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The rich history of Mazawattee: Alan Davies illustrates the fine history of a great brand that faded into oblivion.

The Hindi word for luscious is "mazathe". The Ceylonese word for garden is "wattee". From the two words, the four sons of John Boon Densham registered, in 1887, the brand name Mazawattee Tea. For the next 50 years or more this brand was to be one of the leaders in the tea industry.

Earlier, the firm's origins date to somewhere prior to 1865. At this time tea was heavily taxed in the U.K. and it is from "The Grocer," who published weekly "duty paid" lists that Lees & Densham, the forerunner of Mazawattee, can be found. The firm ranked number 39 on the list of 60 different companies paying duty for that week. They ranked just below today's well-known names of Tedey and Ridgeway. The top name on the list was Peek Bros. who paid duty that week on 95,000 lbs of tea.

Founder John Boon Densham was originally a chemist and druggist in Plymouth. At this time it was common for tea to be sold in chemist's shops, loose, mixed in the store and blended to the customers' personal preference. The tea was exclusively from China and India.

By 1873 the firm, now trading as Densham & Sons, had moved to London and occupied offices in Philpott Lane, two minutes walk from the London tea auctions in Mincing Lane. The company's profits had risen to 20,000 pounds annually and the manner of the business was changing. Most of Densham & Sons business was now selling tea in bulk to local grocers, which was then blended by the grocer for the retail trade. John Boon Densham died in 1886. His three sons immediately made the fourth and youngest son a partner in the business. John Lane Densham was to become chairman and lead the company until his death in 1918. It was John Lane Densham who was instrumental in persuading his brothers that the company needed a romantic and eye-catching name and, after a day spent in the Guildhall library, chose the name Mazawattee.

It was at this time that Ceylon tea first began to make its appearance. The public quickly developed a palate for this type of tea with its lighter, more flavorful liquor. The advent of Ceylon tea coincided with the boom years of 1870-1895. Lower retail prices brought about by lower taxes on tea, a rapidly expanding population, and the efforts of various religious and suffrage groups to encourage the drinking of tea rather than alcohol all contributed to a great increase in the volume of tea drunk in the United Kingdom.

The most highly prized Ceylon tea at that rime was a grade named Golden Tips. Companies took great pride in boasting to their clients how much they had paid in auction for the best Golden Tips. In 1891, amidst what was described as a wild and cheering scene in the Mincing Lane auction room, Mazawattee successfully bid 25 pounds 10 shillings a lb for a break of Gartmore Golden Tips. This is believed to be the highest price ever recorded -- certainly in real terms.

In the 1890's a scandal erupted in the tea trade. Green tea was continuing its inexorable decline in sales and some unscrupulous dealers turned to additives. These additives were designed to turn the natural gray-green of the leaf to a bright and attractive lime green. The additives were often health threatening. The responsible members of the trade turned to the innovation of packaging thus eliminating the possibility of any later additives being introduced. Horniman was probably the first to package tea but Mazawattee followed closely and were among the first to sell tea in 1 lb and 5 lb packets.

Mazawattee placed great emphasis on advertising. Over a fifty year span or more, Mazawattee produced beautifully enameled tins, posters, and large enameled metal advertisements which are now highly prized collectors items. A long-term contract with all the major railways enabled the company to place large enameled advertisements extolling the attributes of Mazawattee tea on virtually every railway platform in the country. The range and beauty of these advertisements is impressive. The first such advertisement was entitled "The Old Folks At Home". It depicts a Victorian grandmother, suitably dressed in a shawl and

bonnet, enjoying Mazawattee tea with her granddaughter. As a result of its popularity, Mazawattee was sometimes referred to as "Granny's tea". Among other Mazawattee favorites were "Matrons Who Toss The Cup And See The Grounds Of Fate In Grounds Of Tea." "A Patriot Tea Tin" which depicted a soldier from each of the allied armies in the first world war; tins showing royal portraits; "The Loving Cup' a nd many others.

By the 1880's Mazawattee was riding high. The parent company, Densham & Sons, was trading around the world from offices in Ceylon House in Eastcheap. Mazawattee occupied a huge newly constructed seven-story factory and offices on Tower Hill. Mazawattee was distributed throughout many countries as well as the U.K. Mazawattee was particularly strong in South Africa where it had a virtual monopoly.

The end of the century saw an end to the boom years for Mazawattee. Steep increases in the price of tea, higher duties imposed by the government, and increased competition all took their toll. In 1901 the company decided to diversify. A large new factory was opened in New Cross in south east London designed to house nor only tea but also the products of cocoa, chocolate, and liquid coffee extract operations. Nearly two thousand people were employed.

The new products were not well received. Large inventories piled up and production had to be cut back. Meanwhile the sales of tea continued to slowly erode. Financially the future looked bleak.

In 1906, with the chairman, John Lane Densham out of the country on business in India, the board of directors found another way to diversify. Perhaps influenced by the recent success of Lyons corner houses, the company elected to open up over 160 cafe type tea-rooms, which would also sell Mazawattee packet tea. The investment was poorly planned and came in well over budget. It also infuriated Mazawattee's loyal customers and agents who saw, correctly, that Mazawattee was entering into direct competition with them. The diversification failed and John Lane Densham returned to find that the company had lost nearly 200,000 pounds on the venture. He closed the cafes and attempted to mollify Mazawattee's loyal customers.

During World War I, several of the younger generation of Densham's went to war and some were killed or wounded. A further blow to the company occurred when, in 1914, Lloyd George announced an additional 3 pence a lb duty on ea. A further blow to the company was the death of John Lane Densham in 1918.

The new chairman of the company was Alexander Jackson. A tea raster, it was Jackson who made the record bid of 25 pounds 10 shillings a lb for Gartmore Golden Tips in 1891. The company continued its tradition of innovative advertising between the wars. These included delivery vans drawn by four zebras and motorized delivery vans with a large Mazawattee tea pot on the roof of the van. The exhaust smoke from the van was redirected to come out of the tea pot's spout. Upon the death of Alexander Jackson in 1933, a new member of the younger generation of the founding family, Joseph Alexander Densham, became chairman. The company, while still a household word, continued its slow decline.

The advent of World War II saw the introduction of tea rationing and Mazawattee, along with all other tea companies, was allocated a quota based on average annual sales. Tea sold itself and Mazawattee was able to make a small profit. Then disaster struck.

In 1940 the Tower Hill facilities were bombed and completely demolished. A few weeks later, the factory at New Cross was also bombed and virtually obliterated. In desperation the company turned for help to Brooke Bond who agreed to pack the Mazawattee quota for the rest of the war and up to 1951 when rationing of tea finally ended. Without even office space, Mazawattee rented offices from Furness Withy in Leadenhall Street.

The company was now in terminal decline. It was sold to Excelsior Biscuit Company. Mazawattee tea was still available in stores such as Woolworth's as late as 1960, being co-packed by one of the now dominant companies. Its days of being a quality product were gone and it was now just a price pack trading on its old name. Before long it was unavailable.

A sad end to a once proud and vibrant company, perhaps also a salutary warning to the industry. Nonetheless, for over 50 years Mazawattee was a leading force and a successful member of the tea community.

For further reading: Diana James, The Story Of Mazawattee Tea, The Pentland Press Ltd., 1996.

Alan Davies was vice president of commodity operations with Tetley Inc. Until 1994, when he became a special consultant with Holiday & Scandrett International and Plantestrakt GmbH From 1989 until 1991 he was president of the US. Tea Association and has served as a trade advisor to the US. State Department at FAQ and UNTAD meetings on tea. He is presently a freelance consultant operating out of Savannah, Georgia. He can be contacted at: alandavies@isp01.net
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Article Details
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Author:Davies, Alan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Company Profile
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 20, 2003
Words:1544
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