Tea is a factor of Dutch history. It was first brought to the country by the United East India Company (VOC), at a time when growing tea was a virtual monopoly of China. Drinking tea became popular and, as in China, was considered healthy. Tea became one of the most important and profitable products for the VOC. In 1798, during the French occupation of the Netherlands, the VOC became insolvent, liberating the tea trade once the occupation was over (1813). It took the lapse of weighting rights in 1816 to break the power of the old, guild-bound warehousing companies. That made space for a new warehousing company: Pakhuismeesteren van de thee - warehouse masters of the tea was founded in 1818. Significantly, the company was headquartered in a building in Rotterdam on Boompjes that used to be the office of the Rotterdam branch of the VOC. (The squarish building with the wings on either side in the centre of the picture, behind the two funnels. Photo: Rotterdam city archives.) An independent branch of the company was established in Amsterdam.
In 1825, Philipp von Siebold, renowned biologist, specialising in Asian plants, succeeded in growing Chinese tea on Java. Another breakthrough of tea outside China was growing Assam tea in British India from 1835. This tea was found to suit European tastes better than Chinese tea. From 1873 it was also grown on Java. In the following decades, the Netherlands developed a significant market organisation in Amsterdam for Java tea, joining markets for other tropical products, such as rubber and coffee. A vicious system of forced agriculture, "Cultuursysteem" (1830-1870) led to impoverishment and dispossession of native farmers as well as the establishment of large scale plantations in te Netherlands Indies.
Pakhuismeesteren van de thee profited from these favourable developments. In 1850, they founded a new, separate company, Pakhuismeesteren van de rijst, specialised in storing rice. As the two companies used the same facilities, they both became known as Pakhuismeesteren (PHM). From 1862, petroleum products were added to the activities. Pakhuismeesteren opened a separate facility for such products well outside Rotterdam in 1865, as they became aware of the danger of fire and explosion. Further positive developments for the company were improvements in the "India route, notably the opening of the Suez canal in 1869 and a new, wide canal from Rotterdam to the sea, Nieuwe Waterweg, in 1872. In 1875, the company opened a new storage complex on Sluisjesdijk in Rotterdam, laying the basis for Rotterdam's position as a leading global oil port.
Storing cotton was a problem. The danger of fires caused insurance premiums of levels that made it necessary to construct separate warehouses for cotton, but quantities were too small for any warehousing company to do so. The obvious solution was a joint warehouse. It came about in 1916 and Pakhuismeesteren participated in the joint venture. It was the first of a series of developments that would lead to concentration of warehousing companies. The next development in this area was VT Group (Verenigde Tankrederijen), founded in 1932. This was a joint venture between a shipping company (Phs. van Ommeren), its warehousing company New Matex, Tank storage company Dipping and Pakhuismeesteren.
The second world war devastated Rotterdam. It was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1940 as a means to pressure the Dutch army to surrender and in 1944, the port installations were destroyed, in order to prevent the Allies to land supplies. Pakhuismeesteren's fine headquarters on Boompjes was among the destroyed buildings. Only in 1957, with the opening of a new terminal in the newly developed Botlek area did the company start to expand, rather than recover. In 1949, the Dutch gave up the Netherlands Indies, which rapidly diminished the flow of colonial goods into Amsterdam. In 1959, the Amsterdam branch of Pakhuismeesteren was taken over by the Rotterdam branch.
European integration brought pressure to increase scale. Pakhuismeesteren en major competitor Blauwhoed merged into Pakhoed in 1967. Pakhoed took over several smaller competitors and made major investments outside the Netherlands. The concentration and expansion trend culminated in a merger with Dutch shipping company Phs. van Ommeren into Royal Vopak, the world's leading independent tank storage company, in 1999.
Some buildings of Pakhuismeesteren in Rotterdam have been renovated and are now used for different purposes. The complex on the picture is now "food halls", a lively covered food market with many exotic food stalls, using ingredients the employees of Pakhuismeesteren would have recognised and appreciated.