A Local Tea Tradition

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A Local Tea TraditionNestled behind an imposing stone cliff-side in Brookfield, Connecticut, protected from and oblivious to the mad dash of traffic zipping across Route 7 behind it, Simpson & Vail co-president, Jim Harron, enjoys the view from his office window: a serene and sinuous pond, stretched out against the rock and dotted with greenery and shaded hideaways. It’s the perfect setting for this historical tea company, and the co-mingled tea scents from their storage facility across the hall add to the atmosphere. The Simpson & Vail retail store – which serves as the hub from which the company imports, blends, prepares, and ships all of their tea and coffee products – is part factory, part office, and everything a tea aficionado could hope for.

The interior of the warehouse is steeped in tea history, walls adorned with packaging relics from Simpson & Vail's long history.

The interior of the warehouse is steeped in tea history, walls adorned with packaging relics from Simpson & Vail’s long history.

Along with co-president and sister, Cyndi, Jim Harron uses their Brookfield office as the center of Simpson & Vail’s operations, but the long-standing company wasn’t always here. In fact, in its original incarnation, the company didn’t sell tea at all. Started in 1904 as a New York City green coffee company – meaning one that sold unroasted, raw coffee beans (roasting was generally considered the job of the consumer, back then), Mr. Simpson purchased the company in 1929 and brought on Lester Vail, his nephew, as a tea taster. It wasn’t until 1978 that Jim Harron’s family acquired the company and moved the company to Pleasantville, New York. By 1997, Simpson & Vail had grown large enough to be in need of a warehouse and offices, which brought them to Brookfield and the facility they currently operate in, which includes a retail store.

Just a sampling of the many varieties of tea available at Simpson & Vail.

Just a sampling of the many varieties of tea available at Simpson & Vail.

Visitors to their retail office are immediately greeted by a wealth of fragrances that emanate from the various bins of loose-leaf tea throughout, and these are the international scents of a host of other countries. Although the bulk of their tea comes from Germany, they offer teas from a variety of nations, including recent supplies from Nepal.

But regardless of origin, Simpson & Vail always has something ready for the season. Winter brings holiday selections and blends, and the summer months find Jim promoting their delicious iced tea recipes. Alongside their traditional iced black tea, Jim highlights some warm weather, herbal favorites. “We like to ice Moroccan mint, which is green tea with spearmint. On the herbal side, we’ve also blended a Tulsi Orange Cranberry. And people love our Candy Cane blend, despite the funny name. It’s all mint and tastes great, iced.” But when it comes to herbal teas, Jim asserts that almost anything makes a great match when brewed and chilled. “We’ve found that Burgundy Blast and Caribbean Splash taste great iced, especially Burgundy Blast. It’s got hibiscus and rosehips in it, so you get a nice red color. And it tastes delicious!”

Simpson & Vail's retail store

No picture can adequately explain the incredibly aromatic qualities of Simpson & Vail’s retail store.

Of course, as pleasant as the experience is, tea lovers are not required to visit, if they want to get their hands on some of Simpson & Vail’s offerings. Once the primary focus of their business, Simpson & Vail still does much of their business via mail order. Teas are packaged and shipped the following business day, and orders over $50 include free shipping. Their tea and coffee selection can be found on their website, www.svtea.com, or from their catalogue, which they are happy to mail to customers free of charge. Customers may also find Simpson & Vail teas in some of their favorite businesses. “We sell to some supermarkets, like Caraluzzi’s, and we sell to mom-and-pop places, cafes, tea rooms, and some bigger spots, like Zabar’s in New York City,” Jim says.

If you’d like to visit Simpson & Vail’s retail store to sample some of their wares in person, you can visit them at 3 Quarry Rd. in Brookfield, CT. They are open from 9:00am-5:30pm, Monday through Friday. They will also be at the Housatonic Natural Wellness Fair on September 19th, on the New Milford town green.

Dana Jackson is editor and publisher of Edible Nutmeg. His appreciation and advocacy for local and sustainable food systems is built from many years of working in and with the outdoors. A resident of Litchfield County, Dana endeavors to highlight the best of Connecticut’s local food systems and help carry on the tradition of independent and self-sustaining community that has long made Connecticut such a special place to live.

When not publishing Edible Nutmeg, Dana enjoys hiking Connecticut’s forested trails without shoes, alongside his equally barefooted dog.