My recent trips to the tea-growing lands of China, Taiwan and Sri Lanka have converted me from “teatotaller” to enthusiastic fan, learning as I go about the differences between green and black, silver-tip white and pu-erh. But what caught my attention a few weeks ago in Lisbon was a beautiful tea set in which to indulge my newfound passion.
It is by Vista Alegre, the porcelain house of Portugal, which was founded in 1824 and is therefore nearing its bicentenary. And while its production of some 10m pieces a year includes, of course, classic elegant gold-rimmed dinner services, it also creates new and colourful designs to enliven any table setting. For example, the Caribe collection (€42-€344), imagined by Christian Lacroix, is a riot of tropical motifs – flowers and ferns, fireflies and feathers – dancing off the white porcelain.
The Gipsy tea set is also eye-catching: the teapot (€164, first picture) is a striking turquoise and there are cups (€86) to match, as well as in lilac (second picture), green and grey. But the design is more than purely decorative; it combines elegance with magic and fun. Around the top of the teapot is written: “All solutions in life lie in a cup of tea”. And the cups have a multitude of symbols scattered inside them that draw on tasseography – the Chinese art of divination or reading the future in tea leaves. There are compasses, which indicate a possible change of job; flies, which could mean domestic disturbance; cherries signify a love affair; the sun promises a new beginning; and bugles sound the need for hard work.
So while the brew is enhanced by the purity of the porcelain, the shapes and symbols take me right back to my childhood and distant memories of elderly ladies in a warm kitchen turning cups this way and that. But try as I might I cannot remember any of their predictions – or whether they came true…