A tantalising new exhibition, ‘Time for Tea’ has opened at St Albans Museum + Gallery, Hertfordshire, exploring the fascinating journey of tea from leaf to cup and the worldwide significance of this popular beverage. The free exhibition runs in the Weston Gallery until 5 November 2023 and includes complementary, immersive activities.
With 36 billion cups consumed a year in the UK, 3,000 varieties available and tea being the second most popular beverage only to water, it is firmly entrenched in British culture. Believed to be brought to Europe by Dutch traders in the 1600s, it was a favourite of Princess Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, who set the trend for drinking tea which continues to this day.
From a quick cuppa during the day to a luxurious afternoon tea, a cup of tea is a familiar moment in many peoples’ lives. Referred to in literature, popular culture, film and TV – including at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, served by penguins in Mary Poppins and a favourite of Downton’s Lady Violet Crawley – tea is a most-loved drink with a fascinating story.
Farhana Begum, Head of St Albans Museums, says: ‘We are delighted to bring this wonderful exhibition to St Albans. Time for Tea celebrates the nation’s love affair with tea exploring its history, how it’s made, drunk and its significance across the world.
‘Visitors can enjoy engaging imagery, including ‘A Tea Party at Napsbury’ by artist Louis Wain, beautiful displays of ornate tea bowls and decorative teapots from our collection, and after a wander through the exhibition visitors can relax with a cuppa in the museum’s Courtroom Café.’
The exhibition will take visitors through what tea is, how it comes to the UK, is packaged, stored, made, and then drunk from different vessels. There will be a look at tea from a social perspective including how different cultures enjoy tea and a community sourced display of people’s favourite tea mug.
A range of complementary activities will be offered including family activities, talks, creative workshops, and an incredible Georgian Costume Ball taking place in the grand Georgian Assembly room at the museum. Guests are invited to wear modern day formal attire or let their imaginations run wild and wear an outfit befitting 18th-century Georgian high society. The evening will include live music, dancing with the assistance of an historical dance caller and canapes.
Part of the exhibition will include the recreation of former local tearoom Thrales Café, using original signs and furniture stored in the museum’s collection- the area will also include a play café and space for interactive activities and further reading.
This exhibition celebrating the world’s oldest beverage ‘guaran-teas’ to enlighten, inform and engage visitors. Whether you like your brew, traditional, herbal, milky or with a slice of lemon the exhibition is a must for tea-lovers everywhere.
Entry is free and the exhibition runs in the Weston Gallery to 5 November 2023. St Albans Museum + Gallery is open daily 11am – 5pm. Visit stalbansmuseums.org.uk @stalbansmuseums.
Image © Stephanie Belton