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McLeod Russel — The Elephant in the Tea Room

One of the many McLeod Russel tea gardens
One of the many McLeod Russel tea gardens

McLeod Russel India Ltd. is a huge tea company operating primarily in India. They are the proverbial “elephant in the room” and not to be ignored. So, I’m not.

The story of McLeod Russel starts with two men — Captain J.H. Williamson and Richard Boycott Magor — originally from England but in Calcutta at the time they met. The year they formed Williamson Magor & Company was 1869. Lots of company growth followed. In 1954 (15 years shy of their 100th anniversary), the name was changed to Williamson Magor & Co Limited, adding the status of being a limited company. Around 1994, the company was renamed McLeod Russel.

Chairman of the Board Brij Mohan Khaitan rose from being an East India merchant, supplying tea estates with fertilizers and tea chests, to joining the Board of the tea company in 1963, to taking on the role of Managing Director in 1964, to heading the company, which has grown through various acquisitions and mergers and through building a reputation for good tea. While India remains a focus, McLeod Russel is spreading out to Vietnam, Dubai, Uganda, and elsewhere.

The company manages 47 tea estates in the Assam Valley of northern India, six in the Dooars region of West Bengal in India, three factories in Vietnam, and six estates in Uganda. They employ almost 100,000 workers in the tea gardens as well as factories that they are committed to keeping updated. In some areas, they are the entire economy.

One of the names McLeod Russel sells tea under is “Williamson Tea,” a brand they acquired when they took over Borelli Tea Holdings Ltd., owned by the Magor family in England. The deal included the subsidiary Williamson Tea Assam Ltd. with 17 tea estates in India. This tea has an elephant on the label. In fact, all tea that McLeod Russel sells is marketed under the registered elephant trademark. I saw one tea vendor site that claimed they were the only place in the U.S. where you could get Williamson Teas. I’m happy to say they are wrong, since these teas are available from The English Tea Store, too, such as Williamson English Breakfast Teas.

Williamson Jasmine Tea
Williamson Jasmine Tea

Some of McLeod Russel’s teas are sold through tea brokers and under estate names. Tarajulie Estate Assam is one of these, a tea that both tea sipper Lainie Petersen and I have tried and liked. This estate, established in 1884 and sitting between the Gabharu river on the west and the Dipota river on the east, has plentiful natural beauty. The estate name is a combination of the names of two lakes, “Tara” and “Julie.” They are used for irrigation but also remain a wonderful part of the landscape — a balancing act between meeting man’s needs and preserving nature.

Some other teas from Williamson to try:

  • Williamson Jasmine Tea — An aromatic blend of black tea and delicate-smelling jasmine blossoms that is a refreshing and soothing cuppa any time of day.
  • Williamson Chamomile — A delicious herbal blend with a crisp, sweet taste to sip any time of the day.
  • Williamson Darjeeling Tea — An aromatic and wonderful tasting tea grown at the foothills of the Himalayas. This is of a single estate TGFOP1 (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1) with a characteristic Muscatel flavor.

One final note here: Despite the size of this company and its elephantine presence in the tea market, one source proclaims “There are about 1000 of tea brands in India, of which 90% of the brands are represented by regional players.” Plenty of room for these smaller growers in the tea market.

Now you know about the elephant in the tea room, which turns out to be much better than the bull in the china shop!

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8 responses to “McLeod Russel — The Elephant in the Tea Room”

  1. […] McLeod Russel — The Elephant in the Tea Room […]

  2. […] but to commemorate. Tea has helped in this rebound and is a major crop, attracting investment from McLeod Russel and other large tea firms but also being grown by lots of smallholders. Yorkshire Tea uses Rwandan […]

  3. […] December 2009, the “elephant in the room” McLeod Russel India acquired six tea estates in Uganda with a total production of 15 million kg […]

  4. […] of the Williamson and McLeod Russel story refer to the McLeod Russel history page and to a previous article in these […]

  5. Surendra Agarwal Avatar
    Surendra Agarwal

    I liked your Blog.

  6. Not to forget that McLeod Russel also aquired Gisovu Tea Estate in Rwanda earlier this year – a jewel of an aquisition – definitely the best CTC tea garden in Africa and probably in the world.

    Nigel at Teacraft

    1. Thanks, Nigel, for the update!

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