I have never been a coffee drinker, but, when it comes to tea, I could probably drink my weight in the stuff. Of course, here in the Southern United States, it must be sweet. As I discovered this morning, I have a connection to Africa through tea. I have a friend named Lekake that lives in Kenya. Her mother, Grace, owns a tea plantation in Kericho. Thomas Johnstone Lipton created the Thomas J. Lipton Company in 1893. Unilever purchased the Lipton Tea Company in 1972 and has a location in Kericho, where it purchases its tea from small local tea growers, like Lekake's mother. And, after having enjoyed thousands of gallons of Lipton Tea throughout my lifetime, I have a personal connection to Africa through tea.
Originally grown in China, tea was introduced to Africa in 1850 and Africa has now become one of the major tea producing areas. Kenya is the world's largest black tea exporter and the world's third largest tea producer. Today, tea is grown in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. The tradition of tea drinking is enjoyed throughout the continent, possibly due to the influence of the English Victorian colonization presence. Most will have a 10 o'clock tea followed by an afternoon tea at around 4 pm, a break from the day to enjoy tea and a snack. The "afternoon tea" was introduced in England in the 1840's to prevent hunger between lunch and dinner. Africans also enjoy tea after dinner, with black tea being the tea of choice, with milk and sugar.
The English may have made tea fashionable, but, Thomas J. Lipton made it affordable. Thomas Johnstone Lipton was born on May 10, 1848 in Glasgow, Scotland. His parents had been forced to leave Ireland in 1845 due to the potato famine. Thomas was the youngest of five children. His three older brothers and sister all died in infancy, leaving him to be the only surviving child. In 1864, Thomas signed on as a cabin boy for a local steamer where he heard and was captivated by stories from sailors that had sailed to America. Adventure would take hold as Thomas would use his wages to purchase passage to America where he traveled for five years. During which he worked on a tobacco plantation, as a bookkeeper, a farmhand, a door to door salesman, and a grocery assistant. He returned to Scotland in 1870 and in 1871 he opened his first provision shop, Lipton's Market. His enterprise proved successful and he soon established a chain of stores. By 1888, his grocery empire had grown to 300 stores and had reached British and American markets. Tea prices had fallen and demand was growing among middle class customers, so, Lipton entered the tea trade. By bypassing the traditional trade and wholesale distribution routes, Lipton was able to sell at unprecedented prices that enabled him to sell to the untapped poor working class market. In order to provide tea for his shops, Lipton began buying tea gardens. His shrewd business practices were key to his company's success. This success would feed Lipton's lifelong hunger for sailing and yachting, which happens to be the reason Lipton was always pictured on his products wearing a captain's hat.
Thomas J. Lipton passed away on October 2, 1931. Never married and with no children, he bequeathed the majority of his fortune to his hometown of Glasgow. He is buried beside his parents and siblings in Glasgow.
And, as radio commentator, Paul Harvey, would say, "Now, you know the rest of the story".