Design from the History of Coffee and Tea

The persistently low temperatures and snow accumulations this winter have had all of us in New Haven, and many of our friends, family, and acquaintances across the US, considering the merits of hibernation. Blazing fireplaces, wool blankets, and warm beverages are the enduring basics in winter weather survival.

The Chinese have enjoyed tea for millennia, and the teapot was invented during the Yuan Dynasty, in the mid-13th century.  The Japanese adopted the drink and by the 16th century had orchestrated its consumption into an elaborate performance. In the 18th century the British adopted the drink in large numbers and with their increased wealth could afford elaborate services. The ornamentation of form and complexity demanded its own ritual for serving and drinking. Such performance was eventually imported and adapted by American tea drinkers assuming the refined commodity culture of the Europeans.

Among the earliest known instances of coffee drinking dates to the 15th century, in Sufi monasteries of Yemen.  It caught on quickly, and by the 16th century it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa.  From there, it spread to the Balkans, Italy and then the rest of Europe, Indonesia, and then the Americas (for which we are, each and every morning, intensely grateful).

History of DesignTea and coffee pot design has, over the years employed a variety of materials (ceramics, metal, lacquer, bamboo), shapes, and decorative elements.  As we’ve been making our slow, deliberate, and enormously enjoyable way through the recently-published History of Design, edited by Pat Kirkham and published by the Bard Graduate Center, New York, we have noticed a remarkable variety of vessels devoted to the preparation and serving of tea and coffee.  The book itself spans six centuries of global design, and is the first survey to offer an account of the history of decorative arts and design produced in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Indian subcontinent and the Islamic world, from 1400 to the present day.  In addition to tea and coffee pots, the volume covers interiors, furniture, textiles and dress, glass, graphics, metalwork, ceramics, exhibitions, product design, landscape and garden design, and theater and film design.

Inspired by our current constant companion of a warm mug of tea or coffee, here is a slideshow of the tea and coffee vessels featured in the book.


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