Bohea Over Ice

Posted by Darren Hartford on

I started a tea business in 2009 with a business plan of becoming the “Ben and Jerry’s of iced tea”. After sampling over 300 broken orange pekoes from India and Sri Lanka, we selected single estate teas from a couple of gardens: an organic black tea from south India with crisp, floral tones, and a bold, fruity black tea from Sri Lanka. We found a small but loyal market for our specialty iced teas. But the sales were not enough. Then we met Colonial Williamsburg who called on us for help creating their Early American tea line. We studied tea history for 6 weeks and then we sourced the tea products from the same gardens that supplied the British East India Company. Our business adapted quickly to meet the historic market for Early American tea. The iced tea business plan had been left behind.

Our Colonial Bohea black tea blend attracted the most attention (pronounced “Boo-Hee” Ukers 510). This tea was by far the largest tea import during colonial times, at least 80% of the total tea import. It was so popular in colonial times that the word bohea became the slang term for tea. In the Boston Tea Party, 1,586 chests of bohea were destroyed. The word bohea seems to have evolved from a corruption of the Chinese word for the Wuyi Mountains. Originally from this Wuyi region, bohea evolved from being sourced from a particular region to become a black tea blend from several regions. The blend varied wildly, consisting of broken orange pekoe, pekoe, and souchong dumped in a pile and then sifted, typically the scrap tea of lower quality (larger) leaves, but was considered high quality by the colonists.

Bohea is our most controversial product but it's easily our best-seller online. A hot cup of bohea can cleave a slow afternoon right in half. Some immediately dislike the smoky aroma and flavor, but others love it. I found an online review of our bohea which read "Now I know why we fought the revolution". Others offer tips to squeeze in a lemon or add some cream and sugar. Our bohea following is growing.

I also sip bohea as an iced tea; the smoky tones are complemented with a bit of cane sugar. It’s intriguing as an iced tea. Now, with our iced bohea, we are finding a new market for specialty iced teas. Bartenders and mixologists are using bohea as the base ingredient in their smoky iced tea cocktails. It’s a fusion of Southern and colonial American tea cultures; and it feels so satisfying to be back into the iced tea business.

Bohea is sold online at (4oz - $10, 1Lb - $25).

It is also available at colonial American historic sites such as:

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia
Historic Jamestowne, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Virginia
Historic Charleston Foundation, South Carolina
Boston Tea Party Ships, Boston, Massachusetts
Old North Church, Boston, Massachusetts
The Benjamin Franklin Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Old Salem, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee
Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts
The Encampment Store, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania