I’m often asked to design teas based upon art, fashion, or historical events. I always find it a rewarding challenge that blends my love for art with my tea blending profession.
One of my newest commissions came from the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, home to more than 2,000 paintings, 250 sculptures, 20,000 drawings and watercolors, 40,000 prints, and 35,000 rare books and manuscripts.
I was given six paintings from their collection and asked to blend a signature tea for each. The tea tins, bearing the artwork, are now on sale in the museum gift shop.
Here is a peek into the blends that were created.
The model for this picture was an orange seller whom Ford Maddox Brown found while scouting for models for his epic painting Work. The cornflower held by the young girl in this picture is in keeping with the message of the larger painting: one of the lowliest street sellers in Victorian London was the flower girl.
I designed a blend based upon a deep black Sri Lankan tea with highlights of orange peel and rose petals, which remind us of her deep red shawl. The addition of blue cornflower is a homage to the flower she holds in her fingers.
Joshua Reynolds was considered the leading portrait painter Georgian England. His works fill the walls of London’s National Gallery and The Tate Britain. You can see by the grand style of this portrait why every woman of means, including Sarah Campbell, wished to sit for him.
An elegant and aristocratic Miss Campbell deserves an equally sophisticated tea blend, such as this Earl Grey-inspired black tea which is made even more evocative with the addition of bright blue cornflower petals and aromatic French lavender.
In 1860, Frederic Leighton moved to London where he associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and, the next year, designed Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s tomb for Robert Browning. The stting for this portrait took place in October 1864, after Mrs. Guthrie had recovered from the birth of her fifth daughter. The flowers, vases, embroidered tablecloth, ornate chair, and large history painting in the background, which were probably furnishings in the artist’s studio in St. John’s Wood, suggest a refined world of beauty, art, and culture.
Leighton’s love of travel in North Africa and the Middle East is highlighted in this aromatic blend of spices found in the bazaars, including cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon. Rose buds have been added as an homage to Mrs. Guthrie’s love of the enduring flower.
William Turner is known for his expressive colorization, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. However, this idyllic river scene, inspired by the tranquil beauty of his home in rural Oxfordshire, reminds the viewer of England’s unending love of gardens and natural vistas.
I know this area of England, near Blenheim Palace, well. With those idyllic landscapes in mind, I created a serene blend of chamomile, lemongrass, peppermint, and marigold petals – the perfect accompaniment to an equally peaceful teatime.
Edwin Long pained a series of twenty portraits depicting the various types of feminine beauty present in the British Empire. The growth and prosperity of the Empire, while a masculine endeavor, was theorized and disseminated in feminine terms. This is a representation of the rose of England offering her bounty amidst the national landscape. This work has a further colonial connection that perhaps undermines its meaning: the model for the Primrose was Mrs. Randolph Churchill, the American mother of Winston Churchill.
As the British Empire spread, so too did the desire for tea. Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – became one of the largest growers of tea which supplied Victorian teapots. This black tea was handpicked in the Highlands of Sri Lanka and blended with vanilla, sunflower petals, and marigolds – adding a soft feminine note to a traditionally bold cup of British tea.
This subject of this painting by George Clauden is a group of pupils from a ladies’ academy taking a midday walk toward the viewer, lined up in “crocodile” fashion, the eldest girls leading the way, while the bespectacled schoolmistress brings up the rear with the youngest.
This was a difficult task: what to blend for teenage girls of late Victorian England? I concocted a daring recipe that breaks the rules by combining black tea with green tea. I added a colorful dose of currants, rose petals, blue cornflowers, and raspberries.
Not their mother’s cup of tea, it’s the kind of tea that young women might find a bit more exciting.
This colorful project took nearly eight months to complete and included a week of study in London as I researched the galleries at The Tate Britain, The National Portrait Gallery, and The National Gallery. It was a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of British art history.
Tea Maestro Bruce Richardson has designed teas for such venues as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and The Kennedy Center in Washington. He is currently working on a commission to design teas for the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.