Kipling's India lured the man whose taste made Lipton a byword in tea




7-3-1919 24-2-2012

NOBLE Fleming, whose taste helped establish Thomas J. Lipton as the world's biggest tea company, has died at a nursing home at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, France. He was 92.

The firm had been founded late in the 19th century by Sir Thomas Lipton, a Glaswegian merchant who started bypassing traditional trading and wholesale distribution channels to sell teas at low prices to the poor working class. In 1893 he established the Thomas J. Lipton Co, a tea packing firm with its headquarters and factory in New Jersey.

Fleming, who was known as "Toby", was born in Wales and served in the Royal Indian Navy during World War II.

He came to the tea business through his love of the India described in the works of Rudyard Kipling. Sir Thomas Lipton's senior tea taster was a friend of his parents and, when the young man was invited to join Lipton as a tea taster in India, he jumped at the chance.

He then began a lifetime of travelling to plantations in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China and East Africa in search of the perfect leaf. He evaluated the tea on the basis of soil, elevation, rainfall, temperature and quality of management.

Back in the US, where he was based from 1946 and was for many years head of Lipton's Royal Estates subsidiary, Fleming and his team of experts would study the "tone" of the leaves, place them in white bone china cups, pour in a precise amount of skimmed milk, then stir, sniff, gurgle and sip. At the end of the process he would tell his agents what to buy at auction.

Fleming always attended these tea tastings in a tailored suit and the whole procedure was conducted with an air of ceremony down to the chrome-plated spittoons that received the discarded samples. By the time Fleming retired in 1983, Lipton was a byword on the world tea market.

After retirement, he moved to France. He is survived by a daughter.

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