Tea Time: Inspired by Illustrated Tea Packaging

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As I sip down a glass of cool tamarind iced tea accessorized with slices of mango, orange and starfruit, I feel instantly relaxed, recharged and mostly at ease. There’s just something about tea, about its history and its beauty before being cultivated that enchants me. Even more so than coffee, tea evokes a need for storytelling. Of ancient days in China when tea was the taste of royalty, to its more common existence in the British Isles where 4pm is always teatime.

Tea when repeated in a foreign tongue, is even sweet: chai, thé, tsai. Even in the unromantic German tongue, tea is called der Tee. Unlike its cousin coffee, the caffeine in tea doesn’t make you want to jump in the air; it’s softer and sweeter. While tea leaves actually do contain more caffeine than roasted coffee beans, tea leaves tend to be drunk with a higher water consistency than coffee.

One of my favorite qualities about tea is its aromatherapeutic traits. Think orange blossom, lemon balm and ginger, and Chinese jasmine green tea, and inhale. Not too long ago in a Ugandan supermarket, I smelled a heavenly lemongrass black tea two aisles away and instantly bought for its pungent odor alone. I left it in my bedroom, untouched for three weeks, enjoying the scent that wafted to all four corners and back. I slept well.

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Besides its history, taste and romantic character, one of my favorite things about tea is buying it: In tins and boxes where artists were paid to let their imaginations run wild. Tea in advertising when left to creatives is one of my favorite joys of food store shopping. Back in the day, it started with collecting Celestial Seasonings. I remember buying Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice mix back in the mid-90s, like the packaging above, so excited to open the box and sip into a world of Rajasthani princes only to find that the taste was just not my style. But who cared, I had the illustration of the Rajasthani tiger albeit an additional 19 teabags left un-drunk. Thank goodness there were more reasonable adults willing to finish it off.

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In 2007, Lori Anzalone was commissioned to re-illustrate the Bengal Spice tiger, largely keeping the same theme as before.51dgcebkeyl Apparently when the company tried 2015 to go away from the original illustrations that were their hallmark since the 1970s, customers were confused with the new 21st century packaging design, seen above. I actually think that the new artists did a great job of moving the company stylistically into the new century, however due to an overwhelming negative response the illustrations won out and Celestial Seasonings has returned to its staple beloved packaging. Which tiger suits your fancy, the old or the new?

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This brand is newer to me, but I stumbled upon it in a rather remote Canadian sweets shop this past summer: Clipper. Clipper tea is an English brand that instantly won my heart when I saw Lorna Scobie’s whimsical black and white teacups. Among other things, Lorna has just come out with a new adult coloring book.

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Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who does judge a book by its cover. If it doesn’t entice me graphically, I won’t pick it up. Lorna’s Snore and Peace won me over for her great use of nighttime colors and handcrafted typography.

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static1-squarespace-com2Another box that has made its way into my shopping basket these days is from another English brand, Heath & Heather. I instantly fell in love with Dawn Cooper and her illustrations from seeing these boxes alone. Her portfolio opens up a whole other magical world: hats off to her for these delicious floral masterpieces created under her agency’s name.

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In a way, they remind me of the detailed yet muted botany watercolors found in Miss Beatrix Potter’s work in the early 20th century.

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I’ve purchased their Echinacea flavor, whose rosy pink florals are very welcome in the afternoon after an adrenaline pumped morning in the office. Even the inside of the box is hot rose. Compare Dawn’s new 2016 design to Heath and Heather’s much blander former design. You can see why I’m mesmerized with her artwork.

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Lastly, another favorite English tea box design of mine is by brand William Whistle who specializes in both artisan teas and coffees. There is just something about great Victorian styled typography, detailed ink illustrations with a splash of modern color overlay that makes me want to taste this brand over any other tea box on the shelf. While I haven’t yet found where to buy these teas and coffees other than in specialty shops in the UK, the brand design as certainly been noticed around the web.

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I love how the brand has created a fictional character who travels the world to bring us, the clients, new exotic flavors in a very 19th century colonial way.

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And for all of you coffee bean fanatics, aren’t the spots on this giraffe just to die for?

By large, tea brands are one of the more creative industries when it comes to package design. There are several Pinterest portfolios devoted to showcasing those out-of-the-box designers, check out mine here, as well as branding sites that highlight a number of good tea company product designs. My favorite part of these new modern designs is that they harp on older times and styles, yet still can appeal to the modern era. And they bring back whimsical illustration to a technology dominated world, reminding me that for all of the good that our laptops, smart phones and whatever cherished device we carry with us do for us, that human spark of imagination is still very much alive.

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