Tea canister

DATE: 18th century (made)
PLACE: China (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Porcelain painted in underglaze enamels

Tea canisters are small containers used to store tea leaves. The first tea canisters originated in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), when the fashion for loose leaf tea necessitated new, air-tight vessels in which to store the leaves and keep them fresh. By the mid 18th century, tea-drinking had spread across Europe, where it was seen as a mark of sophistication and social etiquette. The astronomical cost of tea leaves prevented consumers from buying vast quantities, so early tea canisters such as this example were often small in size, while the blue and white porcelain from which they were made reflected the valuable contents within. Chinese porcelain was extremely fashionable at this date and was imported into Europe in vast quantities.