The tragic story of Mrs. Tea, Mr. Coffee’s brand companion
This is her story.
Mrs. Tea debuts as “An emotional product”
In 1995, Health O Meter Products expanded their offerings to include a very special lady. For $49.99, you could buy Mrs. Tea. British CEO Peter Howell depicted her launch as a crusade.“Tea drinkers are actually discriminated against.”
“Tea drinkers are actually discriminated against,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with making tea with a tea bag or making coffee the old fashioned way boiling it on the stove, but people like the convenience of the machines to do it for them.” Mrs. Tea solved that problem with style because, in Howell’s words, “A lot of the people who drink tea are ladies. Tea to them is down time, soft time, relaxing time. This is an emotional product…that’s really how we’re pitching it.”
Health O Meter didn’t teach consumers everything about Mrs. Tea—we still don’t know if she was married to Mr. Coffee (the name suggests she either kept her maiden name or married someone named Mr. Tea). But even without a backstory, she was ready to change tea forever (or at least a couple of years).
How Mrs. Tea worked
So how did Mrs. Tea work? She basically made tea the way Mr. Coffee makes coffee. Users filled the steeping basket with loose or bagged tea leaves. The ceramic pot filled with up to six cups. Just like Mr. Coffee, the warmer plate kept the tea warm. Mrs. Tea recognized that some consumers weren’t fully aware of their tea options, and the instruction manual included an overview of common teas. After that, it was time to steep.
Mrs. Tea is a hit
By all reports, Mrs. Tea was a smash at the tea party. In 1996, Coach star Shelley Fabares signed on to be spokeswoman for the brand, following in the footsteps of Mr. Coffee spokesman Joe DiMaggio. In 1997, the company boasted strong sales that it credited to Mrs. Tea, and the same year it introduced Mrs. Tea For Two, which brewed three cups and sold for just $30.
Despite all that, Mrs. Tea disappeared shortly thereafter. By 1999, desperate fans were already searching for instruction manuals and replacements because she was off the shelves.
Why was Mrs. Tea discontinued?
We may never know why Mrs. Tea was discontinued. It could have been that her sales were actually poor, or that Americans simply didn’t need a machine to make tea. The company hasn’t commented on her discontinuation, but the best guess is that corporate changeovers are to blame.
In 1998, Health O Meter (by then known as Signature Brands) was purchased by Sunbeam (there’s been another corporate changeover since). CEO Al Dunlap gave a particularly hard-hearted interview in which he suggested everyone read his book Mean Business to understand his intentions. Known as Chainsaw Al, Dunlap had major cost-cutting plans for the company, which was part of an attempted four-company merger.
Our best guess? Mrs. Tea wasn’t focused enough for the new corporate environment. Today, you can find Mr. Coffee branded appliances that will make cold tea, but there’s no comparison to Mrs. Tea. Her fans are left to wander Amazon and eBay, searching for used copies of her ceramic pot that never whistled.