By Angie Brown
“We do our own blending and flavoring here,” Jim Harron Jr. says of his tea purveying company, Simpson & Vail. “We try to keep it fresh and exciting.” More than 300 teas comprise the company’s offerings, along with specialty foods, tea accessories, and weekly tea tastings at its retail store.
“Every day we’re learning something new, too. Something new is coming out in the tea business, or we’re just discovering it. That keeps it interesting, even though tea is so many thousands of years old,” notes Jim.
Simpson & Vail also has a long and interesting history. Augustus M. Walbridge founded the company in 1904 in New York City as a green coffee mercantile. Some 20 years later, he sold it to Mr. Simpson, the accountant, and Mr. Vail, the tea taster. Bulk tea exclusively was carried from 1929 until 1962, when roasted coffee was added along with tea packaged in tea bags. In 1978, Joan and Jim Harron Sr. bought the company and, a year later, added specialty-food and tea accessories and expanded both the tea and the coffee lines. The Harron family still owns the business, with two of Jim Sr. and Joan’s children running the company since 1990: Jim Jr. and his sister Cyndi. In 1997, the family moved Simpson & Vail to its current location in Brookfield, Connecticut. Jim Jr. describes the area as having a beautiful quarry, a rock wall, pine trees, and a 5,000-square-foot building. In short, “what we were looking for,” he says.
Customers can find everything from their favorite type of tea to teapots to scone mixes at both the retail location and the online store. The company sells loose-leaf teas, coffees, specialty foods, and tea wares. Indeed, Simpson & Vail proves to be a one-stop shop.
“Recently, we had someone come in wanting to throw a tea party,” says Jim. “They needed scones, clotted cream, tea, infusers,” all of which were in stock.
Simpson & Vail’s teas are sourced internationally from places like China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Taiwan, Kenya, Vietnam, and even Bolivia. The Harrons have direct contact with a sustainable tea farm in Bolivia, which, in turn, uses the money it makes for things like a soccer field, a school, and medical facilities for the community.
The company also carries a line of caffeine-free yoga teas, which Cyndi designed. The blends target each center of the body and are named after yoga terms. Namaste, for instance, is a golden-colored tea with floral and earthy notes.
Saturdays are the prime time to visit the store. That’s when the Harrons offer their popular tea tastings, as well as other goodies, such as scones or cookies. The tea is made that morning so when customers visit, a cup is always ready for them. There are usually four different teas and one coffee to taste. Sometimes samples of other products, like crackers or sauces, are available.
The folks at Simpson & Vail are experts in creating top-notch, unique tea blends and flavored teas, as well. “Take the Almond Sugar Cookie Tea,” says Jim Jr. “A customer requested a sweet almond [tea]. From there, we contacted our flavor companies and asked what they had in a sweet almond. One of them made up a blend.” The flavoring was applied to a base black tea and then allowed to soak in overnight. The next day, Jim tasted the tea. “Sometimes we taste teas 10 or 12 times,” he says. “We tweak it this way or that.” This often lengthy flavoring process results in a tea that Jim and his sister are proud to put on their shelves and that customers can trust is going to be both high quality and delicious.
“When my parents bought Simpson & Vail, I was in high school. My sister and I would hear terms like lapsang souchong,” says Jim of their many decades around tea. “Tea just kind of grew on us.”
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To learn more about Simpson & Vail and its products, go to svtea.com, or call 203-775-0240 or 800-282-8327. Visit the company’s retail store at 3 Quarry Road in Brookfield, Connecticut.