As German bombs fell on London in September 1939, the British tea industry faced a dilemma they had feared for some time. How would they protect their precious commodity that fueled an empire? Tea.
Lord Woolton, Minister of Food, recounted the tumultuous time: “When London was being persistently bombed, I had to tell the tea blenders to remove their stocks to less vulnerable positions – a scheme drawn up by the Tea Buyers’ Association in 1937 at the request of the Food Defense Department.”
30,000 tons of tea had already been sent to a variety of safe warehouses far from London while 40,000 tons remained in the city. The tea auctions in London halted on September 5 and the Ministry of Food became the owners of all tea stocks. The 280 tea wholesalers based in London were allotted leaf in only three grades: high, medium, and low.
Mincing Lane, the center of London’s tea trade, was bombed on May 11, 1941 and half of the brokers’ offices and records were destroyed. Over 8000 tons of tea were damaged that year. The removal of tea from the danger area proceeded with haste and, by 1942, most of the contents of 30 warehouses on the Thames had been dispersed to 500 locations across the country.