The summer holiday. An event one spends weeks, even months fantasising about, a time to relax, recuperate and indulge…. And a potential nightmare for the tea drinker. Born into a family of tea-lovers, my jaunts abroad are synonymous with low if not non-existent expectations of my early morning cuppa. I’ve even witnessed my own mother pulling Tetley teabags from her beach basket in an attempt to escape this fate laced with disappointment. And it all boils down to the most misunderstood tea brand on the market: Lipton.
Arriving on the scene shortly after its founder (Sir Thomas Lipton) set sail for the grasses of Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), it quickly became Queen Victoria’s brand of choice. It is a brand that is successful, infamous even, but nonetheless shunned. Nowadays, it has become a product that for most of us remains limited to an annual confrontation, usually in a European or American hotel. Coming face to face with their blends on a recent holiday to Greece, I have returned home somewhat pensive. Why is Europe so hung up on this brand? Surely a brand that is so commercially alive cannot taste dead? Is Lipton really that bad? And so, assuming the role of tea philosopher, I endeavour to do a U-Turn, to revisit an opinion I had certified and filed away in my mind and intercept the Lipton misconception.
It began with a question that for me has always been so simple to answer: “Tea or coffee?” demands the slightly sweaty, evidently bored waiter. Repulsed by the thought of coffee, I realise I have to take this pest of a tea brand by the horns and shove my tea snobbery aside. “Tea” I reply, feeling that the packet of disappointment that is about to land on the table is going to ruin my omelette. But I am completely wrong.
Half of the Lipton problem is the consumer. It is a teabag that requires time and effort, patience. One minute of jiggery pokery will get you a slightly brown pot of water. Even two, three minutes of infusion will evoke a sigh of frustration at the sight of the weak liquid that falls from the teapot. However, if given appropriate time, Lipton isn’t half bad. The classic Yellow Label blend falls slightly short on the flavour front, requiring a lot of effort to withdraw a mediocre taste. Lipton’s English Breakfast, however, is surprisingly good. But let’s not get carried away, Lipton’s attempt in no way pips the finer brands such as Twinings, masters of elegant and refined taste. Nonetheless, it ticks the taste boxes, one might even call it pleasant…
As for the other half of the problem, I can only infer that it is a result of some kind of Mexican wave of opinion. The masses have latched on to an infectious undercurrent of Lipton hatred and have refused to let it go. But perhaps it’s time we did.
Challenging my beliefs has been therapeutic and I have returned to rainy old England an enlightened tea thinker and drinker. I feel a sense of guilt, even embarrassment that I facilitated the anti-Lipton campaign. No longer will I view it as a prosaic, quasi tragic brand. And so for this misunderstanding, Sir Tom, please forgive me.