Tea Tin Parade

An Antique Map of the World Mercator Tea Tin c1930
An Antique Map of the World Mercator Tea Tin c1930

That “Pioneer Spirit” is alive and well in me, the part that just can’t bear to let go of something with a smidgen of potential to be used in one way or another. This is especially true of empty tea tins.

Tea was originally shipped from The East to Europe in metal-lined wooden chests, fine ceramic jars, and metal (pewter and tin-plated iron) tea caddies. The teas were loose, not bagged. They had to be protected from spillage as well as “flavor robbers” (air, moisture, other odors, and “critters”). Tea was also pretty expensive and so was often “on display” in these containers, so they tended to be decorative. Silversmiths got into the act and created tin tea caddies that were quite elaborate.

These days a lot of teas are bagged but still need protection. So, tea vendors resort to a variety of packaging options: plastic pouches, recycled paper bags with foil lining, cardboard or thick paper boxes wrapped in plastic, foil pouches for each individual teabag within a box, and of course those metal tea tins in a host of shapes and sizes.

These tins aren’t the best at storing tea, but they are my favorites in terms of having something keep-able after the tea is but a wispy memory on my tongue. They don’t usually keep your tea airtight, especially as you use the tea and empty space is left in the tin — space that’s not really empty but full of air!

Harney and Sons Tea Earl Grey Imperial
Harney and Sons Tea Earl Grey Imperial

Harney & Sons have some wonderful designs on their tins, not as elaborate as the antiques, but in a variety of colors and styles, including some for holidays. Golden Moon sticks with shiny cylindrical tins with printed labels. Taylors of Harrogate are the best in my book with their heavy lids and stocky square shape.

Over the last couple of years, I have collected some tins from companies that sent tea samples in them to me. The smaller ones are so darn cute that I hang on to them. As a result, my collection of empty tea tins is beginning to build up. Some of the larger tins store old buttons (ones that are off of clothing that is now used for rags so buttons would be in the way), while others are full of bits of this and that. Some just sit around being decorative on the bookshelf or the fireplace mantel.

Every once in awhile, I line them all up in a sort of tea tin parade, just to admire them. The blue ones from a store that has since gone out of business. The short square ones that are still fragrant from the oil-scented teas they had contained and that seemed so delicious until I tried some really fine unflavored teas. The tin of Harney & Sons Vanilla Comoro that holds one last teabag being saved for a special tea moment. The short round tin that held a floral scented tea and now holds potpourri. And so on.

Funny how it seems that the most cherished things these tea tins hold are memories of the teas that were in them, teas whether good or bad that imparted an experience never to be forgotten. More filled tea tins are out there, waiting to be opened, waiting for that tea to spread its magic over us and bring it special essence to our lives, setting up a cozy corner for itself in our hearts and minds.

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2 thoughts on “Tea Tin Parade

  1. Pingback: 5 Tips for Being Strategic with Your Tea Tin Sizes | Tea Blog

  2. Pingback: Tea and the Pioneer Spirit — Packaging Overkill? « Tea Blog

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