Remember a while ago, this happened? For those of you who stopped by, you know it wasn’t quite as awesome as I’d hoped it would be. For those of you who didn’t, well, let’s just say that it was less me talking about the teas and how to cook with them, more me just standing there. I was really unhappy afterwards and told the lovely peope who’d set it up for me as much.
So they offered to make it up to me.
On Thursday, they sent a car to come pick me up and take me to…
Unilever HQ in New Jersey!
The lobby had all sorts of photos up of their other brands – who knew Ben & Jerry were part of the Unilever family? Or Dove? Or any of these, really? Certainly not I… I have to say, it makes me happy to see that many of my preferred brands were part of the same family.
I signed in and waited patiently in the reception area to meet the Lipton Brand Manager.
This authentic restored old car had once been used to sell Lipton. I never knew Lipton was such an old brand. I mean, I grew up drinking Lipton; that was “tea” in my house. If I said I wanted a cup of tea, that’s what I drank. But talking to the brand manager a bit after this photograph was shot, he mentioned that there’s an old painting or photograph (I didn’t catch that) of Lipton hanging out with Alexander Graham Bell (WTF!) and one other captain of industry whose name escapes my memory at the present moment – hanging up in the HQ. How cool is that?!
After we chatted for a bit about various things, he led me to the tea room, where I met…
Gilbert, the Tea Master who is in charge of all tea purchasing for Lipton in the North and South America markets (though, as he explained later, he buys from all over the world). He led us through a tea tasting of seven different varieties of tea and shared part of his vast knowledge with us.
It was fascinating to learn the history of tea and its relatively new popularity. Apparently, it was invented by the Chinese in 2,500 B.C. (no surprise there! The Chinese invented everything, haha), but wasn’t widely known until 1200 A.D. (I think that’s when he said; forgive me if the numbers are slightly off). I was blown away by all the intricate little details about tea that exist. Did you know Kenya has the largest crop every year? Darjeeling can only be harvested for one month a year.
A lot of it seems so arbitrary – like who decides to ferment the leaves before fully drying them and making tea from them (that’s black tea) and who decides to skip the fermenting process (that’s green tea)? Who woke up one day and said “Hey, let’s change this one thing, maybe it’ll make things taste better!”? You know?
I learned that tea tasting is much like wine tasting, except not everything starts to taste better as you go along. It was incredible to me that while I feel completely unqualified, and to be honest, kind of douche-y if I say things about wine like “This has notes of boysenberry in it,” I felt perfectly comfortable describing a tea as creamy versus bitter. Since the method employed here was more comparative rather than blank palate tasting, it was very easy for me to discern what I liked and what I didn’t. One of the black teas was super creamy, with a rich mouth-feel to it, but at the end of the day, I surprised myself by preferring the green tea, which boasted its own delicate sweetness. I have to find that tea now! (I only know that it’s from Taiwan, not so sure about the name or the brand per se…)
Next, off we went to meet with one of the head product development specialists, who is in charge of creating recipes for and with the products to which she’s assigned, and occasionally for even coming up with new product prototypes. This has to be one of the coolest jobs ever. Not for the tasting aspect, but to be paid to do what a lot of us home cooks do anyway – playing with products, seeing what you can do with them to take them from their intended purpose and make them into something even better… totally awesome. She was super nice and friendly too, showcasing a few recipes she’d created for the Lipton PureLeaf line.
Smoothies created with the Lipton PureLeaf black tea. To be honest, while the smoothie itself was very tasty – creamy strawberry – I couldn’t taste any of the iced tea. I would have to assume it was there… but at least it still lends its antioxidants to the smoothie, even if it’s not lending any flavor.
Tea made with the green tea and honey. I loved how delicately the flavor shone through, though I wondered how this would hold up as a side dish. Would the taste be completely overwhelmed by anything stronger – which most certainly, any meat or fish would be? I suppose if you made a meat using the green tea and honey PureLeaf, it might echo back the flavor and create a nice complementary side, though…
We also sampled Blood Orange Marga-Tea-Tas, but I forgot to take a picture. The brand manager had been reminding me to take photos (he knew I wanted them; it was totally welcome) because I kept forgetting, but I guess we both forgot at this point.
All while we were sampling and tasting, the product development specialist explained what they did, and we discussed some of the recipes I’d created for the event for a possible upcoming project (details when I have them!).
We took a tour around the test kitchen, which is, without a doubt, almost a dream kitchen for me (I say almost because let’s face it, I know why they have so many, but I wouldn’t want or need 12 microwaves of varying wattages).
The cooks I met were all very nice and knowledgeable about their products and recipes. We talked a bit about how, when creating recipes using the products at hand, there were a lot of guidelines to follow; such as “Are all of these ingredients relatively easy to find? Will someone read this recipe, see an unusual ingredient and decide not to make it?” which is one of my concerns as well, of course, though I base this on my audience. As it currently stands, most people who read my site are here for the restaurants, so any recipes I post are probably for people in my city who have access to slightly more eclectic ingredients. All the same, I’d like to appeal to a wide audience so everyone thinks they can make what I’m making, and will at least try it. (Shout out to my sister who searches my site for recipes sometimes and constantly has me clarify things that aren’t clear; please, by all means, keep asking questions, it will only improve my recipe writing skills, or lack of!)
Also of interest is that although you may not be a Slim Fast person, nor am I, creating recipes for use on their website introduces another element to the process: nutritional info. There is a strict ratio of protein:carbohydrate:vegetable that a person on a SlimFast plan must follow, and to achieve that, there is a lot of testing that goes into each recipe, and precise measurements. Now, I’m completely a “Cooking without Measurements” kind of girl, so this would be impossible for me to even guess how many calories are in any of my dishes. Fascinating stuff.
And all this cooking, tasting, testing goes on under Fabio’s careful watch.
After all that, we went to the on-site cafeteria to have lunch.
Chipotle rubbed chicken breast sandwich with curly fries. The chicken was unfortunately dry, so I slathered it in Hellman’s honey mustard, which made it that much better. The curly fries were good though.
While we ate, the Lipton brand manager and I chatted about the various Lipton products and steps Lipton was taking to become a more responsible tea buyer, lowering its negative impact on the environment and so forth. I was impressed with everything Lipton hopes to do in the future and look forward to seeing those things happen and be officially announced. We also chatted about traveling and other fun things. Since a lot of tea is bought from Africa, it seemed natural that one should visit Africa… and fit in a safari somewhere, no?
After lunch, I was led to the company store and OMG! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’ve yet to work for a company that has a physical, tangible product, so I’d never been inside a real, honest-to-goodness company store where everything was discounted off the heezy.
Sorry, I wasn’t able to take any really good photos, I was um, carrying a basket full of stuff, and I was trying not to stand out anymore than I already did. But there were items from every (I think, I can’t verify that) brand that Unilever puts out in the US, for very low prices (possibly at cost?). Put it this way: I didn’t take a picture of my haul, but I bought 23 items and paid $22- and change. Wow. I was like a kid in a candy store – you know how I love good deals! (You’ll definitely see reviews and some of the items I picked up featured on here soon. Not the deodorant or anything but you know, the food related items, duh.)
Tired out from my fun day at Unilever, I hopped in the car they’d arranged to take me home.
Not only did the driver get me home from New Jersey in 20 minutes flat,
he did it in a Mercedes.
That’s what I call an excellent, amazing day: I learned a lot, I had a lot of fun, I met some great people with whom I hope to cultivate a wonderful working relationship, and I got some great bargain shopping in as well.
Lipton set out to make me feel better about what happened, and though there’s a little bit more to come, so far, I’m feeling much better about everything already.
A big thank you to all those involved and all those who made it happen. Thanks, guys… it means a lot to me that you’re trying to make me happy!