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Tea for two in Hamburg.

Tea for two in Hamburg

This article is about two very different tea importers, companies that vary radically to their respective sizes, services and market emphasis. Yet dissimilair as the two are at first glance, they emerge on closer study to be close cousins--they are both Hamburg firms, rooted in that city's great tradition of tea trading; they serve the domestic and export tea markets; they are both family owned companies with distinct personalities (as opposed to corporate impersonality).

Most important of all, the two companies share a very high professionalism in their work and a proud deference to quality teas in bulk.


About 20 years ago, Inter-Tee moved to its current quarters, in a then-new building at the northern edge of Hamburg. But the company continues to warehouse its tea in the city's old free port area, and clearly maintains its spiritual home there. This sense of being in two places at once--in new Hamburg and in Old Hamburg--is a telling attribute of Inter-Tee. The company is a highly traditional German tea importer that has thrived nicely in latter years by readily adapting to up-market tea trends.

By adaptation, one means acquiring a menu of some 300 black, flavored and fruit teas, as well as offering the finest in classic teas, and including some 40 different Darjeelings, each 30 Assams and Crylons as but one category. Adaptation means marketing not only to traditional tea shops, department stores, supermarkets and drug stores, but also to importers all over the world. It means offering private label services and house brands, packed in trendy tins and bags of protein sizes.

The current successes for the company pertain to tea accessories, most particularly tins which it offers in unique designs, fruit teas, top quality classic teas, Darjeeling, Ceylons, Assams, teas from Kenya, S. America, China, but also Japanese green teas. Actually Inter-Tea has the widest range of Japanese teas in Germany, which retail for about twice the price of average classic Black Teas and are sold through Germany's finest gourmet outlets.

Inter-Tea has 80 percent of its sales in Germany, with special strength in Frankfurt and Bavaria. The 20 percent sold abroad goes to other European Community nations and to Austria, Scandanavia, Switzerland, Japan and also Eastern countries. Roughly 50 percent of the turnover is in bulk teas. Of total sales, some 30 percent are to German tea shops, and 30 percent to German department stores.

According to one of the firms co-owners, Hanspeter Gesing, `flexibility' has proven to be the key to Inter-Tea stability. "We emphasize the quality end of the tea market, but within that area we don't focus on one particular segment. We try to keep a careful balance among our various tea pursuits. As a small company that is essential." Interestingly enough, the same description rings true for the largest tea company in Hamburg.

Halssen & Lyon

Almost lost in the towering gothic-style walls and battlements of Hamburg's Warehouse City, the headquarters of Halssen & Lyon are both discreet and solidly impressive. The company name writ small, gold letters on black metal, double Victorian doors through red brick arches. This could have been imagined by Dickens.

Once inside, however, centuries and imagery flip. One could have landed in a suite of New York corporate offices. But the corporate "label" goes no further than the decor. The feeling at Halssen & Lyon is distinctly "family", in the sense of communal effort. The people clearly enjoy their work and are openly fond of the company, with more concern for the business at hand than the color of today's tie. And all the work focuses on the center of gravity, the huge tea sampling and study room. Actually, to again change centuries, the feeling at Halssen & Lyon is evocative of a scene from an Italian Renaissance master's workshop--masters and apprentices faithfully fulfilling a work of art.

Certainly, the company believes its age of 110 years with a continuing flurry of activity. Halssen & Lyon remains very much in the Ellerbrock family, under what should be termed the charismatic leadership of the brothers Ellerbrock, Olav and Hurst-Jurgen. Other executive positions are held by Kalle Grieger (Decaffeinated Tea worldwide, US and other export markets); Harald Vogel (China/Indonesia buying, various export markets); Horst Fisher (India/Ceylon buying, German Market), Dietmar Scheffler (Instant Tea) and Andreus Beuch (India buying, various export markets).

These executive responsibilities in themselves give a good idea of the scope and range of Halssen & Lyon activities. Basically, wherever tea is grown or consumed--from a cool glass of instant iced tea in Mobile, Alabama, to a hot cup of decaffeinated tea in a Vancouver hotel, to an English Queen's teaparty--H & L may very likely be present.

Halssen & Lyon is well known as a pioneer company worldwide in flavored teas (1967), instant teas (1960), and in decaffeinated teas and coffees (1935), the latter being produced by their sister company, KVW, Hamburg. The first shipment of decaffeinated tea to the US was effected in 1978 and went to John Wagners & Sons. The pioneering proceeds this autumn, with Halssen & Lyon introducing a new high-pressure decaffeination process to the US market.

The company is also a major international source for flavored teas, blended bulk teas and fruit teas. Yet first among all services, and still at the core of Halssen & Lyon, are classic teas in bulk. The majority of H & L turnover is in leaf sales, the volume, quality and value of which is somewhat staggering. In Hamburg, Halssen & Lyon maintains a constant stock from 60,000 to 80,000 chests, the largest tea treasure on hand in Europe and surely one of the largest anywhere. With stress on quality, the value of this tea is understandably impressive and with such volume necessarily gives unique size to certain quality holdings.

Why so much tea in warehouse? Quite simply the company has positioned itself to overcome quality and price fluctuations on the world market. Among all its services are those of tea banker and financer. The large stock is both risk and strength. It means that when everyone else is cutting down on inventory, Halssen & Lyon is buying. Buying everywhere, from the largest "mass" markets at origin to the rarest and most coveted gardens. To make sense of the combination of services, H & L is probably the only full service tea trading house in existence and the fusion of tea in mass for international markets with the supreme taste for collectors pallates, one must return to the concept of the Master's workshop. The company can "mass produce" but only to rigid intrinsic standards. This, of course, is based on ability and expertise, which when all is said may be the company's most valuable asset.

PHOTO : Messrs. Gesing and Schwedt, partners in Inter-Tee, a German tea importing, blending and

PHOTO : flavoring company that has adapted well to changing market trends.

PHOTO : Harald Vogel (left) and Kalle Grieger, representative of Halssen & Lyon worldwide

PHOTO : operations, these gentlemen hold responsibilities for tea from China to Kansas.

PHOTO : Olav C. Ellerbrock tastes tea beside Horst-Jurgen Ellerbrock.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Inter-Tee, Halssen & Lyon
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:Shelf wars hit Germany.
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