The Original Tea Chest

What exactly is a tea chest?

Originally, a tea chest was an item used to store and ship tea in. Of course, one of the most illustrious remembrances of the tea chest is in reference to the Boston Tea Party. On December 16th, 1773 colonists dressed as American Indians invaded three ships carrying tea and unceremoniously dumped the tea chests with their precious cargo overboard.

In history, the tea chest is often confused with the tea caddy. While both containers were used for holding tea, there really was a vast difference between them. Tea caddies were actually small wooden or metal containers that were used to hold tea in. Often the metal caddies were called tea canisters in an effort to distinguish the two. Tea caddies, especially the wooden variety, were frequently made from special woods such as mahogany or satinwood.

In reality a true wooden tea chest was a large box or similar container that was lined with sheet lead and used to transport tea across the open seas.  Tea would spoil easily, thus it was transported in secure a wood tea chest that was guaranteed to keep out the moisture which could so easily spoil tea–especially on a long journey across oceans.  The traditional antique tea chest was edged with metal. Sizes varied according to the amount of tea being transported.

Today, tea chests are mainly used to store or transport items. Constructed usually from plywood, they are often used in the home, garage and workplace. They are both solid and durable, and made to last. You simply buy a ready-made empty tea chest; no tea included!

Many references to tea chests actually refer to the tea caddy or tea box. A tea caddy is a smaller wooden container used for tea storage. It is usually a small and decorative wooden box with a hinged lid. The tea that is stored in this box can either be stored as tea bags, or as loose tea stored in smaller containers or compartments.   Sometimes it is also referred to as a tea bag chest or a tea bag box. Believe it or not, often original tea chests could be locked as the tea was considered a very expensive and perishable luxury, one which was deserving of being locked away.  Oftentimes other ingredients, such as sugar, was also stored in this tea chest.

While the large tea chest used for shipping were made from sturdy wooden material, the smaller tea chests which inhabited the everyday home were made from many different materials, not just wood. They were made from brass, pewter, or even copper and silver. Some were made from wood, such as mahogany, but even those made from wood were lined with metal.  Naturally, these smaller chests were fairly intricately designed and if you can find an antique tea chest like this these days they are usually worth quite a lot of money.

Today, modern tea chests are no longer compartmentalized but are rather simple items where one can store teabags. If you are looking for an unusual gift for someone, and you know they love to drink tea, whether black or wulong tea, you could not go wrong with buying them a tea chest. Check out the modern Tazo tea chest, or the Bentley tea chest; both well known names when it comes to tea gift packs. Bentley makes a great bamboo tea chest that really looks great and would be the perfect tea-lover’s gift!

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One Response to “The Original Tea Chest”

  1. This website of you is very interesting when you love tea as mutch as I do.
    You have interesting articals about everything what has to do with drinking tea.

    I just mis just thing and this has to do with my collection (+/-300) namely a tea strainer.

    Do you know something about the history of it?

    Can you put some articals about it on you site?

    Kind regards.

    Leo Kortekaas

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