Little things bother me.

I am troubled, for example, by the tags on Lipton tea bags. They’re flimsy and problematic. The design is ingenious enough. The tab is part of the envelope in which each tea bag nestles. In this respect, Lipton has it all over most brands, whose tea bags lie naked in the box. The envelope is perforated so that the user can detach the part that serves as the tag, but the envelope is made of such thin paper that the staple doesn’t grip the string very well, and as often as not the tag slips off. And that means that the whole string often winds up in the cup when the water is poured.

Most other brands — Wegmans and Twinnings, for instance — while eschewing the envelope, make the tags out of sturdier stuff.

It has occurred to me to call Lipton’s 800 number about this, but I had such an unsatisfying experience about a decade ago when I called Nabisco to complain about the way graham crackers are wrapped that I don’t have the heart to try it again.

There are two reasons why I don’t just drink another brand of tea. One is that Lipton tea is the only kind I like — at least, as compared to other ones that I have tried. Some people (you know who you are) sniff at this, implying that there is something pedestrian about Lipton and, therefore, about me, but that doesn’t move me. I have, to borrow a phrase from Jefferson Davis, “the pride of having no pride.”

The second reason I don’t switch brands is loyalty — not so much to the brand as to the salesman. When I was a kid, I was a devoted fan of Arthur Godfrey, who was a radio and television mogul back in the Bronze Age. Lipton was one of his sponsors and probably the one the public most associated with him.  He pitched the tea and Lipton’s packaged soup. In those days before the highly produced commercials we see now, the host of a show often was the one who sold the products. Godfrey used to kid the sponsors; he might have been the first one who dared to do it. When he did his spiel for Lipton’s chicken soup, he used to assure the audience that a chicken had at least walked through the concoction.

Godfrey was troublesome. He was talented and bold as a showman, but he also was kind of full of himself, and many people my age and older might remember him best for having fired Julius La Rosa and several other regular members of his variety show cast — without warning, on live television.

Nobody’s perfect. I made a commitment to Arthur Godfrey that I would drink Lipton tea and no other, and I have been more loyal to him than he was to Julie La Rosa.

Besides my one-sided deal with Godfrey, I might as well mention that I’m not happy when I don’t find a prominent portrait of Sir Thomas Lipton on the box of tea. Lipton, who founded the brand, was one of the great self-made businessmen of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. I identify with him because he was a grocer, as were my father and grandfather. Of course, we had one store and Lipton eventually had about 300.

When Lipton got into the tea trade, he broke the established wholesaling patterns so that he could sell the product at low prices to the working poor. Lipton tea boxes used to feature a large picture of Thomas Lipton with a tea cup in his hand and a yachting cap on his head – an image that has been relegated to a tiny logo. Lipton was a yachting enthusiast and tried five times with five different yachts to win the Americas Cup. What he finally won was a special trophy honoring him as the “best of all losers.”

Lipton also did a lot to assist medical volunteers in Europe during World War I, including putting his yachts at the disposal of organizations transporting medical personnel and supplies and traveling himself to Serbia to show his support for doctors, nurses, and soldiers at the height of a typhus epidemic. Twinnings? I don’t think so.

Sir THOMAS LIPTON

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Kenyan child

KENYAN CHILD ajirifoundation.org

On an unusually warm November day on the usually friendly streets of Frenchtown we were treated to cups of delicious black tea grown in the fertile Kisii Highlands of Kenya. This tea, which is sold under the name Ajiri, is processed at the Nyansiongo Tea Factory, which is jointly owned by more than 10,000 small-scale farmers.

The tea was being dispensed by folks from Upper Black Eddy, which is across the Delaware River from Milford, a little bit north and west of Frenchtown. Sixteen tea bags were presented in a little box decorated with designs fashioned by Kenyan women using dried banana leaves from their own farms. The plastic bag inside is tied with twine – also made from banana leaves – decorated with colorful beads made from lacquered remnants of recycled magazine pages.

None of this is designed to be cute. The box top makes that clear from the outset: “100% of profits support orphan education in western Kenya.”

 

children

KENYAN CHILDREN arijifoundation.org

In addition to proving schooling for the children, Ajiri Tea creates employment for the people of that region — in fact, the group’s literature points out, “ajiri” is a Swahili word, the equivalent of the English phrase “to employ.”

Kenya, like other parts of Africa, is especially beset by HIV/AIDS. Besides costing the lives of adult men and women, the epidemic leaves many children without one or both of their parents, and those family members who are caring for those youngsters usually have no sustainable income and can’t afford to buy the uniforms and books required in Kenya’s primary schools.

The founders of Ajiri Tea and the Ajiri Foundation are trying to change that. You can read about their mission at www.ajiritea.com and www.ajirifoundation.org