Great tea caddy designs were once a key feature in the drawing rooms of the upper classes. Back at its peak, the tea caddy was fashioned to be as ornamental as it was useful. Tea was a precious commodity and enjoyed mostly by the aristocracy that could afford the exorbitant prices charged due to the cost to bring the tea all the way from China to Europe. The tea caddy isn’t nearly as popular these days as it once was, but we can still appreciate those designs.
Tea Caddies Worthy of a Monarch
Designed during the reign of King George III (1760-1820), this tea caddy is actually two in one. Two separate silver containers sit in their tortoise shell and silver case. His reign was longer than any previous British monarch, and it was marked by conflicts like the Seven Years’ War with France (which the British won), by gaining dominance in North America and India, losing some of that when the colonies in North America were able to separate from the British Empire, and defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. Later, he descended into mental illness. But tea was already established as an important part of the busy monarch’s day, so he didn’t let a little thing like a short, Corsican corporal-turned-general-turned-emperor keep him from tea time. Thus the need for fancy tea caddies like the one here.
As Decorative as It Is Useful
Holding three separate caddies (the part that actually holds the tea), this tea caddy box is covered with ceramic plates decorated in cobalt blue images of Chinese riverscapes, figures, and boats. The box interior is divided so that each caddy sits separately from the other two. They were meant to hold green tea, black tea, and sugar – all precious commodities when this was made (circa 1775). Yes, it locks. Most such tea caddy boxes did. Kept the staff from indulging when their masters weren’t around.
The Regency Era Influence
When King George III fell mentally ill, he was deemed unfit to reign. Around 1811, his son, the Prince of Wales, became Prince Regent and reigned in his stead. In 1820, the prince became George IV after his father died. The years 1811 through 1820 became known as the Regency Era in England. However, historically, the era has different time spans. The years 1795 to 1837 saw distinct trends in arts, politics, and culture, spawning many Regency designs. The Regency era is also often stretched to the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1837, to fill in the transition from Georgian to Victorian eras. And some include the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. The caddy shown here is richly stained and polished mahogany (a wide array of tea caddies made from mahogany are easy to find online). Imagine something like this sitting on the shelf in your dining room or pantry. Wow!
Today’s Tea Caddy
Today’s version of the tea caddy is more of a storage jar, available in various styles. There are also special storage jars for Matcha, which is a premium green tea from Japan that is in a fine powder form. The jars make spooning out the right amount much easier. Then there is the tea tin so popular with many tea companies. Harney & Sons have ones with quite a style all their own. Others use standard shapes such as the cylindrical ones seen on grocery store shelves and elsewhere.
Whatever you use to store that precious tea, I hope it will keep the tea safe for your next cuppa!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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