Tea Boxes: The Status and Storage of Tea

It is often said that tea was once worth as much as gold. At The Tea Centre, we tend to agree!

The opulent history of tea boxes proves just how valuable a commodity tea once was.

When tea properly arrived in 17th century Europe, storage comprised porcelain canisters and jars. By the 1700s these canisters fell out of favour, replaced by the ostentatious tea box. Tea boxes then became known as ‘tea caddies’, a term still used today. The name stems from ‘kati’, the Malay measurement for a pound and a quarter of tea.

These tea caddies had an all-important feature: they were lockable! At the time, tea was very expensive and difficult to source, so tea caddies became a staple in high society. The lady of the house typically kept the keys to the caddy, ensuring its contents were kept safe. This luxurious leaf had to be protected from pilfering.

Tea caddies also served as decorated fashion statements within well-to-do households. Made from porcelain initially, they were later crafted from exquisite woods, pewter or brass, among other luxury materials. Many were produced with compartments for storing different varieties of tea, but all were designed to be completely airtight, preserving the flavour of this precious leaf. A tip we still stand by today!

When tea started to be enjoyed en masse in Europe, the price of it lowered substantially. As a result, tea caddies were less common throughout the 19th century. Today they are a treasured collector’s item; antiques that symbolise the status of tea many centuries ago.

Our velvet tea boxes are inspired by tea caddies of the 18th century, you can see the collection here. Due to popular demand, limited numbers of our wooden tea boxes are available in stores this month.

 

A mid-eighteenth century tea caddy, made from mahogany and silver. Source

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