Tea drinking originated in China approximately 4,000 years ago. Yet to many, tea is as British as kedgeree or bubble and squeak. This is not limited to those who assume all tea is black, taken with milk, and consumed with cucumber sandwiches in the afternoon. The politics and economics of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries were virtually steeped in British tea (e.g., the Boston Tea Party, the Opium Wars, and the expansion of the British Empire which at its height included a fourth of the world!). The explosion of international commerce during the 19th century and the aligned advancements in sea transportation are directly linked to the importance of tea trade at the pinnacle of British international influence.
My own introduction to specialty teas was through Mark Austin Imports, a British tea company with special interests in mail-order shipments to the U.S. Mr. Austin had a small tea business which catered to local British customers until World War II. The large number of American soldiers stationed in England during the war brought new customers to his shop. By the time the war ended and U.S troops returned home, several of them had developed a taste for British tea, and Mr. Austin made special arrangements to ship teas to his customers in the U.S.
How I became an Anglophile
The mail order segment became an important part of Mr. Austin's business, and he later began advertising in the U.S. edition of The Manchester Guardian. That is how this post-war baby boomer discovered British Tea. Mr. Austin's advertisement offered an introductory selection of four teas for $10.00, which included shipping from England to any address in the U.S. The thought of receiving a package of teas from England seemed like quite an adventure for a youngster growing up in a small town in Colorado. About two weeks after I mailed my first order I received a letter from Mr. Austin, addressed to Thomas J. Eck, Esq. The transformation of a kid growing up in a small town in Colorado into a titled member of English gentry was profound. Neither I nor British Tea would ever be the same. The letter simply acknowledged the receipt of my order and informed me that the parcel would be shipped immediately by sea. I should receive the tea within four weeks.
The parcel arrived in excellent condition properly addressed to my new persona. It had been carefully wrapped in thick kraft paper, heavily coated with a waterproof sealant designed to assure freshness and repel moisture. I had already developed an interest in tea and knew a little about the four teas that I received: a China Keemun, Assam and Darjeeling from India, and a Ceylon Broken Orange Pekoe. These were all familiar to me but the teas from Mr. Austin had a fresh aroma and bright flavor that I had never before experienced. To this day I can recall the aromas and flavors that were so intense and inviting. These were not rare or exotic teas but, as any old-timer can verify, ordinary teas were much better in those days.
My fondness for tea increased with the arrival of each new shipment from Mr. Austin. This was further reinforced by reading the books of William Ukers which at that time were readily available at the Pueblo public library. I was most intrigued with how Mr. Ukers portrayed the early days tea trade in Europe and, especially, in England at the time of the great Tea Clippers.
My love affair with British Tea would mature over time. Mr. Austin finally had to retire and, without his diligence, his business was forced to close. I felt a personal loss when I read the postcard announcing his retirement and the dissolution of his business. My later travels would lead me to new sources of tea in England, France, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan. I learned that the world of tea goes well beyond the scope of those which are popular in England. Tea eventually became my profession. It was undoubtedly my romanticized views of the tea trade in 19th century England, indelibly fused over 30 years ago, that prompted this endeavor.
"Upton Tea Imports was founded in 1989 with the objective of providing the North American tea drinker with
the finest teas available. We purchase teas from reputable brokers and estates worldwide, dealing only with
sources who are capable of providing top quality teas. We sell directly to the consumer, thus ensuring the
freshest product and fairest pricing."