The secret of Messrs. Salmon's remarkable success, and the position which their teas hold in the market, are due to the constant attention and technical knowledge of the trade which they have brought to bear upon their continually increasing business. Tea testing has developed into an art, and needs many years' experience to obtain - in educating the palate and acquiring a keenly susceptible nose. The utmost accuracy and the nicest judgment are required in every detail, to know exactly what percentage of a certain class of tea will give a distinctive flavour to that of another which may furnish strength; and it is the result of many years' study by which Messrs. Salmon have acquired that accuracy and judgment. The effect is to be found in the admirable blends which the firm now offer the public.
Tea tasting may be described thus: Probably fifty samples will be submitted. All these are carefully "sampled," and the best half-dozen or so will be selected for final trial. An equal quantity of each kind is carefully weighed and put in a separate teapot. Every pot being of the same size, an equal quantity of water is secured. The time allowed for "drawing" is regulated by a five minute sandglass, and then the respective samples are drawn from and each one tasted. By this means an impartial judgment is arrived at, and the tea selected accordingly.
Messrs. Salmon's warehouse is one of the largest and most interesting of the kind in the kingdom. Its floor space is of immense capacity, and affords facilities for an enormous business. Each floor however is well utilised. The ground floor - the main apartment - is devoted to the putting of the teas in the packets - from the 2oz. up to the 1 lb. size - those bright coloured packets which so abundantly embellish the grocers' windows. Here are four machines devoted to this object, at each of which five persons work simultaneously. The accuracy and celerity with which this work is performed is perfectly astounding to the visitor, no less than 600lbs in an hour or 2,400 ¼lb. packets of tea being capable of being prepared for market by the staff engaged at either machine. When we visited the premises we could scarcely credit that accuracy could be combined with such remarkable rapidity, but on testing the weights in the packets we found they were perfectly true. Adjoining, on the same floor, are other spacious rooms - one department being devoted to the reception of the empty tins and empty returned cases; a second to the repair of the tins on the premises; a third for the storing of new tins and for the drying of tins freshly labelled; and there is a spacious room given up to the staff to "mesa" in.
There are two lifts to the premises - one inside and one outside. The outside lift is used solely for the reception of goods from the bonded warehouses at the docks, and the chests are delivered direct from the railway vans to the respective floors on which it is desired to place them. The inside lift gives access to each floor from the basement to the roof and is used mainly for bringing down the tea from the store rooms to the blending floor and from thence to the ground floors for putting into packets. The "power" for working the lifts, for driving the blending machinery, etc and for pumping the water (obtained from a well formerly in use in the brewery) all over the premises, is derived from a powerful gas engine by Crossley Brothers - one of the advantages (and not the least) is its capacity of being instantaneously set in motion or stopped. This is also located on the ground floor in a separate stone room. Adjoining this and abutting on the main premises is a place for washing and drying the tins, the latter operation being facilitated by a drying closet and one of Root's blowers for circulating hot air. Adequate lavatory arrangements are also made. The basement contains very spacious cellerage, and it is used mainly for storing the olla podrida of the business - corn for horses, empty chests, the lead from the chests (of which we saw some seven or eight tons). The stoke hole is situated here, and heats the water by means of which the floors where the work is carried on are warmed.
On the occasion of our visit (recently made), we were taken by a lift from the cellar to the top floor, where we saw stored hundreds of thousands of labels and wrappers, and tens of thousands of posters, all systematically arranged ready for utilising; and vast quantities of stationery used in the business; coffee tins and tea tins in great profusion, iron tablets, etc. On the floor immediately beneath this were stacked great piles of chests of tea from India, Ceylon and China, ranged from floor to ceiling, from one end of the building to the other, representing thousands of pounds in value., Each chest is strongly constructed, labelled as to kind, and marked with the name of the ship by which it was brought. Immense trouble is apparently taken in packing the green teas, for these are put in double strong cases. It is to this storey, the teas are brought direct by means of the lift, and they are ranged with much system all round the floor and in the centre, and a miniature tram line is laid right round the floor, and, by means of a trolley running on the rails, the chests of tea are conveyed from their position to the scales without much labour. From these scales the process of blending commences.
About a 1,000lbs of tea are mixed at a time - so many lbs from each description of tea which forms the particular blend to be mixed, being weighed and put into a hopper adjoining, which shoots it down into a huge drum situated on the floor below. This drum is made to revolve for half an hour at the rate of one revolution a minute and then the "blend" is effected. The capacity of this "drum" is about 1,100lbs. A shutter is unfastened and the tea is allowed to fall into "bins" placed beneath. Ranged round the sides of the main portion of this floor and in the centre are fixed huge metal bins, each capable of holding some 700lbs. of tea, and at the time of our visit, each quite full, containing its own specific blend, freely labelled as to quality, kind and date of mixing, so to prevent any possibility of mistake. In this department is another mechanical apparatus used for reducing the coarser sorts of tea. Adjoining are two spacious chambers: one devoted to the packing of the tins - containing the packet tea in cases to be sent off by rail or road - and the other devoted to the storage of tins (holding 12 or 6lbs) already filled with packet tea. The arrangements for packing are complete and remarkably simple. Boxes are made to hold three tins (each tin containing one dozen lbs of packet tea) and, so constructed that they are tied down with remarkable ease and rapidity.
Each priced and distinctive blended tea has its own special coloured labels. That at 1/- per lb black, at 1/4 salmon, at 1/6 buff, at 1/8 orange, at 2/- green, at 2/6 blue, and 2/10 lake. The storage chamber on our visit was laden with these filled tins, piled up high, and the broad shelving along the walls as well, testifying not only to the immense trade done, but also to the careful and adequate provision made for promptly supplying every demand. To speak of an output of a ton a day, gives but a vague impression of the quantity, but a little analysis will enable one to form a better idea of the amount of tea sent out and of the labour involved in despatching it. The tea is sent out in packets containing half-pound, quarter-pound, and two-ounces respectively, and if the quarter-pound be taken as an average the number of packets in a ton of tea would be nearly nine thousand. Method, order and business like regularity characterise every department - especially in the book-keeping - and this will account, in a great measure, for the smoothness and facility with which this large and ever growing business is conducted.
Click here for a History of Salmon's Tea.
Many thanks to the UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries for supplying the image of Salmon's Tea Warehouse in King's Road.
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