We had a great catch-up over a cuppa, and chatted through all sorts, from the beginnings of Thompson's Teas in 1896, through to the story behind the Punjana name and on what the future holds!
“Will ya have a cuppa?” The question asked when entering households across the nation. With on average four and a half cups of tea consumed daily in Northern Ireland, it’s fair to say that we say, “Yes!” to tea. Every time.
And it’s no surprise to find out that it’s more than likely a lovely cup of Punjana being served.
The Thompsons, creators of the iconic Punjana brand, have been at the helm of the industry from the beginning. It all started in 1896, when R. S. Thompson was made partner of McArthur and Willis; tea importers based in the Belfast docklands. But it was the introduction of the second generation of the Thompson family to the tea industry that brought with it the birth of the Punjana brand in the early 50s.
The now household name, Punjana, wasn’t the result of endless market research or a think-tank – far from it! It was in fact a name dreamed up by second generation James Thompson and his wife, Lillias. Their inspiration came from an inscription etched on the famous Gillespie statue in Comber, and after a bit of imagination, Punjana, and a piece of NI heritage was born.
The well-known jingle, “Pick Punjana tea,” still rings in the ears of households, following a brave move by the family to advertise on the first night of commercial TV broadcast here in NI. Fortune favours the brave, and the advert’s legacy lives on today. Ask anyone above the age of 40 to sing it, and they’ll whistle the catchy tune.
Now led by the third generation of Thompsons, Ross and David, the family has worked hard to retain the local, family run ethos of previous generations as well as keeping the quality assurance levels as strong as they ever were. Together, Ross and David carry on the traditional skill of tea tasting and blending in much the same way as has been done since the day the company was founded. It is this insistence on quality and tradition, they believe, that has taken them to number one in NI.
New blends from Thompson’s Teas have been introduced in the decades since Punjana first hit the shelves, with the family name becoming more synonymous with tea than ever before.
Ross Thompson explained: “We are a family-owned company who are passionate about tea, and have been since our grandfather Robert first started blending over one hundred years ago. Our mission has always been to create the ‘perfect everyday cuppa’, a tea that has superior taste and flavour but still affordable.”
Passion is something this family delivers in every pack, insisting on personally tasting each blend – the family’s guarantee that the Thompsons have their delicious blends down to a tea!
“For 121 years, it has only ever been a Thompson to blend our teas” Ross proudly shares. “We are a fussy lot! We insist on blending from only the best regions, we go to the finest gardens, at the ideal time of year, when the sunshine and rainfall are in perfect harmony so we can ensure the highest quality tea leaves are coming home to Belfast to be carefully blended”.
And the family’s uncompromising devotion to quality hasn’t gone unnoticed. Every year, the Guild of Fine Foods hosts the ‘Oscar’s of the food and drink world’ – the Great Taste Awards. Thompson’s Teas has won the maximum 3 Gold Stars for its hero brand, Punjana. This is an achievement matched by less than 2% of all entries and is normally reserved for exclusive and specialised products rather than an affordable everyday product. Punjana tea now stands alone in its category - winning more Great Taste Awards than any other blended teabag in the UK and ROI over the past 10 years.
We asked the experts to weigh in on the debate and share how exactly to make the perfect brew. The answer?
“Freshly boiled water, remembering to always warm up the cup or pot first. White bone china is a must! Add the tea bag and be prepared to be patient, wait for at about two minutes, then give a stir and a squeeze.”
So where do they stand on the milk in first or last debate? “People should make their brew just how they like it – a cup of tea is a very personal thing! However, if you’re looking to get the most taste and flavour from your cuppa, it’s important to remember that tea will brew best with boiling water, so save the milk until the end”.
With more than one million cups of Thompson’s Punjana being enjoyed every day in Northern Ireland alone, the family and its delicious teas are stalwarts of NI’s heritage, Skip down to your nearest Tesco and pick up a pack of their award-winning brew-tea-ful blends.