My Tea Set: Why the Flowers Match

Pretty much any item you pick up can teach you something—from the details of its manufacture to why it exists in the first place.

Teapot by Arthur Wood & Son, Staffordshire, England

When the western world first encountered tea, accouterments were required: teapots, teacups, saucers, sugar bowls, creamers, teaspoons.

In England, the Staffordshire area (see previous post) had a deep history of making pottery so the potteries readily accommodated increased demands. Eventually the area was humming along with some 2,000 bottle ovens, and many manufacturers—more than 1,500!—comprised the Potteries.

Maker’s mark on teapot

One such was Arthur Wood, established in 1884 but evolving from ancestors Ralph and Enoch Wood, who began making pottery back in the 1700s.

Like many pottery companies, the name changed as partnerships formed and dissolved (Birks):

  • early–mid-1700s: Ralph Wood was one of the first English potters to put his own name on his pieces
  • 1750: Aaron Wood opened his own pottery business
  • late 1700s: Ralph Wood Jr. supplied items to Josiah Wedgwood
  • late 1700s–early 1800s: Enoch Wood first partnered with his cousin Ralph Wood, and then with James Caldwell (Wood & Caldwell). He then operated as Enoch Wood & Sons until the company closed in 1846.
  • 1884: Arthur Wood and partners Alfred and William Capper opened their factory, Capper and Companywhich became (Alfred) Capper and Wood in 1893, and then finally just Arthur Wood.
  • Arthur’s son Gerald joined his father in 1924, so the name became Arthur Wood & Son in 1928.

Finally, the company was bought out in 1989, which dates my teapot to the years between 1928 and 1989. Although the company made various wares, they specialized in teapots.

My sugar bowl, while decorated with the same pansy pattern as the teapot, was made by Melba Kitchenware.

Historically, four independent companies used the name “Melba.” Of these, H Wain & Sons was likely the precursor to my piece: their factory was called Melba Works and their marks are very similar to that on my bowl.

melba marksThey operated from 1946 to the mid-1980s, placing the sugar bowl firmly in the twentieth century.

And those identical pansies?

While some china was (and still is) hand painted, these pansy-decorated pieces were not. You can easily see a sort of dot matrix-type pattern within the flowers when you look more closely.


Transfer prints were used already in 1755 by Sadler and Green. That is, decorations could be transferred to pottery by applying ink to a copper plate that had been engraved with the pattern and then pressing that plate against the pottery. The pattern could be left as-is or colored in by hand, sort of like paint-by-number. By the early 1800s, color transfers were used.

This process allowed faster production with less-skilled labor, which in turn made the ware affordable to the middle class.

A hundred years later, in 1851, an even more foolproof method was developed—and is still used today by companies like Duchess China.

Rather than transferring a pattern, a pattern sheet, or lithograph, is applied by hand to an item’s moistened glazed surface and smoothed with a sponge; the item is then fired, adhering the pattern to the glaze.

That’s why the sugar bowl can say “hand crafted,” and that’s how at least three different companies turned out pieces that boast nearly identical decoration.

Made in Staffordshire
Made by various companies in Staffordshire

Today, inexpensive ware is mass produced, and we assume that no actual person applied  decoration.

So any teapot, for instance, can tell a story—because why and how it was made tells us in part who it was made for. Where once that hand-applied lithograph made an item accessible to more people, today that same hand-done element makes it pricier and perhaps less affordable.

Yet the purpose of that teapot, the why (politics of domestically made vs imported Chinese ware aside), remains the same: to brew, serve, and share the beverage that captured the world.

–”Arthur Wood backstamps . . . ,” The Vintage Teacup and Vintage Keepsakes,
–The Local History of Stoke-on-Trent, England, by Steve Birks,  

–”Staffordshire pottery marks,” Pottery–English,
–”Transfer printing,” Encyclopædia Britannica,
–”Welcome to Arthur Wood teapots,” A Bit of Britain,


My Tea Set: A Peek into Staffordshire Potteries

Earlier this year a friend gave me this very pretty tea set.

Only it’s not actually a “set.”

Intriguingly, it’s a group of china pieces with nearly identical pansy paintings—made by different companies.


  • cup and saucer: Duchess, est. 1888, fine bone china, made in England (crown logo)
  • teapot: Arthur Wood & Son, Staffordshire, England, est. 1884 (#6424)
  • sugar bowl: Melba Kitchenware, made in Staffordshire, England, hand crafted
  • teabag caddy: unmarked

Wondering whether Duchess was also made in Staffordshire, I began there.

Duchess Bone China

Duchess, according to their website, was founded in 1888 by A. T. Finney, who advertised his bone china as “free from flint” and “silicosis eliminated.” Since silicosis is lung fibrosis caused by breathing silica-laden dust, I assume he was also advertising his concern for his workers’ welfare.

This was, after all, on the heels of the era in which English consumers were concerned about adulteration in food and tea, and the push was for domestic (e.g., not Chinese tea, but tea from India instead) products, including an equivalent to prized Chinese porcelain.

Bone china is exactly what its name suggests: animal bones are burned, ground into a fine powder, and added to the clay.

Fine Bone China is categorized as having more than 45% animal bone within the formulation, it is this constituent that give [sic] it its strength and translucent qualities when combined with Cornish China Clay and Feldspars. (Duchess China)


This inclusion of bone (i.e., calcium phosphate ash)—a technique developed by Josiah Spode, both father and son, in 1790–1810—gives the china the qualities of both soft- and hard-paste porcelain.

Hence, bone china is more durable, harder, less permeable, more translucent—and cheaper to make.

Still, a Duchess bone china item even today undergoes 15 manufacturing processes and 3–4 firings, making it labor intensive.

Their facility is in Stoke-on-Trent, a 1910 federation of six towns—the North Staffordshire Potteries or simply the Potteries.

Which explains why this tea set actually is a set of sorts, all the pieces being produced in the same place if not by the same manufacturer.

Staffordshire Potteries

Pottery-making began in this area as early as the 1400s as farmers supplemented their income; by 1740 it was England’s production center and a leader in innovation.

And output was intense—from the 1700s through the 1960s, Staffordshire contained some two thousand bottle ovens or kilns!

The bottle part—the chimney—is called a hovel, and reaches up to 70 feet (Birks).

Bottle oven or kiln, Gladstone Pottery Museum, Staffordshire

The actual kiln is inside the structure.

Below is a glost oven; you can see the firemouth (where the fire is located) and the iron bands that support the kiln as the high temperature causes expansion. Saggers (fireclay boxes) containing the pieces to be fired would be stacked inside the kiln.


You can imagine the air pollution:

It required about fifteen tons of coal to fire one bottle oven once, and almost half the heat generated would go up the bottle shaped chimney as smoke. (Birks)

With the city situated on coal seams, fuel was readily at hand, along with the clay required for porcelain.

This confluence of materials supplied numerous successful companies, including Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Spode, and Duchess—whose founder, when promoting his “free from flint” and “silicosis eliminated” china, perhaps should’ve also considered what those bottle ovens were sending up into the air.

Today, under stricter manufacturing standards to be sure, Duchess continues to sell bone china, although none with the proliferation of pansies found on my set, and while my teacup and saucer may be vintage, the “Made in England” inscription dates them to the twentieth century.

Next up, a look at Arthur Wood & Son and Melba china, plus why all those flower decorations match!

–Duchess China,
How to Mend Your Treasured Porcelain, China, Glass and Pottery, by L. A. Malone, Reston Publishing, Reston, VA, 1976.

–The Local History of Stoke-on-Trent, England, by Steve Birks,
–”Staffordshire pottery marks,” Pottery–English,
–”Staffordshire pottery—the history,”

Unexpected Free Tea Sample Fun!

This came quite unexpectedly in the mail last night!

the teasI had totally forgotten that I had signed up for some free tea samples from the April Tea Industry Company, or AprTea. Their name refers to the first plucking in the spring because, as their website puts it:

Tea in April means “the best tea.”

This Chinese tea—unfortunately misspelled as “Chinese Stlye Tea”—on their packaging, comes from Anxi in Fujian Province, and was produced this past spring.

So with eight samples, where to start?!

My family and I went with the name—selecting the intriguing “Tieguanyin Charcoal baking Flower aroma Grade one” (铁观音 tiě guān yīn), an oolong.

The tightly rolled leaves (which are not fully uniform in size, although you can’t tell in my photo) are lustrous, mostly in shades of dark green.


measuring_smThe aroma of the leaves is slightly sweet, a bit bright and slightly vegetal, with a toasty note from the wok, and reminds us of straw.

Our first brew was a very light, clear, golden hue, with a toasty hay aroma.

1st brew

As with many oolongs, we preferred the stronger second brew, which was a more pronounced golden yellow color.

2nd brew

To me, the flavor is a bit green or vegetal, with a predominate toasty flavor—but green rather than dark toasted. There is a pleasant lingering, slightly sweet, toasty note.

As to the name of this tea, it seems the “charcoal baking” accounts for the toastiness and the “flower aroma” the hint of sweetness.

Having enjoyed this oolong, I look forward to trying the rest of the samples. Thank you, AprTea!

How to Make and Drink Turkish Tea

In under a century, Turkey launched, nurtured, and created a robust tea industry—and now boasts the highest per capita tea consumption in the world (see previous post)! Yet when Turks developed their tradition of making and drinking that tea, they drew on centuries of history.

First off, Brewing the Tea

Similar to how Russian tea is made in a samovar, Turkish tea is made in a double-boiler, or çaydanlik.  Both samovar and çaydanlik may derive from earlier, portable cookers: the Mongol cooker used in China, and the charcoal-burning versions used by Asiatic nomads.

The modern çaydanlik shown here has two stacked pots. The bottom, larger one is metal, with a base that can be set on a stove burner. The smaller pot on top is made of porcelain.


To use, water is put in the bottom pot and the tea (çay) leaves (Çay Çiçegi black tea by Çaykur) measured into the top one (roughly a teaspoon per person).


Following the directions of The Istanbul Insider, I heated the water to the boiling point, then poured some of it into the top teapot and lowered the heat.

Serving the Tea (gorgeous glasses required!)half-glass-web

After 15 minutes, I poured the brewed tea into small tulip-shaped glasses, filling them about half full, shown here with pomegranate-flavored Turkish delight (because who doesn’t need an excuse to have candy?!).

I then added hot water, being sure not to fill the glass too full—this allows you to hold the glass close to the top, without burning your fingers.

I did a 1:1 ratio because I like my tea strong. This is called koyu or demli.

Using less tea and more water can range from  tavşan kani (“rabbit’s blood,” disconcertingly) down to açik (light).


The beautiful color of the tea is definitely showcased in these glasses! And that is partly why they are used.

But Why Tulip-shaped Glasses?

The tulip motif goes way back. While many of us might associate tulips with the Netherlands, they apparently first grew along the 40° latitude corridor, making them native to northern China and southern Europe—and of course Turkey.tulip

In the 1500s, during Sultan Suleiman I’s reign over the Ottoman Empire, tulips were cultivated especially for the sultan.

When Ahmed III ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1703 to 1730, the tulip:

reigned supreme as a symbol of wealth and prestige and the period later became known as ‘Age of the Tulips.’ (Tesselaar Bulbs)

With their endowed status, tulips were tightly regulated. Exile threatened those who bought or sold this flower outside the capital.

The bloom was also celebrated with spectacular tulip festivals,

held at night during a full moon. Hundreds of exquisite vases were filled with the most breath-taking Tulips, crystal lanterns were used to cast an enchanting light over the gardens whilst aviaries were filled with canaries and nightingales that sang for the guests. Romantically, all guests were required to wear colours which harmonised with the flowers! (Tesselaar Bulbs)

So important is the tulip to Turkish culture that they became entwined “within the arts and folklore. You can find references to the tulip all over Turkey, in embroidery, clothing, carpets, tiles and of course the glasses that are made to contain çay [tea]. Four hundred million tulip tea glasses are sold in Turkey every year” (Turkey Homes 2016).

tulip_low res

So What Does the Tea Taste Like?

The dark coppery red liquor, with a pungent aroma, is somewhat like a Darjeeling, somewhere between a first and second flush. It’s more full-bodied than a first flush yet has that dry astringency of a first flush. Traditionally, Turkish tea is served with sugar cubes (never milk).

I’ve been told that for western-style brewing, the Himalayan second-flush Nepal Mystic reminds of Turkish tea, so I tried that alongside the çaydanlik-brewed tea.

Although the qualities of premium Mystic are very different from the Turkish tea, and it has a floral note that the Turkish tea does not have, the astringency was similar—and just something about it, something intangible, was analogous.

Turkish Tea: A Success Story

With a population of avid tea drinkers and a production industry that currently ranks fifth in the world, Turkey has come a long way from when, upon the introduction of tea plants to the region:

it was popularly understood that the effort was going to end up in fiasco. (Klasra et al. 2007)

Definitely not so!both-glasses_crop-web

And About That Turkish Delight?

Invented during Sultan Mahmud II’s rule (1808–1839), this confectionary is still a favorite!

Click here for the BBC’s look into its history.

–”History of tea production and marketing in Turkey,” by M. A. Klasra et al., International Journal of Agriculture & Biology 1560–8530 (2007): 523–529.
–”The history of the tulip,” Tesselaar Bulbs, accessed Oct. 10, 2018,

–”The tea of Turkey,” Turkey Homes, June 28, 2016,
–”Turkish Tea, an Offer You Can’t Refuse,” The Instanbul Insider, accessed Oct. 4, 2018,

Who Drinks the Most Tea—and How That Came About

Who drinks the most tea in the world?sept-2018-brew-webPer person? That would be the Turks, at some 7.7 pounds of tea per person per year (Ahul News 9/29/18).

I calculate that’s around 2,300 teabags. Per person per year. That seems like a lot.

Yet—if I use a teaspoon of loose tea per 8-oz cup and I drink a bit at least three cups daily, then I’ll easily reach 7.7 pounds per year. And after all, what is a mere three cups to an avid tea drinker?!

Turkish Black Tea, Tea Flower

But to hit that number per capita, it means that most people in Turkey drink a lot of tea!

And to facilitate all that tea-drinking, Turkey grows a lot of tea, ranking fifth in the world for production.

So how did the Turks come to so passionately embrace tea?

Although it may have been consumed in Turkey even earlier, tea would have come into the country along the Silk Road; indeed, the Turkish word for tea, çay, is based on Chinese chá.

However, tea didn’t catch on in a big way until centuries later.

A Rough Beginning

The first documented attempt to grow tea in Turkey was in the late 1800s, when the Department of Agriculture imported seedlings from Japan and China and planted them in Bursa. Apparently no one did their homework . . . that region wasn’t at all conducive to tea.

In 1918, botanist Ali Riza Erten studied neighboring Batum (Republic of Georgia)—an area in which the Russians had successfully introduced tea plants—to identify similar regions in Turkey. One promising area was Rize, near the Black Sea.

Camellia sinensis

In the following years, the government encouraged farmers to grow tea—but because there was no established infrastructure for processing the leaves, efforts languished, in spite of tax incentives and free tea seedlings.

To the Beginning of Success

Renewed efforts in the late 1930s, along with a 1940 act that protected farmer’s rights and set up the state as sole buyer of tea, finally boosted production.

And economics and promotion helped.

As coffee grew more expensive, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and president (1923–1938) of the Republic of Turkey, championed tea.

When World War II disrupted tea imports, Turkish tea producers jumped on the opportunity:

  • in 1939, 1,324 farmers produced 181 kg of tea
  • in 1946, 11,092 farmers produced 93,067 kg

More land was devoted to tea, irrigation systems and processing facilities were improved, tax credits were given—and by 1962 Turkey was self-sufficient and actually able to export tea.

But by 1965, the tea industry once again couldn’t keep up with domestic market demands, necessitating more investments and improvements. Finally, the state established Çaykur (Tea Board) in 1971, and by the following year, 137,388 farmers were growing tea.

Çaykur is thus the country’s oldest tea-producing company, holding a monopoly until 1985. Even now, Çaykur accounts for well over half of the country’s output.

Çay Çiçegi black tea, produced by Çaykur

Most of the tea grown in Turkey is domestically consumed as black tea, with production still barely keeping up with demand.

The tea that is exported is mainly green tea, and there isn’t a lot of it. For example, in 2015 Çaykur sold around 5,000 tons of tea to over 50 countries. For perspective, Turkey produced 225,000 tons of tea in 2013, so 5,000 is just slightly over 2% of total production.

Woven into Society

The hold that tea took upon Turkey may have wildly surpassed anyone’s expectations—and this all happened within a very short time period.

Today, Turkey’s tea industry remains centered in Rize, which is also home to Çay Enstitüsü (Tea Institute), and tea has become integral to Turkish life:

it is a social experience and a sign of hospitality and is offered as a sign of friendship. (Yell Ali 2015)


The host is supposed to supply tea as long as the guests desire. In Turkish culture you just cannot say, “Sorry we don’t have any tea left!” This is simply not done, at all. (Istanbul Insider)

And it doesn’t hurt that tea is still less expensive than coffee.

Especially if that guest has no plans on leaving anytime soon.

Be sure to join me for my next post, a look at how Turks brew and serve their tea—and why tulips play a part.

–”History of tea production and marketing in Turkey,” by M. A. Klasra et al., International Journal of Agriculture & Biology 1560–8530 (2007): 523–529.
–”History of Turkish tea,” Yell Ali, April 6, 2015,
Rough Guide to Turkey, Rough Guides, 2016, p. 9.
–”The tea of Turkey,” Turkey Homes, June 28, 2016,
–”Turkish Tea, an Offer You Can’t Refuse,” The Instanbul Insider, accessed Oct. 4, 2018,
–”Turks world’s biggest tea drinkers, says report,” Ahul News, Sept. 29, 2018,

Soothing Illness with Tea

As we head into flu and cold season, tea is always there to make you feel better!

To learn more, check out Prevention‘s article featuring Lisa McDonald, tea sommelier and owner of TeaHaus in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

The 6 Best Teas to Soothe Your Sore Throat


And for even more tea suggestions and info, see these previous posts:

What Tea Do I Drink for a Sore Throat?

What Tea Do I Drink for a Fever?

What Tea Do I Drink for a Cold and Congestion?

Can Drinking Tea Help Prevent the Flu?

Has Your Tea Traveled the Silk Roads?

brewed tea

tea 2 Dublin_4003-webThe Chinese have been cultivating tea for some 5,000 years—and exporting it for over 2,000. In fact, the world’s oldest tea leaves (at this date) have been found in a NON-tea-growing region!

Those leaves—in Emperor Liu Qi’s tomb in Xi’an—confirm that tea reached western China in the first century BCE, while leaves found in Tibet’s Gurgyam Cemetery show that tea was “being imported . . . westwards into Tibet by the second century CE” (Lu et al. 2016).

Eventually the famed Silk Routes—both over land and by sea—conveyed tea and other luxury goods even farther afield. China’s Fujian Province, with its prime location on the East China Sea, played a leading role.

The Original Silk Routes (The Tea Leaves of Fujian Leave Fujian)

Fujian, which became part of the Chinese empire during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC), was trading with Arabs and Persians by 618 CE.

By the Song Dynasty (907–1279), Fujian was growing and producing tea in the Wuyi Mountain region, and by the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) was sending silk, sugar, paper, and tea out of its ports as part of the maritime shipping routes into South East Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.

On the Amur River, Russia, by William Henry Jackson, 1895

Tea also took the months-long journey from Fujian into Russia via Mongolia. According to historians (Xinhua News Agency 2015), the largest China-Mongolia trade company at one time employed 7,000 workers and used 20,000 camels—with each camel capable of shouldering over 400 pounds of tea!

By this time, Europeans were also coming into the Fujian port of Xiamen; the Americans would eventually follow.

Today’s Routes (Some Tea Leaves Arrive in Fujian, and Then Leave)

quote on BRIToday the Belt and Road Initiative replaces the ancient (more-elegant-sounding) Silk Routes, and although tea is still a component, its role has changed.

For instance, many countries grow tea these days, and some of them, such as Sri Lanka and India, have cheaper labor costs than China.

Fujian, then, is using its tea expertise in new ways.

For example, using raw tea from other countries, Fujian tea producer Zheng Shan Tang “processes and exports about 230 tonnes of tea per year for foreign brands” (Yilei 2018), thus fostering international cooperation while building on China’s deep knowledge of tea and production techniques.

Other producers seek niche markets, introduce innovative products to meet consumer needs, and work on better promoting Fujian’s specialty teas that include:

  • Milk Oolongs. milky-jade-dry-and-wet_cropped-webEarly in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Fujian producers began a new process, resulting in wulong—or oolong—teas. For milk oolong, lightly oxidized leaves are placed over a gentle steam bath of milk and water, which retains the leaves’ bright green color while giving them a creamy aroma and flavor.
  • Gunpowder tea (below), with a hint of smokiness, and intensely smoky Lapsang Souchong, traditionally smoke-dried over a pinewood fire.
  • White teas, both “new style,” which means that the bud and first leaf have been plucked, and traditional, consisting only of buds.


  • Jasmine teas. After tea leaves have been lightly processed, they are layered with jasmine blossoms so that they pick up the flowers’ delicate aroma and flavor.

As another way to foster cooperation between countries and to increase the demand for Chinese tea, there is a renewed emphasis on education. After all, China’s history and culture intertwine with tea production and consumption.

From those first caravans and ships out of Fujian to modern modes of communication and transportation, the product—tea—remains relevant.



truck to cup

And whether your tea was shipped directly to you right from China;

or whether it traveled first to Fujian, where it was processed, and then back to its country of origin before traveling to you;

or  whether it went from China to a distributor in another country and then to you,

your tea has followed trading routes of old.

–”Belt and Road Initiative,” The World Bank, 3/29/18.
–Lu, H., et al. “Earliest tea as evidence for one branch of the silk road across the Tibetan plateau,” Scientific Reports 6(18955). January 7, 2016.
–Xinhua News Agency. “Ballad sheds light on historical tea trade,” China Economic Information Service, 4/8/15.
–Yilei, F. “The Fujian tea industry looks to go global under the Belt and Road Initiative,” CGTN, 9/16/18.

Teas shown here are are available at TeaHaus.