance. They dropped a few tea bags into a pitcher, poured in boiling water and allowed the mixture to steep for a period of time, during which they might occasionally check the color of the liquid as an indicator of the strength of the mixture.

When it had cooled and attained a preferred amber glow, they put some ice cubes in a glass which was then filled to the brim with the brew. The resulting beverage, allowed to stand for a minute or so until it became thoroughly chilled, was iced tea, a popular potion at any time, but especially during warm weather.

It couldn’t be simpler: add a little sweetener or lemon and perhaps a touch of mint, and you have created an elegant, satisfying and inexpensive thirst quencher. It is a standby in restaurants and homes of every status. (The instructions would be somewhat different for those purists who have never accepted tea bags and continue to use loose tea or those who use a powdered formulation.)

Tea has been in an enviable position for years. Either hot or iced, it is the world’s second most popular beverage. It far outranks coffee, beer, colas and wine, and is surpassed only by water. In most parts of the world, no matter the climate or season, it is served hot.

I mention this because there have been some dramatic developments in the past 20 years that have placed the tea merchants in the US on the defensive. They have watched as the sale of bottled or canned teas was introduced, creating a whole new market. Perhaps it was the influence of the ubiquitous bottle of water, sipped in the car, at the desk or on virtually any occasion, that aided in the splurge of support for bottled tea. Brands like AriZona, Snapple, Nestea and Lipton have developed millions of loyal customers.

Has that caused concern among the mainstream tea processors? Do they perceive the bottled products as a menace? What do you think?

I just recently became aware of an Internet effort, a web site sponsored by Salada, a leading tea brand. It can be seen at and, in a soft-spoken approach characteristic of a tea-drinker, it cites all the positives of the normal teas versus the negatives of bottled tea. Salada claims normal teas contain 90 percent more antioxidants than the bottled brands and less sugar. Additionally there is a major expense difference, Salada says, placing the cost of home brewed iced tea at about 18 cents a serving. The tea maker also invokes the environment and wasteful clutter, estimating that some 138 billion bottles of various liquids are dumped in landfills every year.

Tea is on menus worldwide. Most drinkers think it originated in China and some of it does, but other sources include places like Sri Lanka, Kenya, India and Indonesia.

People are shocked when I tell them that my favorite brand, Red Rose, as well as its competitor, Salada, are actually produced and packaged just down the New York State Thruway in Little Falls. It’s a comfortable little city on the Erie Canal, most famous as the location of Lock 17, the deepest lock on the canal. Manufacturers have deserted many of the cities along the canal, but Redco Foods, Inc. is still flourishing in Little Falls, in a sturdy 19th century building that sits on Hansen Island, a tiny islet in the Mohawk River. The interior of the facility has been enhanced and outfitted with the latest food-handling and packaging equipment and from that loading dock are shipped cases containing packages of black, green, white and various specialty flavored teas, both as teabags and as packets of loose leaves.

The plant has an interesting history, originally built in 1874 to produce Junket, a custard concoction that your mother probably spooned into your mouth when you were wearing a bib. Junket is still made there in different flavors and consistencies and apparently remains a favorite of young children and certain knowledgeable adults.

Redco is a subsidiary of Teekanne GmbH of Dusseldorf, Germany, which occupies a pedestal in the tea industry, as the company that invented the flow-through teabag and as the largest maker of herbal and flavored teas in Europe.

My own tea consumption is occasional but varied, including an occasional glass brewed at home, an occasional swig of AirZona or an occasional bottle of Snapple. Is anyone still reading tea leaves?



Post a Comment

<< Home