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Archives for the ‘How We Make Tea’ Category

Got String?

Some things you just take for granted, you have milk in the refrigerator, the light will come on when you turn the switch, and at work your computer will work and there is paper in the copy machine. When these things don’t happen as expected your day is slightly disrupted but you recover without much issue.  If your car does not start and you cannot get to work then that can have a bigger impact on how well your day turns out. Today we had a concern with our inventory of string for our tea machine being a bit low; in fact we had the possibility of running out.  Now that is more in line with the car not starting, it could ruin the day.  We were scheduled to receive delivery of more string on Monday but issues arose and the shipment was moved out to Thursday.  Typically we carry a higher inventory during our busy time but it was lower than normal so this delay just made it a bigger issue.  We have worked for many years with the same suppliers and have built a good relationship that makes us both committed to each other’s success.  When the supplier found out our situation they sent string on a special currier to tie us over until the scheduled delivery. We should never have run out of string in the first place or even been this close because we have reports, checks, and people making sure we have enough inventories but I guess it was not enough.  Now that we know the tea machines will not run out of string we need to go back through our process and find out what we can do to improve it so we do not have this issue happen again.  


How’s your knowledge on inks?

The ink used to print on our tea cartons is formulated using a blend of renewable, vegetable-based oils, compared to standard petroleum based formulas which are not renewable.  These blends include oils sourced from plants like flax (linseed oil), and soybean oil. Among these vegetable-based oils vinegar ink (soy tinta) is a form of non-food soy. It is an environmentally friendly, healthy, and safe approach to printing that takes only a small amount of energy to make. In fact, soybeans only use about 0.5 percent of the total energy that is needed to create the ink. In the late 1970s, the Newspaper Association of America was looking for different ways to make ink, rather than by using the standard petroleum-based ink. Rising prices for petroleum and quarrels with OPEC countries were reasons they wanted to find a more reliable and cost efficient method of printing.

After testing over 2,000 different vegetable oil formulations, researchers came up with a solution. In 1987, soybeans were chosen to make ink because of their abundance and low cost. With soy bean ink, those who tested it found no threat to the air or to the environment. In addition, approximately half of the soybeans that are grown in the United States do not even need watering, which is why using soybeans for ink can actually benefit the environment. Another benefit to soy inks are its low levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which can help with air pollution by minimizing emissions.

Again maybe more than you wanted to know about ink but deciding to go with this type of ink has less of an impact on the environment.


Unit Box 101

Now this is probably more information than you would ever want to know about the box your tea bags come in but it is a very complicated process and many people have spent a lot of time and energy to make it the best box possible.  Boxes are designed for their visual effect and for safely transporting a product from the production line to your kitchen. 

Boxes will have eight sides or panels and with the bar code and nutritional facts usually taking up two panels which leaves six panels for conveying information to the consumer.  In a short amount of time the box needs to convince the consumer to buy this product vs. the competitions and that is done by the color, text, and graphics used on the box.  Some boxes will have a horizontal look and others will be vertical, some even have printing in both directions so stores can choose how they want to display them. 

Our box opens with a “zipper” feature to allow the customer to reseal it like cereal boxes.  If you notice there are two side flaps that come in from each end panel and they are the design feature we use to protect the product from contamination and tampering until the end user opens the box. The thickness of the box material, the type of scores used for the box to fold, the number of colors used in printing, are more of the features that may go unnoticed but are critical in providing a reliable product to the customer. 

Now that you are more familiar with boxes, it is test time…….how many colors are on your box of Bigelow tea?


You Are Not Alone In Your Battle With Dust

Dust, such a simple word for such a big problem. Everyone has dust issues to deal with like dust bunnies under the bed, and dust on the TV screen, to more serious dust issues like those with allergies and asthma. Dust however is not just a home problem; manufacturing companies have dust issues as well. One well-known company that really has to protect against dust is the semiconductor industry, but companies like Bigelow Tea have big dust issues as well.

The dust we deal with comes mainly from moving the blended tea/herbs through our packaging process. As the product is packaged, smaller particles can get air born and then drift into areas we do not want it to. Tea dust creates friction on moving parts and when you are producing tea bags at 350 tea bags a minute, there are a lot of moving parts,

Our high-speed equipment does not react well to dust. Dust can cause friction on parts that are turning at high speeds and cause them to heat up and wear out sooner. Our electronic parts also prefer clean air to operate in. If we do not keep dust minimized then productivity can drop, reliability can drop and the quality of our product could suffer.

We have done several things over the years to minimize dust in our equipment and in the production room like installing vacuum ports to remove dust at the source, wiping down the equipment during the production run, and at the end of the week we disassemble the equipment to do a deep cleaning.

Bigelow spends a lot of time and money focusing on minimizing dust and removing it from our environment to keep our machines running, and our tea tasting its best. So next time you sit down and relax after fighting your dust issues, have a cup of tea and remember that you are not alone in your battle with dust.


An International Cup Of Tea

When Ruth Campbell Bigelow started making her now famous Constant Comment tea in New York City, she probably did not foresee that her business would grow to have such an impact on as many people or countries as it does.  Most of our sales are in the United States but we have been growing our business in both Canada and Mexico.  Over the last few years we have also been working harder on international business in the countries of:  Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panamá, Venezuela, Colombia, Perú, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, Bermuda, Jamaica, Trinidad, Norway, India, Bangladesh, Dubai, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, and New Zealand. 

Not only is our tea sold internationally, but we also procure equipment and supplies internationally. The manufacturer of our tea bagging machines for the last 20 years is located in Italy.  Our filter paper comes from the same mill in England for the last 12 years and our unit boxes come from a company in Canada that we have been doing business with for over 10 years.  Some supplies are found closer to home like the wire for staples is from Georgia and our over wrap is supplied by a company here in Connecticut, about 90 miles away.  I am sure you know as well, that most of the tea does not come from the United States. 

So as you are sipping that cup of tea think about all the people, and all the countries that work together to make that little cup of relaxation, and next time you travel internationally, maybe you will find a little cup of home being sold in the country you are visiting.


The Real Earl Grey Tea!

Did you know you can make a good raspberry jam using green tomatoes and raspberry gelatin?  I have had the pleasure of trying it and was pleasantly surprised.  While the green tomato jam runs a good race it still does not beat the original raspberry jam.  In tea you can run into some of the same occurrences where artificial flavors are substituted for all natural products.  For instance, if you take a look at the Earl Grey products on the market you will find that everyone is using black tea and bergamot.  Differences between companies will come from what types of black tea are used but the bigger issues will be with what is used as the oil of bergamot flavoring.  Some companies will use the actual oil of bergamot (like Bigelow Tea) but many will use some form of bergamot flavoring.  In a side by side test most people can tell the difference but seldom do people taste two different manufactures side by side.  Our Tea Division does this day in and day out to make sure the product we make continues to be the best available.  The only other way to tell is by reading the package to make sure you are buying Earl Grey with the real oil of bergamot, not green tomatoes.


What does Bigelow Tea do in Kentucky?

When you think of Louisville Kentucky you might know it as the 16th largest city in the United States, home to the; Kentucky Derby, UPS distribution center, KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger bats and Colonel Sanders.  But did you also know that it is the home to a mighty Bigelow production facility? 

Our plant, on Constant Comment Place, is a 120,000 square foot building which houses tea bagging equipment, finished goods storage, employs over 90 people year round, and last year produced over 550,000,000 tea bags.  This humble plant started off just to help fill in some production needs but has taken over the roll as our flagship plant producing the most tea bags each year for the company.  The staff at Louisville is responsible for providing our assorted product, 40 count products, and all the 20 count flavors to everyone east of the Mississippi. 

In their spare time, Bigelow Tea employees have been known to support the Kentucky Derby Festival Great Bed race, the juvenile diabetes walk, breast cancer walk, local soccer teams, and have taken up donations for communities that have been devastated by Mother Nature.  And contrary to many beliefs we all really do wear shoes here J!!!! 


Loose Tea or Teabag?

The question of “did the chicken or egg come first” can always create discussion and a lively debate.  At Bigelow Tea, you can ask “does the best cup of tea come from a bag or loose” and do you get the same results? 

So just a little history on tea bags in case you want to enter into that debate.  Tea Bags were first hand sewn and became available in 1903/1904 to the general public.  There are many types of tea bags from the double chamber flow thru bag to those that are formed in the shape of a spoon.  Today the most common types of tea bags are the single and double chamber bags.  After that you get options like; string/string less, tag/tag less, round/rectangular, and now you even have pyramid types of tea bags.  The tea bag material can be made from silk, paper or even nylon now days.  The paper used for making the tea bag is a blend of wood and vegetable fibers so you can also vary how porous the paper is to the percent of ingredients used.  And you ask how the bag is sealed?  Well, they can be heat sealed shut or mechanically sealed. 

No matter what tea bag type you use, the most important part of the finished product is having good quality tea inside the bag.  So when you are brewing that perfect pot of tea, take a look at the simple tea bag and remember what has gone into making it and while you are at it, let us know your preference.  We want to hear from you!


Inspections mean continual improvements

A score of 98 out of 100 is awesome occurrence in any event. Our Louisville plant received this score on their last 3rd party inspection. The inspection is done by a group that evaluates your operation against an industry standard; an “acceptable” score is 91 to 95 and 96 and above receives an “exceptional” score. In the past we have scored around the 95 mark, which we have been very happy with, but this time the plant really raised the bar for the rest of us. The 3rd party inspection has been a way for us to continually improve our operation and make it better. From each inspection we have been able to improve the operation and enhance what program we had in place making them better.

The best thing about all of the inspections has been we have not gone backwards in our scores, they have continually improved. In the past there have been small differences in the scores between our facilities, not that we compete against one another but there is always that “bragging rights” that come with the top score. The Boise facility has their inspection in September and so will be attempting hit above the 98.

The Boise Plant

We have three production facilities that supply everyone with the wide variety of Bigelow teas.  Our Boise plant has been running strong for the last 22 years in the same location.  We started it as a distribution site but due to production needs we located some equipment and gradually it grew into a strong production plant.

The plant has changed over the years with different equipment and production rates, but our strongest asset has been our employees.  Our average tenure is 10 plus years in this location and with that amount of experience our employees’ care and knowledge of the product is second to none.

I try and get out to the plants at least quarterly to see what is going on.  I talk to our employees about what is happening in the company and I listen to any concerns they might have.  They probably wish my visits were less frequent, but we have a good time while I am there.

All of our plants are critical to our present day success and future growth.  Boise has consistently been there for us every one of those 22 years, a big THANKS goes out to each and every employee.