I recently made the virtual acquaintance of Alison Appleton, a tea ware designer from Liverpool. She has created gorgeous tea equipment for brands such as Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and La Cafetière. Alison is also a hardcore tea aficionado who has travelled to tea plantations in China. I love her work, and am so glad to know a fellow tea lover who is bringing more good tea and tea ware to her part of the world! I hope you get a chance to know her as well through this interview
Hi Alison! Tell us about how you fell in love with tea.
I come from a very sociable family. The kettle was always on, and there was always lots of gossip going on over cups of tea! My grandmother always made loose leaf tea and gave it to all the children in the family with milk and sugar.
How did you get into tea ware design?
I worked as a design consultant to La Cafetière for 10 years, and they sold products dealing with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. This sparked an interest in the history of the tea trade. I then made a few visits to China and fell in love with tea.
I think the story of tea (and all the beautiful products that have been created in order to serve it) is amazing. The history of the tea trade and tea’s extraordinary popularity of being in almost every home around the world makes it a subject worth studying.
At the same time, it is very important for me to make things that are useful as there is a lot of unnecessary ‘stuff’ in the world. I want my pots to be enjoyed and used all the time, not just for special occasions.
You’re “anti-teabag” but the teabag is such a British institution – how do you deal with this?
Unfortunately, the teabag is the most common way to make tea in the UK because it is perceived as being quick and convenient. As a result, many people are used to the very blunt taste of (mostly poor quality) teabag tea.
However, I am very happy to report that there is a growing interest and appreciation of loose leaf teas. We hold monthly tea tasting sessions in our studio during which we take a look around the world and taste a huge variety of Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, African and other teas. We have also selected a range of blended and flavoured black teas. Once our visitors taste these teas, they realise how much finer they are compared to the standard teabag.
They also see how very easy it is to prepare loose leaf tea without any fuss or mess.
Some of your tea ware designs incorporate Chinese and Japanese tea ceremony elements – what sparked your interest in these aspects of tea culture?
My first collection was inspired by the history of the tea trade in the UK. As tea was introduced to the UK, Chinese decoration motifs were used everywhere. This period saw the birth of British Chinoiserie, Ming vases, Chinese wallpaper, Thomas Chippendale furniture used by famous characters such as Jane Austen and Earl Grey. It seemed like an obvious place to start. My first collection was Darcy, named after the famous literary hero himself. Jane Austen would have drunk tea all day long and it would have been Chinese tea bought from Twinings.
My favourite design is your Golden Carp Series – how did you get your inspiration for that?
As my collection is quite small, I wanted to ensure there was some variety in the range. This one is the most glamorous and has a bit of bling! For Golden Carp, I wanted to fuse a European shape with Oriental imagery. Everything about this set symbolises good fortune: the carp, lotus and gold are all auspicious.
What kind of message do you want to send about tea with the kind of tea ware that you create?
That tea is special and we should make it properly. When you consider the effort that goes into growing, picking, drying and rolling a whole variety of exquisite teas, it is only correct that we brew them in lovely tea ware.
Good loose leaf teas are relatively inexpensive and can be enjoyed by everyone. I see the new interest in tea as being similar to the recent growth in the coffee business. Today, a huge proportion of people in the UK have espresso makers at home and enjoy a variety of espresso based coffee drinks every day. I hope that one day, consumers will be more demanding when it comes to drinking good quality tea.
What is your most memorable tea experience so far?
I visited a Longjing tea plantation as a guest of a family who had a share in that plantation. They gave me a delicious lunch, and after that, we drank pre Qing Ming Longjing tea all afternoon while sitting outside in the sunshine on a warm autumn day. The plantation looked beautiful and everything was delicious. I felt very lucky to have such an experience.
What is your tea ritual?
I usually drink Uva Pekoe from Sri Lanka for breakfast. This has a strong and malty flavour that goes very well with sourdough toast or my usual bowl of porridge with honey. Mid morning, I will make a pot of Da Hong Pao or another Oolong. Lunchtime, I’ll go for something like a black tea with rose.
In the afternoon, I will always drink green teas as they give me a lift. Before bed I like something light and delicate like a white tea.
Tea is …
Tea is a comfort. It revives and soothes, and always features at important occasions when friends and family are together.
Images courtesy of Alison Appleton
Connect with Alison (@AlisonAppleton) on Twitter!