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Discovering the Tea Tin

british teaware indian tea sri lankan tea

The story of our tea tin began with a visit to an antiques shop in Brussels, Belgium. After browsing the shop and not really being inspired by anything, we were about to leave when we noticed a large wooden cabinet in a corner. It was stacked full of small metal boxes, which in closer inspection were all embossed with numbers on their lids. Intrigued we picked one up and opened it revealing a scrap of paper.

Margaret's Hope Tea Tin

Antique Tea Tin

It was then the penny dropped. The piece of paper read ‘MARGARETS HOPE’, which we instantly knew as the famous tea estate in Darjeeling, India. Underneath was a long string of numbers, along with writing that detailed ‘15 chests’ of ‘FTGFOP1’ with a ‘net weight of 615kg’. It was undoubtedly a packing list for an order of tea, with the invoice number at the top. The ‘FTGFOP1’ stands for Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1, which is a grade of black tea. Without this tiny piece of paper we certainly wouldn’t have realised that the tin had anything to do with tea.

Margaret's Hope Tea Tin with order slip inside

Further investigation revealed that our tin was a sample tin. It would have been one of hundreds sent from the estates in India to the, now closed, London Tea Auctions in the early part of the last century. Each one had an embossed identification number and contained a small amount of loose leaf tea for sampling before an order was made. This was the only way buyers could choose which teas they would buy at the auction, as it was impractical to travel to each of the estates. At this time all tea was auctioned through London, very different story from today. After a successful bid sample tins were sometimes retained in case a buyer had any issues with quality. On our visits to Sri Lanka and India we have found such tins are still used between the estates and the local auction houses. We have also found out that many of the original tins would have been made in India from tin shipped from the tin mines of Cornwall.

Sri Lankan Tea Sample Tins

Once we discovered the origin of our tin we knew instantly we had to recreate it for Comins Tea House. After much research we discovered a British company willing to work with us in developing our tin. Our final design is larger than the original tin, and is constructed using more modern methods to ensure a perfect airtight seal. We have also incorporated a label holder on the front and of course laser engraved our cat and cup logo on the lid!

Our version of the Tea Tin!

The remarkable thing is that if we hadn’t chosen the one tin with that scrap of an order in it, our tins may not have come into existence. We did, of course, check all of the other tins for more bits of paper, thoroughly confusing the shop owner, who quite sensibly believed all his tins were the same!

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