Monday, 8 February 2010

Tea up!

You know, its amazing what examples of deliberate misleading of consumers start to become apparent once you start looking for them.  Needing tea bags today, I wandered into the local 99p Store where this packet caught my attention:

Turning the box over, we find the line "A refreshing blend of the finest Indian and African teas".  Erm... so no tea from Ireland then?  I actually know a fair bit about tea and its history, and I can assure you that tea has never and will never be grown in The Emerald Isle because their climate is completely wrong.  And that tea would certainly have been too expensive for the residents of the croft on the box to be drinking with breakfast or with any other meal for that matter.  Finally, tea would have been synonymous with the English for most of Ireland's history and therefore shunned.

The tea makes it way from India and Africa to Winthrop, a manufacturing town in Massachussets, USA (still nowhere near Ireland, although relatively close to Boston, home of the famous Tea Party) where it is blended and packaged, then shipped to the UK (rather than Ireland) where it is distributed by a company called Chelsea Foods, who are based in Essex (which is nowhere near Chelsea and not Ireland either).  The only connection I can see that this product has with Ireland is that its in a Kelly Green box with a picture of a small cottage which could be anywhere but which is obviously meant to be an Irish croft.  Oh, and the fact that the US blenders are called Shamrock Foods.  By the looks of their factory, there ain't many shamrocks, begorrah:

So, African and Indian tea.  USA blenders.  UK distributors.  All of which adds up to so much Irishness that its practically Guinness by the time it reaches your cup.  Not.

I did some research and this is what Wikipedia threw up:
Irish Breakfast tea is a full-bodied, malty brew. It is a blend of several black teas; most often Assam teas and, less often, other types of black tea.
Some of the brands of Irish Breakfast tea include Barry's, Bewley's, Republic of Tea, Twinings, Taylors of Harrogate, Stash Tea Company, Fortnum and Mason, Mark T. Wendell, Harney & Sons, and Upton Tea Imports. All of these and many other companies create their own blends of Irish Breakfast tea.
In Ireland, it is not referred to as "Irish Breakfast tea", but simply as "tea". It is enjoyed throughout the day and evening.
Interesting.  So, while Earl Grey and English Breakfast Teas are established, recognised blends which are protected under the Trades Description Act (meaning Earl Grey is Earl Grey regardless of where in the world it is blended or bought because its always exactly the same blend of tea), "Irish Breakfast" is a nominal name for any blend which you might care to chuck together.  Different brands of Irish Tea will taste different because each company basically make up their own recipe.

The last sentence is revealing.  Even the Irish don't refer to it as "Irish Breakfast Tea" - and they drink it all day.  So it has nothing specifically to do with breakfast.  Or indeed the Irish.  Unless its in a Kelly Green box with a shamrock on it, of course.

This is a job for the guys over at Honest Labelling.
I did, in the interests of fairness, email both Shamrock Foods and Chelsea Foods.  Shamrock refuted that the product was actually theirs and said that "there must be another company called Shamrock Foods".  In the same town?  Riiiiight. 

Chelsea Foods' "response" consisted merely of cutting and pasting the Wikipedia entry quoted above into an email, ending with the incrediby rude final line "As for your comments regarding the affordability of the people [sic] living in the Croft House on the front of the box, can I ask how you would know?"  Simple, Mr. Keith Mead from Chelsea Foods.  Tea and its relative price over the centuries just happens to be something about which I know quite a lot.  So, Rule #1 of responding to requests for information - don't assume that your customer is ignorant of the facts. 

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