Why is it that I baulk at spending what seems a lot of money on something like a tea pot or bowl when I happily pass over as much money for a book? Books, one could argue, are there for as long as you wish; they can give one a lot of pleasure over and over again. That is true – and our house is filled to the rafters with books because we are a family of bibliophiles. Is it the feel of a book? The smell of the pages? Is it because I can take a book anywhere with me?
These thoughts passed rapidly through my mind while browsing through the craft market during the National Arts Festival a couple of years ago. Admittedly, I generally work my way through the stands at a fairly rapid rate, my eyes glazing over displays of items that look attractive but I know I do not need and idly wonder where I would put them anyway.
I was arrested by the sight of this teapot juggling for space with larger ones, jugs, mugs, plates, and a collection of salt and pepper pots – all beautifully decorated in the same manner. I stopped and stared at them for a while before picking this one up, turning it over and wondering how well it would pour. I looked at the price tag and replaced it gently. No, I have enough teapots, I thought. Where would I put it anyway?
That teapot would not leave me. I wrestled with the idea of getting it, shoving it aside in favour of being ‘sensible’. Still it remained lodged in my visual memory and the feel of it in the tips of my fingers. I wouldn’t hesitate handing over the same amount of money for a book, I realised. A book that I might only read once and pass on at that.That ‘sealed the deal’ and a day or two later I hastened back to the stall, now anxious that the teapot of the right size would be gone. It wasn’t and to my delight it now resides on the windowsill of the kitchen to be used whenever I make tea for myself.
It is signed Intshiba SA and is part of the Township series of hand-painted ceramics produced in Bredasdorp near Cape Town.
Unlike my Jock of the Bushveld teapot (see 22nd February 2014), very few of the teapots in my collection are what anyone would regard as ‘collectibles’ in the true sense – many are no longer even usable! I keep this teapot, now sadly cracked to leaking point, mostly because it has given me many years of faithful service.
A number of South Africans may have similar ones tucked away, for at one time they were cheap and readily available in one of our big supermarket chains. A friend has one identical to mine that continues to serve her well. Although I never came across any matching cups, I still have three small mugs sporting the same pattern: two in brown and one in blue.
Given the above reference to price, it is probably predictable that this teapot simply has ‘Made in China’ stamped on the bottom with no other marks to suggest a lineage worthy of report. It is well known that foreign imports of cheap chinaware has led to the downfall of a number of small potteries in this country – including one in the town where I now live – with the inevitable loss of jobs.
I got this teapot, which pours well – a good trait for a teapot to have – while we were living in Mmabatho in what was then known as Bophuthatswana. I liked the size and shape of it and I was attracted to the pretty flower pattern.
If this teapot could talk it would tell tales of drought, dust storms, heat, laughter, and of the many friendships forged through living in what could be rather trying conditions at the time in a place where people from various nationalities found themselves living and working together.
Tea is what helped to maintain a sense of humour when we had no water or electricity for days on end; that provided comfort when pets died; that celebrated the birth of children; that welcomed newcomers to what still looked and felt like a building site; and that provided succour during the tense time of the coup d’état.
This teapot has been through it all and helped ease the way into new friendships when we moved to our current home. It is a store of special memories and thus stands proudly alongside the other teapots brightening the passage leading to our kitchen.
The Ten Virtues of Tea
Tea has the blessing of all deities
Tea promotes filial piety
Tea drives away all evil spirits
Tea banishes drowsiness
Tea keeps the five internal organs in harmony
Tea wards off disease
Tea strengthens friendship
Tea disciplines body and mind
Tea destroys the passions
Tea grants a peaceful death
— Attributed to Japanese Buddhist priest Myôe (1173–1232), who had the words inscribed on a tea kettle.
Source: Fowler Museum at UCLA Curriculum. Steeped in History: The Art of Tea
I grew up drinking Ceylon tea as the only option to coffee. Later I encountered Rooibos tea and then on a trip to England was introduced to Earl Grey – that will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say I became hooked on tasting and collecting different teas. While my teapot collection has grown by accident, the aromatic collection of teas in my kitchen cupboard has grown by design. I scan every supermarket shelf in different places I visit for teas I have not yet met or have run out of. My recent trip to Cape Town meant I could replenish my stock of loose leaf Lapsang Souchong … sheer heaven. Thank you to friends and family who contribute to this collection of teas!
Prince of Wales is my focus today though for I have just enjoyed a pot of it and savoured every moment of the experience. It is a medium-strength tea with a rich and inviting colour. I find it to be robust with a well-rounded smooth flavour that invites one to sit quietly on one’s own and contemplate (or watch birds) or to share with someone special. It is definitely not a gulp-down-quickly and get-back-to-work kind of tea at all. I find it perfect to enjoy at any time of the day and serve it well steeped with a little milk. The tea has a naturally sweet taste, I think, so requires no sugar.
Delving into its historical connections, I find it is traditionally a blend of Keemun China tea with green tea and a hint of Oolong tea developed to suit the taste of the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward III. The actual combination of teas will depend on who makes it I suppose. The brand most readily available in my town consists of a blend of Ceylon and African teas. Some sources add that the addition of lemongrass essential oil is important too. Whatever the actual blend, Prince of Wales is a complex tea packed with flavour that can be assured of a lasting place in my tea cupboard!
I haven’t mentioned that I collect tea pots. This was never a deliberate intention – the collection ‘just grew’. They live on the windowsills of the windows on the short passage leading from our dining room to the kitchen and look lovely when they’ve been cleaned. It was while dusting off the cobwebs the other day that I was realised each tea pot has a story of its own that makes it special.
The tea pot I coveted since childhood and was delighted when my mother gave it to me is a Royal Doulton Jock of the Bushveld Westcott shape tea pot, the design of which is based on E. Caldwell’s illustrations for Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld. Such tea pots were manufactured between 1911 and 1942.
I have been familiar with that story since I was very young: it was my school reader in Standard Five! My father was once asked to make a metal gate for the fence surrounding the acacia tree that used to be known as ‘Jock’s Tree’ outside Barberton and relied on me to draw the pictures, which he later cut from metal and affixed to the gate.
We used to have an enormous wooden wagon, complete with wooden spokes, similar to those used by the transport riders of ‘Jock’s day’. This was housed in our farm shed and in season would be piled high with bales of cotton picked from the lands – a very long time ago!
To return to the teapot, however, it first belonged to my Granny. My Mother remembered using it as a young girl to take tea out for the tennis parties hosted at their home in Johannesburg. For years it graced the welsh dresser in our farm house and has probably lasted for as long as it has because the spout is chipped – my Mother told me that she had tripped while carrying the tea tray.
I have used it only once or twice for special occasions and find it still pours well. I love that tea pot most, however, for the memories it unlocks of my Granny, my Mother, my Father, the Eastern Transvaal where I grew up, Dunduff Farm (sadly now barely recognisable) and the many camping trips I have enjoyed in my life.
It is truly a tea pot to treasure!