Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Tiger Tea bus

1900 advertisement, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin
There's no other tea like the Tiger,
It's no matter what they say,
And if you want a real good sort
Then have the Blendid [sic] Tiger Tea.

Then there's no tea like the Tiger,
Not withstanding all their puff,
They try to imitate its qualities
But they haven't got the stuff.

Then drink no Blend but the Tiger,
For its merits are supreme,
The other comparisons are just similar,
As skim milk is to cream.
Ashburton Guardian, 6 April 1894

Tiger Tea turned up in this country as an imported blend around 1888, and became the brand produced by Rattray & Sons, Dunedin. By the 1890s, the brand was well-established in the South Island.

Tuapeka Times, 31 January 1903

Otago Daily Times, 29 February 1912

Evening Post, 4 December 1945

At the Toitu Otago Setters Museum in Dunedin, they have a wonderful Tiger Tea livery electric trolley bus.

Gorgeous, this. Not only with the extremely cool Tiger Tea branding all over it ...

... but also a chance to sit inside the bus, on the original hard seats (oh, how it put me back to being a kiddy catching buses like this here in Auckland with my mum!) where you can watch a video screen placed up front, showing what it was like to catch that bus in the mid 1970s along one of the Dunedin bus routes, along with conversations based on a single newspaper of the day. A highlight of an excellent museum.


  1. In an interesting coincidence, the link to the War Artist website you provided in the previous article on Ernest Heber Thompson includes in it's list of biographies Peter McIntyre Jr, the son of the Peter McIntyreSr who designed the Tiger Tea Poster for Caxton.

  2. I don't believe we had Tiger Tea here, but the ads and the trolley bus rather make me wish he do. I guess it no longer available.

    1. On a quick look, it seems someone tried selling "Tiger blend" tea in Melbourne in the late 1880s-c.1892, but got hauled up in court in the latter year on trademark breach charges. Haven't the head at the moment to read the whole case and the outcome, but references in Trove after that are rare.

  3. It was around until at least the mid 1980s. It got passed from Rattray to Bell to a company called International Tea Co (NZ) Ltd. I don't know what happened to it after that. I guess it's time was up, but it was still fairly popular into the 1970s.

    1. As far as I remember, International Tea Co (NZ) Ltd was part of The Bell Tea Co Ltd. I used to work for Bell Tea.

  4. That's a bit of a worry, then. I found a partly-used Tiger Tea packet in my pantry cupboard today ...

  5. It could have been around later than that but I don't remember it. It was always South-centric anyway. It had no doubt declined in popularity over the time but it had damn good innings. Around the late 1980s Rattray had been purchased by a much larger company who were using it as a subsidiary to move into acquisition of major supermarket and substantial, established superette chains. No doubt upon purchase of Rattray they divested what they saw as minor business as far as the brands they had at that time. Rattray made its name with Tiger, Edglets the now-forgotten Gold Leaf which was huge in its time. It's a really complicated story of buyouts and mergers.

  6. It was still on sale last year here in Dunedin, but I haven't looked recently. Nice tea - I'm not sure if it was the same as regular Bell or not.

  7. The other day I noticed that one of the top links for Tiger Tea kept ushering me to the official Bell website, and then...nothing.
    I assumed it was likely trying to link to a moved history page where it always has had a mention in their company history as being acquired in 1969 from J. Rattray & Co Ltd.
    However maybe it was still on the market until a couple of years back and then cancelled. mentions it as still being on the market in 2010. However Google turns up no images of the product at all which is telling. Even if something was cancelled a few years back usually something will still show up online in an old listing.

    According to my database, the information I have shows a Tiger brand at earliest with Bell in the 1890s, then switches to Rattray during that decade and stays with them into the 1950s. By 1969 Bell have claimed to have acquired it (back?) from Rattray.
    The earlier Tiger that was a Bell brand could be a mistake (not likely), or they sold it early on to Rattray and then acquired it back later (not unheard of) or in the early days, you'll find many companies had the same names for their tea and coffee brands (ie Anchor, Lion, Elephant, Butterfly, Royal, Crown, Stag, Golden, Dragon, etc). In the scheme of things "Tiger" is also fairly generic. There was also yet ANOTHER Tiger brand tea by Robjohns, Hindmarsh & Co. in the decade of the 1900s.

    In the 1980s The International Tea Co Ltd were the last manufacturers, and were also on the most recent box packaging I have seen (courtesy of Lisa Truttman, who said that she could not remember how long ago it was she bought it).
    Coincidentally The International Tea Co Ltd was incorporated the same year that Bell acquired the Tiger brand. International Tea may have been a Rattray subsidiary that was purchased by Bell in order for them to get the brand, Edglets probably came with it, as it goes.
    The most recent mention of its operation was for the 2011-2012 financial year BELL TEA & COFFEE COMPANY LIMITED is noted as the parent company. It lists 15 Hope St, Dunedin which is the old Bell building , -45.881085,170.498136.

    If you see any boxes of it around can you please photograph it with attention to the manufacturer listed, I would love to see what the most recent incarnation looked like - thanks!

  8. I've sent you a pic via Facebook - I did see their page for Tiger (maybe last year) before it was taken down.

  9. Thanks! Well, it was definitely around until recently, that settles it. I've also emailed Bell to ask them when they cancelled it and what the reason was. It's like they have some magical interwebz vacuum that sucked up almost every mention of it and every picture that was around.

  10. This in from Bell this morning:
    "Good morning. Thank you for your enquiry regarding Tiger Tea. Firstly, let me reassure you that we are still making and selling Tiger here in New Zealand! (it is a south Island only product though). Each supermarket chooses what they want to stock and then it’s demand from the shopper if the product is kept on the shelf.Kind Regards, Kathryn Loveday."

  11. I am so glad I found this blog. I am the biggest Tiger Tea fan, ever! Nothing compares. So when I went to Southland two months ago I brought a huge box-load back to the Waikato (where you cannot buy it!).
    ALSO, I was perusing through a store in Raglan and found a whole bunch of Tiger Tea canisters - I couldn't believe my luck. I tried to explain to the shop owner that they were Tiger Tea canisters, and she thought I was speaking a whole different language saying, 'no, they're made in NZ'. Rest assured, I finally got my message across (how can you think Tiger Tea is from India!?) and bought two (as they were selling at $30 a pop!). I have enjoyed Tiger Tea everywhere I travel. From Cape Reinga to the Bluff and in Western Australia: Broome, Carnarvon, Perth, Esperance and everywhere in between! I even have the pics to prove it! If Bell Tea phase it out, I will not be a happy lass!

  12. Hi are a serious fan! The people from Bell were so nice I actually got the idea that they would possibly be open to arrange a shipment to a desperate customer who couldn't get it, but don't quote me on that. But you could always contact them and ask if you run out again or get a list of the local supermarkets who do have it on shelves.

  13. Just enjoying a cup right now....purchased from New World St martins Christchurch. I was a bit dubious since i hadn't had a cup since the 70's and didn't think it would rate against Twinings Irish Breakfast or Dilmah. BUT I am most impressed ...deleicious!! :-)

  14. An article in the "Otago Witness" newspaper dated 11 June 1891 states J Rattray & son of Dunedin, tea blenders, introduced the blend Tiger last year (ie 1890)