The Tea History Collection

Tea History Collection, Oxfordshire, UK

English entrepreneur Denys C. Shortt, OBE, left the tea gardens of Assam where he grew up, but he never left tea.

The avid collector and student of history continued to gather historical artifacts as he successfully navigated the world of business, founding DCS Group in 1994 and expanding the company into a multi-million dollar enterprise. While his love of tea knows no bounds, space to store his collection was limited.

On International Tea Day Shortt unveiled the Tea History Collection, a not-for-profit resource for the tea industry located in Banbury, Oxfordshire. The collection is housed in a state-of-the-art facility equipped for video conferences, remote learning with 1GB connectivity, and virtual webinars all amid tea memorabilia dating to a century or more. There is also a tea tasting bar and meeting space available for use by tea-related organizations.

Shortt said that he had been working the London Tea History Association for several years, “We felt that there was a need for a place to store important historical tea items and so I offered my business premises DCS Group in Banbury.”

“In just a few months we have had many donations from people in the tea industry. We now have over 500 items in the museum – with important books, interesting tea items and even some tea samples dating back to 1904!,” he said.

“We do not believe there is anything like this in the world,” says Shortt.

James Pogson, director of Northern Tea Merchants says, “The Tea History Collection fills a huge gap in the documentation of the history of the business of tea the world over. Very few individual tea companies possess archives that relate to their own history, and many other tea businesses simply disappeared when they closed or were bought out. It is closely aligned to the London Tea History Association, which is a group of ‘tea people’ from all aspects of the global trade, and whose experience in the business of tea covers many aspects that the Tea History Collection strives to display and archive, indeed many of these ‘tea people’ have donated their own archive collections and historic items to share their passion for tea and its remarkable story with the world.”

Teaware

Notable in the collection is a tea tasting sample cabinet with more than 200 tins in use in 1904 and donated by Brian Writer retired from Windmill Tea Co., plaques from the London Tea Auction Room at Plantation House, a collection of vintage tea tins, and rare artifacts, books, equipment, and tea samples from bygone days. Exhibits show how tea was moved, stored, auctioned, and marketed. The displays are temperature-controlled and available for viewing online.

Tea storage

On International Tea Day, Tea Ambassador Mike Bunston, OBE,  led a private ribbon-cutting ceremony due to Covid restrictions. Pogson spoke and Bunston gave a tea tasting lesson for all attending followed by a lesson on tea etiquette by The Culture Concierge Alexandra Messervy who advised the Queen’s staff on matters of tea. Afternoon tea served at London hotels generates more than £50 million ($70 million) per year and is very popular with tourists, according to Messervy.

Tea Equipment

Denys’ father Peter Shortt was tea estate manager at Langharjan Tea Estate in Assam for 22 years before moving young Denys to Fort Portal Uganda, and then to Thika in Kenya where Peter managed the Ikumbi Tea Estate owned by Brooke Bond. Denys said his family spent 30 years in the tea industry. Denys explained that six years ago after the London Tea History Association started “we discussed important tea artifacts. One of our members Brian Writer had retired after running Windmill Tea Company. He has had a long history in tea.” Brian asked me to look after his tea memorabilia. When I asked how much there was he said “enough to fill a  van!”

“We collected the items and when we saw how amazing they were we decided to spend £100,000 creating a room for a Collection. It is a museum but not open to the public so we called it a collection,” said Shortt.  “The project took a year to build,” he says.

Books on Tea

The Collection Contains

  1. A history of Camellia Sinensis dating back to the very beginning. Shortt sponsored the cataloging of the entire Tea Collection at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London. This collection will be photographed, documented, and digitized for everyone to enjoy.
  2. A historical collection of important books on tea and tea companies – including five Assam Directories, five copies of The Tea Shares from 1932 onwards, and many books on tea from Denys’ large personal collection.
  3. A historical collection of items associated with the Business of Tea in the UK. This includes information on tea brokers, manufacturers, and the London Tea Auctions. There are four plaques from the London Tea Auction Room at Plantation House.
  4. A collection of vintage tea tins and tea advertising.
  5. Historical items donated by UK tea manufacturers.

Tasting with Mike Bunston

Donor Sharon Hall UKTIA

Dr. Sharon Hall CEO of UKTIA said. ‘The United Kingdom Tea & Infusions Association is honored to be a supporter of the Tea History Collection. This resource will preserve the history of the tea industry for future generations to study. It is a marvelous facility, where industry, academics, and tea enthusiasts can come together to learn from the past and collaborate on projects to secure a better future for the tea industry.”

Viewing is by appointment only.

Learn more at Tea History, UK,  (www.teahistory.co.uk), also on Facebook and Instagram @teahistorycollection

Related: Rediscovering 174 Years of Tea

 

 

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