Sunday, April 8, 2012

Respect Your Elders!

R.C. Bigelow
 I recently read “My Mother Loved Tea” by David C. Bigelow. His mother was Ruth Campbell Bigelow, whose Constant Comment started a family run empire that is now in its third generation. It is a short but interesting book about a successful married couple hitting hard times in the depression and in the following years choosing to follow a dream instead of giving up. Launching the business was easy, but getting noticed proved to be the real challenge. The story takes decades to unfold.

What I find especially interesting is the impact Bigelow had on the way we drink tea in America. Today, with all the choices we have at the grocery store and the endless variety of wonders we can order off the Internet, we sometimes forget it wasn’t always this way. My own early experience with tea is mirrored in the book. I mentioned this in my first post on this blog. When I was a teenager in the 70’s I began to buy my own tea. The grocers shelf space dedicated to tea was pretty limited and what was there was straight black tea. Except for this one pressboard ‘tin’ with the oval metal lid. It was different. The orange peel and sweet spice flavored Constant Comment was the only flavored tea we had available.

What I didn’t know until I read the book was that Bigelow’s other flavors didn’t show up on the shelves until 1974. My beloved Earl Grey, Lemon Lift, and Cinnamon Stick came about because of a copycat version of Constant Comment being introduced by a competitor. We take tea variety for granted but without Constant Comment and the competition it inspired we might have had to wait on the Internet to find out we had options beyond orange pekoe black tea bags.

Grocery store teas often receive subtle and not so subtle insults by some of my fellow tea drinkers. I think it is high time the pioneers who struggled to bring tea to the everyday tea drinkers among us get the deserved credit and respect they have earned. Thank you Ruth for loving tea enough to keep fighting all those years to make it available to the rest of us.

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