May 27 2011
Lucia van der Post
There’s something about the name English Garden that resonates in some deep recess of the mind. And not just for Brits. John Williams is the founder of English Garden, a Fairtrade tea company that sells premium teas to big global brands such as Williams-Sonoma, as well others within the luxury, hotel and airline industries; he says that when he mentions the name English Garden to colleagues in India, America or anywhere in South East Asia, there is always some immediate connection as well as an affection and a sense of recognition. It stands for something, even if it’s hard to put one’s finger on what it is exactly. He states his principles firmly when he says, “We are English and ethical. We are able to treat our suppliers with respect and dignity and you will not find us in any supermarket.”
While most of us will have drunk some of English Garden’s premium teas without knowing it, Williams and his associate, Simon Collins, have decided that now is the time to expand the brand, to build on the nostalgic, romantic notions that are associated with the name and to bring some of its products directly to the consumer.
You will have assumed that those rather old-fashioned qualities that revolve around graciousness and elegant living have to be at the heart of something called English Garden, and you would not be wrong. Quite apart from wanting to bring the fine Fairtrade teas and coffees (all sourced form the best estates around the world and all from estates where the planters, pickers and growers are properly rewarded for their efforts) to the individual consumer, they have now developed a small range of other products.
Luxury tea means serious accessories. The range of products is as yet small, but two things in particular caught my eye. First, a line of fine, hand-embroidered Madeira table linen. Madeira linen used to be among the finest and most sought-after in the world, but the influx of cheaper versions from the east has made it hard for the old Madeira companies to survive.
Williams and Collins have revived a connection with one of the oldest, a company first started in 1850 by a certain Miss Phelps, and they’re now selling a small selection of tablecloths (£1,300 for a large tablecloth set of 13 pieces) and table runners (£69). The collection will grow, and modern interpretations are even now being introduced. They’ve collaborated with George Sowden, a well-known designer living in Italy who used to work with Ettore Sottsass, to come up with a splendid coffee maker – it’s a nice simple white porcelain coffee-pot shape and has a stainless steel micro-mesh filter which sits inside the pot, making it an easy way to produce delicious coffee (£59 for a 12-cup coffee pot).
Then there’s a selection of silver, made by one of the few surviving silverware companies still manufacturing in London (£75 for a tea strainer and £199 for a classic cake stand), bone china from Stoke-on-Trent (pictured; cup and saucer, £35, teapot, £65), designer glassware, and some really rather funky “glassware” made from polycarbonate and acrylics – perfect for picnics around swimming pools (glasses from £9; champagne/wine coolers for £70). Fine tea-scented wax candles (Orange Pekoe, Royal Jasmine, Green Tea and Pure Peppermint) are £29 for three. But both Williams and Collins are quite clear that this is not just “a roses round the door notion. It is a modern lifestyle brand meeting contemporary taste.”