Sunday, January 25, 2015

Wagner and Sons Tea (food)

(1847-2000?)

imageBack in the 60s, if you wanted tea, your had only one choice:  orange pekoe,* and in most cases, that meant Lipton.**  Chinese restaurants had their own blends, but they were never sold unbrewed.  Celestial seasonings could be found in hippie stores, but nowhere else. It was Wagner and Sons Tea that showed me there was more to life than flo-thru tea bags.

Wagner’s was loose tea, and sold in a distinctive square tin.  Most were 3/4 oz., with a tin about 2 in. high.**  The tins were colorful, with each tea having a different color, with its name emblazoned on the front.

imageAnd the types of tea were things you never saw in supermarkets.  Orange pekoe, of course (orange tin), but Keemun (black), Jasmine (yellow), English breakfast (red), Formosa Oolong (light green), Imperial gunpowder (medium green), Irish (kelly green), Earl Gray (purple) Rare Mandarin (lavender), Pan fired green (blue), and Ch’a Ching Chinese restaurant (white).

The flavors let you experience a world of tea – and fairly cheaply.  The variety was appealing and soon you would get tea infusers to try out all the flavors.

The company was founded in 1847.  The teas were usually sold in gift stores and specialty food stores.  I knew of one not far from us where I’d go every few weeks to pick out old favorites and try things that sounded interesting.

Then, at some point, Wagner teas vanished. The company, around for almost a century and a half, sold out to a company named “Rose Spice” in 1996.  The company seems to have vanished, and with it, Wagner: the trademark lapsed in 2000.

At this point, all that is left are the tins, which are collectors items.  I can see why:  it must be fun to try to collect all the colors.  But the tea inside probably introduced many Americans to the idea that there was a world of tea to explore.

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*Which is not named for a growing region or drying method or variety:  it’s part of a grading system for black tea with leaves of a certain size and the tea can come from anywhere.

**Red Rose, Tetley, and other teas were available, but if you ordered tea in a restaurant, Lipton was what you got.

**There were also full-size tins of 4.5 oz.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

You left out my favorite, the brown Wagner's tin that held Lapsang Souchong, a black tea dried over a fire and thus had a distinctive smoky flavor.

Joyce said...

Omg!!! I have recently rediscovered that very tea named Russian Caravan at a new tea store in town!back in the 60's mom brewed me some smoky tea that I had never known the name;
But did remember he small square tins. When I accidentally stumbled upon this tea I was immediately taken back to my childhood and the tea I have Ben searching for nearly 50 years of my life!

Michele Yeager said...

I just found in my pantry a full tin, unopened of the Russian Caravan Tea. Got it in a gift basket from Hickory Farms. I wanted to open it, now I'm not so sure. I would love to taste it.

Unknown said...

I too have been trying to find The China Tea that was sold in the local China Restaurant in Merced CA.

Anonymous said...

I remember these tins, and I remember their flavored rices as well. Sad that they are gone. They were at Wolfermans.com in 2005, when I corresponded with them about their flavored rice, but I think they went out of business not long after that. Their phone number, 800-832-9017 appears to be invalid.

katakolczik said...

Andrzej said...

When I was living at Philadelphia often visited store Strawbridge and Clothier and always in they delicatessen store I buy Wagner's tea with different taste they were very high quality, special, tasty, still have tins from my favorite one "Yunnan"black tea and "Ulung" green tea. Sad if they gone, miss cup of good tea from Wagner's company....

Packerfanjane said...

Rare mandarin was my afternoon tea and of course english breakfast tea was my morning tea. I miss them both greatly!!

Anonymous said...

I remember this tea being sold at a tea store on the top floor of Hudson's in Eastland Mall Harper Woods Michigan.That was back in the early 1980s. the tea I love so much was cinnamon and Nutmeg or nutmeg and cinnamon. Wagner's was the finest tea I had ever tasted. I have been wondering for years what happened to them. It is very sad to find out that they ended up this way. I wish I had those tins that got left in my old house when I moved away.

Anonymous said...

Assam & lapsang sooshong were my favorites. The intensity of flavor of each of their teas has not been matched at the grocer since. How I regret their passing.

Anonymous said...

Frederick & Nelson's in Seattle carried this unforgettable brand; my favorite was Fruit and Spice. The flavor was definitely worth the price. Have often looked for it in the last 10 years, but could never find a clue as to why it was not longer available. Thank you-now I know to stop looking!

Anonymous said...

Wagner's was my favorite for tea, I have so many tea tins from them. I loved their Russian Caravan the most, I am trying to locate a good alternative source that is comparable, sampling my way through them. I would love to have insider information as to where they sourced their blends from, or bases if they blended their own. Too bad the other company didn't continue with them.

Anonymous said...

I miss buying Wagner's tea from Hickory Farms-there used to be a year round store in a local mall. Now I get some loose tea from Upton Tea, they have Lapsang Souchong, Russian Caravan, and an assortment of Assam teas.

Unknown said...

I remember fruit & spice! I didn't buy it because it was too expensive. Now I never can.