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The Curious (Court) Case of He-No Tea

Ti Kuan Yin Slimming Oolong (Photo source: The English Tea Store)
Ti Kuan Yin Slimming Oolong (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Tea sellers are probably not all that different from merchants seeking to push any other kind of product. There are the good, the bad and the ugly, though in the case of tea, I can safely say that the majority of those I’ve run across appear to fall into the former category.

But not all of them. If you doubt that there are unscrupulous types out there looking to make a buck off of tea, then let me direct you to your search engine of choice and suggest the search term “tea and weight loss” or something like it. There are also those merchants who tend to exaggerate the potential health benefits of tea, in varying degrees.

None of which is particularly new. As I noted in this article a while back, in which I looked at an 1820 text that examined the practice of adulterating tea and other foods and beverages in the pursuit of illicit profit. Some years later, in 1889, the case of Kenny v. Gillett came before the courts in Maryland and looked at whether the defendant had engaged in deceptive marketing practices regarding the tea they were selling.

Said defendant was Martin Gillett & Company, Importers, a Maryland-based concern which had already been doing business for three generations and nearly eight decades. At issue was a product they called He-No Tea or Standard He-No Tea. The gist of the issue, to simplify the somewhat dense legalese a bit, is that the company had filed suit against a certain Cornelius D. Kenny for trademark infringement for marketing a product called Hi-Hi Tea.

Which, as the court decision noted, may have been a valid point but was rendered moot due to the fact that Gillett’s “trade-mark is accompanied with statements in their label so plainly calculated to deceive and mislead purchasers that they cannot rightfully claim equitable interference.” The deception here, according to the decision, came in leading potential customers to believe that there was a variety of tea called He-No, which was popular with the Chinese and which was what was actually being offered. This was not the case. While the components of He-No Tea did come from China, it was actually a blend of at least three different tea varieties.

For a more in-depth look at the case, refer to this document.

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3 responses to “The Curious (Court) Case of He-No Tea”

  1. I just found this site when I did a search for He-No tea. I found a hot pad advertising this tea among my mum’s things. My grandmother had put a decorative cover over the pad, and I pulled it out to see what it was. Interesting, especially as we are a Baltimore family.

  2. […] The Curious (Court) Case of He-No Tea, By William I. Lengeman, III […]

  3. I saw a lot of unscrupulous tea vendors traveling in certain areas in Asia–basically the touristy areas of China, India, Nepal and Thailand–vendors taking advantage of tourists looking to bring home some local tea, but not knowing where to begin. They were selling some of the cheapest teas I’ve ever seen for very high prices.

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