January 2015 Newsletter


If legends can be believed then the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea by accident around 2737 BC. The legend records that Shen Nung, while in a garden, was sat under a 'tea tree' when a leaf floated down and landed in his drink of hot water; having watched the leaf float around he then smelt the aroma and decided to try the drink. He announced at once that it was drink worthy of an Emperor and also claimed medicinal qualities for the 'elixir'. It was not until c350 BC that tea is first mentioned in writing in the ERH-YA an ancient Chinese dictionary.

Tea became very important in China and Lu Yu a renowned Chinese author during the Tang Dynasty wrote a famous Treatise on Tea called Ch'a Ching. In this work Lu Yu wrote that sometimes onions, ginger, jujuke, orange peel and peppermint were boiled along with the tea. The work is important as it explains how monks took the tea to Japan and also claimed stimulating medicinal effects for the drink. Japanese culture immediately took to the drink and also claimed stimulating properties for their drink, but until the 12th Century relied on importing the leaves when they were able to bribe some monks to send out the seeds of the tea bush. Below is Song Dynasty stem bowl possibly for drinking tea from

The cultivation of tea in China was on small farms who sold their crop to large traders. The tea from the farm was transported by labourers who carried 300lbs of tea on their backs and would walk six miles a day through mountain passes and valleys and to deaden the pain the labourers would put opium packs on their ears.

Although tea was popular within China's large empire it was not until the early 17th century did it reach Russia and by the 1650's was being sold in Europe as a medicinal drink - cure-all especially for gout. Yet the popularity of tea was sealed in Britain when the young wife of Charles II, Catherine of Breganza a young Portuguese Princess who would hold tea parties for her friends at court. The tea she used began with that which had been brought from Portugal but soon there was tea being imported and tea gardens soon sprang up all over London. Below is Yongzheng Tea pot c1720 that has European decoration added.

Chocolate or Xocolatl as it was called by the Aztecs means food for the gods or gods food. The Aztecs and Mayans much prized the bitter drink as an aphrodisiac and the source of great energy. Cortez and his companions did not like the bitter drink but found that by adding cane sugar it became much more to their liking. When taking the drink back to the Spanish court the drink underwent more changes with the adding of vanilla and some newly discovered spices. This new drink quickly became the must have drink amongst Spanish aristocracy and when it was tried as a hot drink it's popularity spread even quicker.

It was the Spanish monks who were given the task of processing the cocoa bean which was imported from the new plantations which were quickly established in the Spanish part of the New World.

The monks were able to keep the secret of chocolate until the early part of the 17th century when it was stolen and taken to France. At the French Court it became 'the' drink and was exported to Britain with the first of the Chocolate houses opened in London. Like tea medicinal properties were attached to the drinking of the chocolate notably as a cure for all stomach ailments. A Kangxi Chocolate pot with Later Silver European, mounts is shown below.

Originally according to legend coffee was first discovered by a goatherd - Kaldi - in modern day Ethiopia around 856 AD. Kaldi supposedly watched his goats eating the berries under a tree which then caused them to become particularly frisky; when he tried the berries he too found renewed energy. As with tea and chocolate monks were tasked with job of exporting the beans which to start with were to other monasteries to help with the monks ability to pray and be active in the late hours. To begin with the beans were dried and the re-hydrated by soaking at the monastery where the beans were eaten and the juice left behind would be drunk. From Africa the beans were cultivated in Arabia. It was in Turkey where the idea of roasting the beans was first developed and then exported into mainland Europe via the Venetian Traders. The Pope blessed the new drink as a Truly Christian Drink and coffee houses quickly spread as centres of intellectual conversation, the first coffee house opened in London in 1652. Coffee was given the properties of the Elixir of Life by the coffee traders.

All these new beverages arrived into mainstream European society around the same time and were drunk as hot beverage which was the problem. They were expensive hot drinks there were no suitable serving vessels. Until now the most popular beverages were ale and wine and these could easily be served in earthenware, glass or metal ware tankards and jugs. In China and Japan tea bowls, tea pots and hot water jugs were in common use and part of tea drinking ceremonies. All these were made from porcelain from which there was an established history in making serving vessels.

The long established trade between China and Arabia had always included small cups, mugs and tea bowls to the Persian court for tea and coffee drinking. With the coming of chocolate to the Spanish court they traded with the Moors and the Middle Eastern markets and used the pre-existing shapes and vessels.

Porcelain from China was soon demanded by all the wealthy Europeans who could afford the drinks as they appreciated the thinly potted and translucent bodies and best of all the heat resistant quality of the ware. As the drinks were expensive the porcelain was able to match the opulence of the drinks by the use of decorative and expensive decoration. Although there had been imported Chinese ware into Europe it was the need for high quality tea ware that accelerated and the demand increased as more people were able to drink the beverages thus eventually giving rise to the European porcelain factories.

Chinese potters and decorators became ever more inventive in decoration of their tea ware to try to keep it more prestigious than the European porcelain factories, moving from elegantly decorated blue and white ware to Famille Verte and later Famille Rose. An interesting Kangxi blue and white tea bowl and saucer with a café au lait glaze is pictured below.

The development of the patterns also progressed from those which reflected the Chinese taste to the more flowery taste of the Europeans. They took the idea of fine potting a stage further and introduced egg shell porcelain which was so fine your hands and fingers were visible through the body as was the drink, not particularly practical especially with the downstairs staff! 


2015 PLANS

Following on from previous years I will concentrate with the website and selected Antique Fairs. The exhibition in June in London was an interesting excursion but I will not be doing it this year although CADA may well be doing an Exhibition in Woodstock as an organisation later in the Year which would be ideal. But watch this space.

The fairs will be all tried and tested and ones where I do know you enjoy visiting dates are on the website along with e tickets although you should still be able to receive a 'proper ticket' as well.

27th February - 1st March Wilton House
9th - 12th April Antiques For Everyone NEC Birmingham
16th - 19th April CADA fair Blenheim Palace
23rd - 26th July Antiques For Everyone NEC Birmingham
3rd - 6th December Antiques For Everyone NEC Birmingham

Please keep in touch

Best wishes for a prosperous New Year

Cathy Hunt