It began (as it usually does) on Google; this isn’t the first time I’ve typed ‘ “John Murchie”+tea ‘ into the Google search-engine. I’ve done it a few times now, but my search usually ends with very little information, and I normally give up within the hour.
Let’s start with a background for the non-Canadians. John Murchie was a tea and coffee importer and blender; he started up the company “Murchie’s”, and is normally considered to be the man behind the unorthodox blending of green tea with black tea. Murchie’s is still around today (with two in Vancouver and more in Victoria), and is pretty well-known. Heck, I have a friend from Alabama who orders from Murchie’s to keep up a supply of their Library Blend (they were first introduced to the company when they visited Canada a while back; sadly Murchie’s doesn’t extend into the US of A).
To begin with, the majority of the information I have gathered is not from peer-reviewed resources. There aren’t many articles out there. But I will cite the forum-posts and other resources as I go.
John Murchie immigrated to Canada (settling in New Westminster) in 1894 (1, and Murchie’s mugs [2: Cailtlin’s post]; see also Murchie’s specialty 1894 Orange Pekoe blend, and 3), from the Isle of Arran, Scotland (1: David’s first post claims hesitantly, 2: Jane claims). He at least opened his tea shop in 1894, but it is implied that he opened it very soon after he immigrated. David also mentions that he had a brother (name not listed, but we will return to this) photographer.
Shirley (see the last post on the facebook page) claims to be the descendant of a “Margaret Murchie”, sister to a John Murchie and Archie Murchie. Archie Murchie may be the photographer brother. Jane (1) claims that John had no sister Margaret (although he did have a granddaughter of that name), and puts his birth around 1855, naming parents as well. A search through ancestry.com’s database yields no results for a John Murchie born to a John Murchie (Sr) and Catherine Nicol. Results show many different John (Sr) and the occasional Catherine (of a differing surname); none with births near 1855.
David (facebook) says that, upon arriving in 1894, and seeing the beauty of BC, John wrote to and invited his brother (possible name: Archie). He says that the BC Archives contains photos by said brother. I ran a search through their Visual database off of just “Murchie”, and sifted through for a picture of “Emily Carr atop the ugliest horse/mule I have ever seen”.
The photographer is listed as one “Archibald Murchie” (giving credit to Shirley’s claim of descendence), taken in 1909 (fifteen years after John’s immigration). There is no confirmation that he is John’s brother (I do not know where David’s [facebook] source comes from). Refined search (1); many scenic photos, one includes the Duke and Duchess of Cornwell; earliest photo taken in 1901; latest work is a watercolour painting dated 1916 (assuming it is the same man; date and location suggest so, but the Archives do not seem to give any indication that they have a system of organizing works done by different people who share the same name).
David (facebook) traces a family tree in his post. John had thirteen children, including a Jim Murchie, who purchased the business from him. Another of his sons, John Raith Murchie, had three children of his own, including a John Archibald Murchie (possibly named after his father, grandfather, and great uncle). John Archibald married a Gwen, and the business was purchased from his uncle Jim. Gwen was the last Murchie to own the business. The company went up for sale in 2007 (1) and was purchased later that year (2). The new owners stated that they would continue to consult Gwen Murchie, who had been company president.
Upon first immigrating to Canada (New Westminster), John quickly struck up a relationship with his neighbours, and the tea clippers who sailed to Canada to sell tea from their boats in the harbours (1). He would import fine teas for his clients in New Westminster, and delivered them by horse-drawn wagons. He became a well-known, and unorthodox tea blender with his mixes of green and black teas; he kept his recipes secret in a “Blend Book” which was passed down through the generations; copies of these books can be found in the different Murchie’s stores, and blends from the book can be ordered special (with a minimum of 1lb order) and blended on the spot.
I know of the Blend Book through a friend, whose family had a blend made special for them, after a relative: Reverend Oldfield. You can ask for the blend special at any Murchie’s (I’m not much for jasmine, and the minimum order for any Blend Book special is one pound, so I’ve been told, so I’ve never tried it). See Steepster for more information. Also here for a bit about his other blends.
David (facebook) mentions:
One of the Seattle Newspapers in the 70s, or 80s quoted one of the founders of Starbucks as getting the idea for Starbucks from a Vancouver/Victoria based company called Murchies. (Starbucks added the “cafe” factor, and modernized/minimilzed the stock. Even the coffee “education” displays and photos Murchies used to put in stores are now commonplace in Starbucks. ) Because Starbucks went with a model of fewer products and selection, Murchies still has about 10-20x more selection…. (i.e. Murchies usually has over 100 different types of tea… sometimes close to 200. Starbucks keeps it to 5-10 unless they have increased their selection in recent years.)
I tried looking into this, but “a Seattle Newspaper” in the 70s or 80s is pretty vague. I came across (but forgot to bookmark) a few different posts that mentioned the same thing, but nothing concrete at first.
An interesting bit I came across is from an interview with Steve Smith (famous American tea blender, see Tazo Tea, Stash Tea and Steve Smith Tea) about his time at Starbucks, and about coffee before Starbucks:
How has the way we drink coffee changed since then?
Even when I started in the late 70s, there was very little going on with coffees that were anything but supermarket, canned coffees. I remember when I was a kid living in Seattle, you used to have to go up to Vancouver B.C. to get decent coffee. A place called Murchie’s was the only place around. The founders of Starbucks were this group of friends–one of them would drive up to Vancouver and buy a bunch of coffee and split it up amongst the rest of them. Through that process they thought, wow, there’s a potential niche here.
Click here for the full interview.
History of Starbucks
In 1971, three atypical businessmen founded Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spice in Seattle, Washington. Gordon Bowker, Jerry Baldwin, and Zev Siegl shared many interests, but their main reason for starting the company was their love of coffee and tea and their desire for Seattle to have access to the best of it. While attending school in San Francisco, Baldwin discovered Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley and fell in love with the rich, dark arabica whole bean coffee. Baldwin introduced his roommate, Gordon Bowker, to Peet’s Coffee, and after the two moved to Seattle they continued to order Peet’s by mail. Bowker stumbled upon another great store in Vancouver, Canada and would often make the 3-hour trip there from Seattle to buy Murchie’s coffee. While traveling back from one of these trips, Bowker had the idea of opening up a coffee store in Seattle. Baldwin loved the idea as did Bowker’s neighbor Zev Siegl, and Starbucks was born.
This is the only mention of Murchie’s in the article.
I found a similar, and slightly more detailed account in “Starbucks” by Marie Bussing-Burks (see page 9 of the E-book here, under Gordon Bowker, first paragraph):
The seed of Starbucks can really be attributed to cofounder Gordon Bowker–both the name and the company idea. In 1970, Bowker was a writer in Seattle making once-a-month jaunts to a coffee roaster called Murchie’s in Vancouver, British Colubmia. A true coffee connoiseur, Bowker found himself bringing back increasingly large loads of coffee with each 140-mile trek north. The coffee beans were purchased first for himself, then for friends, and, finally, for friends of friends. On one trip, the U.S. Customs agent gently explained to him the difference between shopping and smuggling. His solution was to start a coffee company.
All of the above is very interesting, although more for the coffee afficionado than the tea connoisseur.
David (facebook, see his second post farther down the page) also says (from a “credible source”) that during the Great Fire of of 1898 (I assumed he meant this one by the term “Fire which Destroyed New Westminster”) Murchie’s (which had still been operating in New Westminster during this time) was saved due to the Murchies’ reluctance to leave the building. The family stayed behind, soaking the walls of the building with buckets of water; they saved the structure, and also prevented the fire from moving past it to other buildings.
I ran a search, but found very little confirming this. I found two primary mentions of Murchie’s in New Westminster, both during the fire. Here, mentioning “Murchie, the tea man” occupying an area near the farthest block on Second Avenue.
Royal City: A Photographic History of New Westminster includes a mention of Murchie’s as well. “A well full of water saved the Murchie and Herring residences, the burning of either of which meant the destruction of another block of fine residences.” (see page 87). There’s nothing confirming it as THE Murchie’s, however (the sentences before the quote seem to give a general idea of its location). Another interesting tidbit shows on page 185, which shows a list of Photography Studios operating in New Westminster at the time. Sixth down lists one belonging to a “Murchie, Archibald”.
I didn’t expect to find much concerning Murchie’s during the fire, as David (facebook) notes that “historical accounts credit the Fire Department”.
Returning to the Murchie Family Tree, it seems that John Murchie had a brother, Archibald Murchie; it was suggested and denied that he had a sister, Margaret Murchie. Bringing up ancestry.com again, I found another thread here.
I just recieved a conformation from the Owner of Murchie Tea Co, that We ARE RELATED!!! I found out that John Murchie he died in 1935. He came from the Island of Arran, his Oldest son John Raitt Murchie his wife was Emm Jane Hamilton, her mother was Jane Hamilton, they had a daughter Margaret Murchie her daughter was Janet Hamilton Cook-Eddy. John also was followed to this country by a brother Douglas, who was a photographer, he traveled British Colombia taking pictures-many of which are in the local museum.
Here I find a discrepancy. She confirms that “Margaret” was not, in fact, his sister, but his granddaughter (as noted much earlier in this post through a post via “Jane” on ancestry.com) through his eldest son, “John Raitt” (perhaps a typo of “John Raith, mentioned earlier? Or perhaps David [facebook] made the typo). However, she lists John’s Photographer Brother as a “Douglas”.
I searched for work done by a “Douglas Murchie”, both in the BC Archives and Google, but found nothing.
I did a search for both “John Raitt Murchie”, coming up with this, a John Raitt born to a John and Sarah who moved to BC, Canada in 1889; he is, however, listed as second-eldest after a Grant Nicol (note that Nicol was the supposed maiden name of John Murchie’s mother, Catherine Nicol, mentioned earlier); “Sarah Grant” was again listed as the wife (also “Raitt” was the supposed maiden name of his wife’s mother, Isobella [née Raitt] ).
“John Raith Murchie” only returned the facebook post.
I never came across any photographs of John Murchie (even having a photographer for a brother).
This post is two-thousand words long.