Tea by numbers – the quirky story of 99 and 1336 co-operative teas

Perhaps it is me, but in the lockdown, I am drinking more tea. So it is neat to see that today is National Tea Day.

In terms of tea and human rights, there are two numbers which have special stories behind them.

99 Tea is one of the most iconic of brands sold in Co-op food stores, which is ironic as it was never intended to be a brand. I believe that the number 99 was chosen, along with the slogan of ‘prescription tea’ as a drink widely assumed to be healthy, because it was simply the next number in the series of own brand products launched by the Co-operative Wholesale Society. It came after product 98, but 99 has stuck – and the non-brand has become a brand.

In fact, the Co-operate Wholesale Society itself, now a key part of today’s Co-op Group, started at a tea party in a barn at Lowbands Farm, Jumbo, Middleton, on August 12th 1860. Tea seems to oil the wheels of co-operation.

And in 2008, 99 tea became fully fairtrade, as the Co-op was the first retailer to convert all of its hot drinks own brand range to fairtrade.

I picked up another tea number when I visited Diana Dovgan from the European worker co-operative network CECOP in January. This is 1336 from France and it also has a fascinating back story.

1336 is natural and organic Darjeeling tea, made in Gémenos, near Marseille, by around 60 workers who formed the SCOP TI cooperative when the Fralib factory, making Lipton tea, was closed down. 1336 is the number of days (3 years and 241 days) that it took between the factory closing and the co-operative taking over the building to start afresh.

The commitment of the cooperative is to produce a wide range of teas and infusions, building organic supply chains with an emphasis on specialist local producers, to cut the carbon footprint.

Enjoy your cuppa today.

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