Mazawattee was the highest selling brand of tea in the world.
John Boon Densham (1815 – 1886) was a Plymouth chemist who moved to Croydon in the 1860s. With a Mr C Lees he formed Lees & Densham, wholesale tea dealers at Philpott Lane, where the bulk of Britain’s tea auctions took place.
Lees divested his stake in 1870 and the firm began trading as John Densham & Sons. With premises at Eastcheap in London, the firm grew to become a sizeable concern. By the 1880s they had also established a warehouse in Manchester.
John Densham & Sons introduced the Mazawattee Tea blend in 1886. It was made entirely from Ceylon leaves, which were marketed as superior to the standard Chinese leaves. The trademark was registered the following year.
Packaged tea had been introduced by John Horniman in the 1840s, but most tea at this time was still sold loose from grocers’ shops. Packaged tea promised a consistent product, and was a vouch for purity from contamination.
By 1892 over 14 million packets of Mazawattee tea were sold every year, through 5,000 outlets. By this time sales had overtaken those of Horniman, who had led the market since at least the 1860s.
A seven storey factory had been erected at Tower Hill, London by 1894. In 1896 the Mazawattee Tea Company was formed with a valuation of £550,000 (about £66 million in 2015). John Densham’s sons, John Lane (1853 – 1918) and Benjamin (1847 – 1929), were joint managing directors.
Mazawattee tea was the largest tea brand in the world by 1896. Mazawattee was the largest wholesale tea business in the world by 1898. In one single auction the company had to pay the largest ever tea duty, £63,147, after it acquired 1,687 tons of tea.
In 1900 Mazawattee again broke the record for the highest duty paid on tea (£85,862 in 1900), when they acquired over 5 million lbs of the good in a single transaction.
In 1901 a new plant was built at New Cross, and the firm diversified into chocolate confectionery. It was the largest and best equipped tea processing plant in the world. The factories and warehouses covered over four acres, and over 1,000 workers were employed. The relocation, including new machinery, represented an investment of over £400,000 (around £45 million in 2015).
In 1901 the company had a share capital of £800,000 (around £88 million in 2015). By 1902 this had risen to £1 million, with assets excluding goodwill valued at over £650,000.
By 1905 millions of people drank Mazawattee tea every day, and the company had over 15,000 outlets in the United Kingdom.
By 1900 the J Lyons tea shop chain had expanded to over 50 outlets. In 1904 the Mazawattee board decided to open 500 small shops at a cost of £200 each. Two board members, R A McQuitty and J H McLean, were placed in charge of executing the operation. They acquired only 164 teashops, but at an average cost of £500 to £2,000. Some cost as much as £4,500 and £10,000. Some annual rents were over £1,000 a year. Furthermore, the shops made serious profit losses from the start. An extraordinary meeting was called in 1905. McQuitty and McLean were immediately sacked and all the shops were quickly divested, but by then total losses amounted to nearly £300,000. Mazawattee came very close to collapse, and in attempt to save money it had to severely reduce its advertising expenditure.
The chocolate and cocoa business showed its first profit in 1907.
Unlike Lipton, Mazawattee never owned any tea plantations. They argued that this left them free to choose the best tea at auction, but it also left them vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices.
By 1913 much of Ceylon’s agricultural land had given way to the far more profitable rubber plantations. As the output of Ceylon tea was reduced, Mazawattee was forced to make up the difference with tea from India and Java. The only other option would have been to increase wholesale prices to untenable levels.
John Lane Densham retired as managing director and chairman in 1916, and Alexander Jackson (1857 – 1936) took over his roles.
In 1917 Mazawattee was likely the third largest manufacturer of packet tea, after J Lyons and Horniman & Co.
In 1936 Joseph Densham (1883 – 1961) took over as chairman. That year the decision was taken to abandon the confectionery business.
Both the company factories were destroyed by air raids during World War II. The offices were transferred to 52 -54 Leadenhall Street. As late as 1948, the company was denied licence by the government to rebuild its factories. As such, Mazawattee was produced by Brooke Bond until 1952.
In 1953 Mazawattee was sold to Burton, Son & Sanders, confectioners of Ipswich, in 1953. The freehold factory at New Cross was sold to Johnson & Phillips, electrical engineers, for £190,000, and production was moved to premises at Thomas Street, Limehouse.
From this juncture Mazawattee was sold as an economy brand in outlets such as Woolworths. The brand ceased to be produced in 1965 and Densham & Sons was liquidated in 1967.
The brand was revived in 2016 by a new business, the Mazawattee Tea Company.