Guest Post: Bohea Over Ice by Kyle Brown of Oliver Pluff & Co

I first met Kyle Brown at a Fancy Food Show in New York City a few years ago. He impressed me with his knowledge of colonial history and I thought his historical tea line was a unique concept. What better day is there to share a bit of that with you all than the Fourth of July? If you have any questions about bohea or colonial tea history, please feel free to ask them in the comments!

I started a tea business in 2009 with a business plan of becoming the “Ben and Jerry’s of iced tea”. After sampling over 300 broken orange pekoes from India and Sri Lanka, we selected single estate teas from a couple of gardens: an organic black tea from south India with crisp, floral tones, and a bold, fruity black tea from Sri Lanka.  We found a small but loyal market for our specialty iced teas.  But the sales were not enough.  Then we met Colonial Williamsburg, who called on us for help creating their Early American tea line.  We studied tea history for 6 weeks and then we sourced the tea products from the same gardens that supplied the British East India Company. Our business adapted quickly to meet the historic market for Early American tea.  The iced tea business plan had been left behind.

Our Colonial Bohea black tea blend attracted the most attention (pronounced “Boo-Hee” Ukers 510). This tea was by far the largest tea import during colonial times, at least 80% of the total tea import.  It was so popular in colonial times that the word bohea became the slang term for tea.  In the Boston Tea Party, 1,586 chests of bohea were destroyed.  The word bohea seems to have evolved from a corruption of the Chinese word for the Wuyi Mountains.  Originally from this Wuyi region, bohea evolved from being sourced from a particular region to become a black tea blend from several regions. The blend varied wildly, consisting of broken orange pekoe, pekoe, and souchong dumped in a pile and then sifted, typically the scrap tea of lower quality (larger) leaves, but was considered high quality by the colonists.

Bohea is our most controversial product but it’s easily our best-seller online.  A hot cup of bohea can cleave a slow afternoon right in half.  Some immediately dislike the smoky aroma and flavor but others love it. I found an online review of our bohea which read “Now I know why we fought the revolution”.  Others offer tips to squeeze in a lemon or add some cream and sugar.

I also sip bohea as an iced tea; the smoky tones are complemented with a bit of cane sugar. It’s intriguing as an iced tea. Now, with our iced bohea, we are finding a new market for specialty iced teas.  Bartenders and mixologists are using bohea as the base ingredient in their smoky iced tea cocktails.  It’s a fusion of Southern and colonial American tea cultures, and it feels so satisfying to be back into the iced tea business.

by Kyle Brown, Founder, Oliver Pluff & Co.

You can find out more about Colonial Bohea here.

Oliver Pluff & Company creates early American tea, coffee, and spice blends for historical and gourmet markets. We believe that people with a passion for history are enriching their lives – that the exploration of history gives us a sense of belonging