The Bramah Museum was one of those ‘finds’, that I loved visiting. I have three tea towels from there, bought at different times and on different occasions. The first one is of “Tea History’; the second has a number of quotes which came to the top of the airing cupboard pile in November 2015 and the third is called ‘Teapots’ and represents some of the items on show in the Museum. I hope you enjoy all three!!
If you are judging the Tea History tea towel artistically, you might say that there was too much going on, too many images in one colour (although an unusual shade of plum). There are 8 sketches which might look disjointed, unless you have been to the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum and have seen the miscellany of goods on display. The museum is now, sadly, closed following the death of it’s founder in 2008, although there have been plans to reopen it at a different location.
Edward Bramah, the owner and founder of the museum, was an interesting man who I met twice; he was present at the museum on both my visits – the first time in 2001 and the second time in 2005 when I bought this tea towel. Edward Bramah had an interesting career, starting life in the Royal Navy as part of his National Service, working in Malawi on a tea plantation, being trained by J.Lyons and Co. as a tea taster and then in 1954 he switched interest to coffee. Edward Bramah wrote about his life as being “a double career in tea and coffee”. He designed a coffee filter machine, wrote numerous books on tea and coffee and over a period of 40 years, when he had a dream of opening a museum, he collected tea and coffee paraphenalia, amassing a huge amount of knowledge. He had a reputation for being a slightly obsessive enthusiast although was actually recognised as probably the only world authority on both tea and coffee. His Tea and Coffee Museum also had the reputation for being the only one of it’s kind in the world, giving equal weight to the history and associated paraphenalia of both tea and coffee
The Tea and Coffee Museum was Edward Bramah’s passion. It covered over 400 years of the commercial and social history of two important commodities. It was opened in 1992, 40 years after he had his first idea for the museum. It was originally located in Butlers Wharf in London which was a former tea warehouse. While this was an ideal location historically, with it’s connection with the tea trade, it was out of the way of the usual tourist routes (it took me ages to find it); he then moved it unexpectedly to Southwalk Street, near the refurbished Borough Market which was on the tourist trail. The museum had a tea room which Bramah saw as an integral part of the museum – demonstrating the art of tea and coffee making; it celebrated the institution of Afternoon Tea. When I visited on both occasions it was full of Japanese and American tourists indulging in the ‘tea ritual’. It was never going to be a big financial success because it was a very specialist museum with no gimmicks.
While the museum described in detail the history of the tea bag, including having a large number of samples of the different sorts of tea bags through the ages, his view was that tea bags were a travesty. He said “There are no better things in life than tea and time”. He meant that the tea bag was a short cut to making tea and that good tea took time to make and savour and was part of a ritual.
There is no question that the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum was always one of my favourite museums that I had ever visited. It combined a quirkiness with a huge amount of knowledge and fascinating artefacts, a reflection of it’s eccentric founder. You only had to ask him one question and you could be engaged in conversation for several hours. He did not suffer fools gladly but was only willing to impart his knowledge to people with a genuine interest.
In this context, the tea towel is very interesting because the sketches highlight some of the areas of interest from the museum e.g. Lu Yu, the author of the first Tea Book in AD 780 called ‘Ch’a Ching’; a traditional Chinese tea pot from around 1640. This tea pot was in the museum, one of Edward Bramah’s collection and was, in fact, extremely valuable. There is a sketch of the Japanese Tea Ceremony which was explained in detail in the museum with an explanation as to how it evolved in Japan and nowhere else. There is a sketch of East India House, the HQ of the East India Company in Leadenhall Street. The East India Company, because of it’s commercial interests, virtually governed India that was ruled by the British, at that time, until 1858. There is a sketch of an 18th Century London Tea Garden. At one point there were more than 200 Tea Gardens in London where people could spend an afternoon drinking tea (sounds like a good idea to me). What was special about the Tea Gardens was that they were open to anyone and was one of the first institutions where people from all walks of life could meet up, sharing an interest in tea. There is a sketch of the Boston Tea Party which was basically the start of the American War of Independence.
All this, and much more, was documented in the museum, demonstrating that tea was such an important commodity it changed the course of history in so many ways. Using this tea towel reminds me of those trips to the museum. I loved the passion this man had for tea and coffee and how it influenced the history of Britain, America, along with places like India; it is not just a drink, it has turned history.
I am really sad that the museum no longer exists. I have recently bought one of Edward Bramah’s books on Tea and Coffee Walks through London, not a tea room guide but charts important buildings and events associated with tea and coffee – warehouses, docks, buildings. The eccentricity of Edward Bramah made him my sort of man and I use the tea towel to remind me of that.
The middle tea towel from the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum has found it’s way to the top of the pile in my airing cupboard. There are many quotes about tea, about how good it is for you, why people like it, about the ceremony of tea etc. People write books just full of such quotes; some are very famous like the Sydney Smith quote “Thank God for tea! What would the world be without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea”. This tea towel has 15 quotes about tea, including that Sydney Smith one and one attributed to the Bramah Museum “In far away lands, or wherever you be, friendship is welded by a good cup of tea”. However, my favourite, which I hadn’t heard before, is “A good cup of tea is the responsibility of the one who makes it” (NAAFI). On this tea towel, Edward Bramah puts a quote of his own “……..the tea trade, in particular, has always had a special aristocratic position in the world of buying and selling”. I can imagine Edward Bramah saying that.
The third tea towel, with teapots that were displayed in the museum, is simplistic but I have no idea how that huge tea stain appeared across the tea towel. Looking at the these three tea towels, I am taken back to my visits, the eccentricity of Edward Bramah’s vision for a Tea and Coffee Museum and I just think that the Tea Towel Museum that I am planning may be equally eccentric. I am in good company!
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