northern tea merchants-shelf

For decades tea always came in quarter pound packs. Every manufacturer used the same size rectangular packet, usually made of course paper, sometimes lined, with a paper outer wrapper. When card boxes became the norm, they stuck to the same basic size. It was a shape which had first appeared when tea was still stored in large tins in shops, and measured out for customers.  By having standard pre-printed packets, the shop keeper didn’t have to constantly weigh out what must have been one of their biggest selling lines.  They always fascinated me and I have a couple of dozen examples (one is shown below) in the Easy On The Eye archive which I must photograph sometime.

Brooke Bond Priory Tea packet

Teabags changed everything in the early Seventies and everyone does their own thing now.  But there still seems to be a lot of effort put into the design by some firms – the current range of Pukka tea boxes look great en masse (see below).  One of my favourites is this cardboard box (above) printed up to look like one of the wooden chests tea was traditionally shipped around the world in.  It’s not a masterpiece of graphic design perhaps but it does the job very well.  The lettering reflects the way the contents and country of origin was stencilled on the shipping boxes, with a grey border to mimic the thin sharp metal edging which reinforced the cases.  In fact about the only thing they could do to improve it would be adding old style tea cards inside.
It’s a box I’ve seen about in cafés around here for ages but never thought to find out where it came from. The answer is Chesterfield, and a long established tea merchants who have managed to carve out a niche despite competition from the big boys.  As we mainly drink caffeine free here these days, while the place looked fascinating I never dared darken their doors. But recently (well 2003) they have joined every other retailer in the country (albeit with more reason than most!) and opened a café and tea room on the ground floor, so you can test their blends.  This at least gave us an excuse to go in.  It is nicely done, albeit everything is modern, so you get no real sense of the firm’s history from the fixtures and fittings.
The main tea types are available in the card boxes, with more specialist blends in smaller sealed plastic packs which, despite having an image of the town’s most famous landmark on the front, are not nearly as nice as the old paper packets.
The company has been in the town since 1936 and here since 1978 (apparently the building was once a salt works).  Just journey out of the town centre on the Chatsworth Road and you can’t miss it on the right.  Or you can order direct online.  The do sell coffee if you insist.


The earlier style  Brooke Bond tea packet above is in the retro packaging section.



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