The Wissotzky Tea Company was founded in 1849 by Kalonymus Z. Wissotzky, a famous Russian Jewish philanthropist. Born to a poor family of merchants, he recognized the potential in the trading of tea and eventually gained devoted customers all over the Russian Empire. Wissotsky’s big break came when he gained the tea concession for the country’s military. Since the Czar's soldiers numbered in the millions and tea drinking was a daily Russian custom, this concession made Wissotzky very rich. By 1904 the company had extended its activities to Germany, France, New York and Canada. Eventually, from the 1900s through 1917, Wissotzky became the largest tea company in the world.
One day, Wissotzky was approached by the World Zionist Organization to begin a tea business in Israel. He laughed at this preposterous idea: the market was small, the Turkish bureaucracy was strict, and tea leaves from India were too costly to import. Jewish leaders persisted, and Wissotzky, as an act of charity, started a small tea company in Israel. What followed next proves the old Yiddish maxim, “Man plans and G-d laughs.”
During the Russian Revolution, an anti-Semitic ditty mentioning Wissotzky tea made the rounds of Russian society, spreading the idea that Russia was the victim of Jewish domination: "Tea of Wissotzky, Sugar of Brodsky, and Russia of Trotsky."
After the Bolshevik Revolution, in 1917 all private businesses in the Russian empire were immediately nationalized by the government, and all of the Wissotzky company assets were seized. In the years following, Wissotzky Tea Company activities were centered in London and Poland. But in 1936, the head of the business, Simon Seidler (a Wissotsky descendant) sensed the impending danger of the war and left Poland for Palestine. In the following years, many of the family perished in the Holocaust and the company lost all of its holdings in Europe. The only assets they still possessed were in Israel where it now boasts a 76% hold in the local market and exports its products to other countries worldwide, including Russia.
Today, the 10th of Sivan is the 110th Yahrzeit of the company’s founder, Kalonymus Z. Wissotzky.