Today we’re talking all about Harney packaging. “What, Mike? You expect us to read a blog post about the different packaging your tea comes in? Wait, let me read the tags on my mattress first, then I’ll be sure to get right to this…”

I understand your hesitation, but trust me, how we package our teas and why they’re packaged the way they are might be more interesting than you think. And I can promise you it’s a way more interesting read than the legalese on your mattress tags. Cross my heart.

The Early Days

If you’re a long-time Harney fan, you know that our teas come in everything from loose tea in tins to tea in sachets or tea bags contained in tins or bags, or individually wrapped tea bags. The tins vary greatly as well. Did you ever wonder why? Black & gold tins. Colorful HT tins. Octagon tins and round tins. Believe it or not, there are reasons for all of those choices and more. Well mostly. Sometimes we just do something because we like it!

Back in the early days when my dad, John, first started Harney & Sons Fine Teas, our teas were loose in tins. Eventually we found a vendor who could package our tea into tea bags, so we started down that road as well.

Our signature Harney & Sons black and gold tins with our lions and crest logo was created by a designer named Ed Piechocki. Dad worked with Ed before I joined the company in 1988. Ed helped my dad with the logo and other early design roots that have provided a strong foundation that we have built on. I honestly am not sure why Dad chose black tins and gold labels, but we feel it gives us an air of being in business for many, many decades. Which is decidedly true.

Over the years, we have come to say that our logo reminds us of good tea leaves: two leaves and a bud. My brother, Paul, says that the lions are the “big cats.” He means himself and yours truly. Hear the Harney bros roar!

Tin Brothers from another Mother

When it came time to start branching out from our standard black and gold tins, a marketing whiz we spoke with said we needed to update into colors, kinda like when Dorothy went from Kansas to Oz. So we started a line with “updated” blends like Winter White Earl Grey, a variation on our standard Earl Grey. Winter White is in an updated tin color, while Earl Grey remains in good ol’ black and gold. We gave this new sub-brand the name HT Collection rather than Harney & Sons Fine Teas to help further distinguish and call attention to them.

Our Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) line has a complicated origin story as well. Dad was asked if he wanted the licensing rights to market teas for these historic British palaces owned by the Royal family (but not for residential use). Dad was of Irish descent, but despite that he could not resist helping the Royal family. So we decided to do the tea in a new, octagon-shaped tin with jewel-like colors (or should I say “colours”), a nod to the fact that the royal jewels are kept in the Tower of London, one of the Historic Royal Palaces. Subsequently, we have become the largest licensor for the Historic Royal Palaces, which we think is pretty alright.

(See. Told you this was more interesting than reading your mattress tag.)

Our most recent tin design change is with our Wellness teas. I have always admired round tins and our designers, Mimi Ramos and Alanna Mulligan, were able to make stunning new designs with round tins for this line. While we’ve had several outside designers for our tins over the years, this year we decided it was important enough to bring designers inside our business, and we’re happy to have Mimi and Alanna design our products. My son Emeric gives them advice on what works based on his experience in our stores and running our website, while Paul and I sit back and let them create the magic. It takes about three to six months to go from design to production.

Tins, Sachets and Pouches, Oh My!

We get asked a lot about the best way to keep tea fresh, and “tins” is our best advice. Tins do a great job of keeping tea fresher longer because they do not allow light or air to degrade the tea. For our loyal fans, this can mean having a plethora of tins (which you can mitigate if you order refills in bulk and reuse your tins). We have a LOT of creative customers out there who find unique ways to reuse/repurpose their tins. Or you can do like one enterprising customer did and make a dress out of them!

If you’ve ever wondered why some teas come loose in the tins and others come bagged, or about our other forms of packaging, here’s a brief, possibly even fascinating look at how that all has come about.

When it comes to choosing when to put tea into tea bags, it has to do with demand. Tea bags are made on a machine that makes 300 bags a minute, so we have to choose teas that have high demand. Because we can do smaller production runs for loose teas, a new tea starts as a loose tea in a tin, and then if it becomes wildly popular, it goes into other forms. Our tea Paris is a good example. It started as a loose tea, and later, when all our customers bought it, it graduated to tea bags and sachets.

It’s interesting how these things develop. Upscale hotels and restaurants were our first customers; we only developed our legions of fans (like you) over decades of being in business. Foodservice has different requirements than individual consumers. They want portion control and prefer to avoid loose tea and strainers. Also, restaurateurs want to be able to go up to your table and offer you a tea chest and let you choose the tea you want. That’s why we started with tea bags and have made various tea chests to display our teas, just like in those fine restaurants and hotels. We bring the fine tea-drinking experience right into your home.

Later, we found the new nylon sachet machines, and we were the first to offer “silken” sachets in the States. These were an improvement over tea bags, because we could use larger tea leaves than the ones used in tea bags. This meant the flavors came through as clear as a bell. Hotels wanted them individually wrapped for sanitary purposes, so we offered “wrapped” tea sachets. Sort of tea bags on steroids.

Coffee shops wanted to have lots of sachets so that they could offer “tea to go,” and we started offering 50 tea sachets in a sack. Turns out our fans also wanted a bulk packaging of their favorite teas. So now, these 50-count sacks are very popular.

Everything has a story! Except your mattress!

As with all progress, there is a time of two steps forward and one step back. While bringing nylon sachets into the US seemed like a good idea at first, we came to realize that they are not good for the planet. So we started down the road to make them compostable. We have found a sugarcane material that works and were ready to make the change when COVID-19 hit, and the Japanese techs could not come over to adjust our machines. Let’s hope in several months they will be able to make the trip, and we can switch. We are also making other packaging compostable. Of course, loose tea has less packaging, so there are fewer issues.

And that, ladies and gents, concludes our scoop on packaging teas at Harney. We hope you found this enlightening and enjoyable. We return you now to your mattress label.