Do you collect anything? Stamps, coins, the occasional designer handbag (lucky you!)? I was never much of a collector growing up. But over the last 5+ years, I began collecting tea and coffee cups, most of them vintage or antique. I’ve grown to love collecting these babies, for a whole host of reasons. For one thing, it’s something I can enjoy on my own (it brings me such pleasure to drink out of an old teacup on workday afternoons). For another, it’s something I can enjoy with friends — girlfriends especially get a kick out of drinking from these tea cups, and I really love home decor pieces that are also conversation pieces. Nearly all of my teacups have happy memories or family history associated with them, and as I was making myself a cup of tea last week, I decided it’d be fun to share some of my collection here with you. More on my favorite pieces, the stories behind them, and my favorite teas below. I hope you enjoy!
So, my little collection! It all started when I went to visit my grandmother in Houston in the summer of 2012. As many of you know, I inherited my love of old things and decor from her — so it should come as no surprise that my collection started on a random antique shop visit that hot summer.
I saw the lobster teacup pictured above in a glass case, and immediately had to have it. Backstory: years before, I’d bought a t-shirt off Etsy that had a screenprint and a cute poem about lobsters written on it in French (listen, it was my fresh-out-of-college t-shirt style. Don’t judge). Whenever I’d wear it, Joe would call me “his little lobster,” and after a while, the nickname stuck (or at least, became one of many random nicknames I’d respond to. But that’s another post. Wait, no it’s not!). So when I saw this lobster cup in the antique shop, it had to be mine. The saucer that it was perched on was not from the same set, or even the same maker. But they looked so perfect together, I bought it anyway. The lobster cup is from an English maker (ironically, named Tuscan). It’s part of a series of zodiac cups, and this one is associated with the astrological sign Cancer. Yeah, that’s the thing — the lobster is actually a crab. But damn if it doesn’t look like a lobster to me, so “the lobster tea cup” it shall remain. I’ve searched around online and found other cups from this series. I kinda hope I can find more out in the wild! Though this Leo one might have to be an online purchase…
The green tea cup and saucer I’ve pictured with it are an Alameda Antiques Faire find. There aren’t a ton of vendors focused on vintage or antique tea cups, but there’s one lady on the north side of the fair that always has them. If you’re a local, look for her — she’s always at the end of an aisle, with tea cups stacked on a few tables. I was drawn to this particular cup because of the color and the shape. I thought the angular shape of the cup was unique.
The demitasse cups pictured above are a recent gift from my grandmother. They actually belonged to her mother, and are part of a large collection of china that I’ll eventually inherit some day. When I visited my grandmother in the spring, we were going through her china cabinet and I saw these. I thought they were stunning! I don’t think she’d used them in years, so we carefully packed them up and she shipped them to me. The cups are so feather thin and delicate — I always think I can feel their age. The hand painted motif is so beautiful, as is the gold that rims the cups and saucers. I love the pattern so much, I “stole” one of the saucers to use as a soap dish in my bathroom. You gotta find little ways to bring things you love into your everyday life, you know? These are a set I’ll treasure forever.
The last cup I wanted to tell you about was also a gift from my grandmother, but of the more modern variety. This teacup is the one I probably drink from the most, when I’m not drinking from our basic everyday mugs. It’s from Astier de Villatte, a wonderful French ceramics company that makes the most incredible serveware pieces. I dream of having a china cabinet full of the stuff, but it’s, shall we say, an investment. My grandma surprised me with this particular cup a few Christmases ago. I just love the handle on it — it’s so intricate and beautiful. The cup also has this really organic, handmade feel, as it’s not perfectly round nor perfectly level at the top. It speaks to the individuality of each piece Astier de Villatte makes. If you want to get to know the company, I highly recommend you watch this adorable video they released a couple years ago. It really shows the care and craftsmanship that goes into their work — and actually, everything the company does.
Ok, so now that you’ve seen my collection, what type of tea do I like to drink? Well, to be honest, many days I keep things simple and will use bagged teas. But be forewarned, all bag teas are definitely NOT created equal. You should try and purchase a loose/full leaf bagged tea if you can. I’ve tried so many brands over the years; my recent favorite is a brand called Paromi. I tend to default to jasmine tea, and theirs is excellent — the aroma is gorgeous, and the flavor is really well balanced. I used to drink Mighty Leaf’s organic spring jasmine (which I’ll still order at restaurants, as many places serve it), but when I switched to Paromi, I couldn’t believe the difference in taste. Paromi is available at Whole Foods, and bonus alert: the grey jars the tea comes in are also great for storing random knickknacks, pens, or brushes. I use mine to hold paint brushes in the office.
After years of meaning to, I recently bought a little cast iron tea pot and filter. Whenever I’ve seen these in stores and online, they’re quite expensive. Pro tip: check out your local restaurant supply store. I bought mine at Kamei in San Francisco (out in the Inner Richmond, on Clement), which is one of my favorite places to find little dishes and serveware. I think it was $30? A far better deal than any I’d seen at bigger retailers! Anyway, having a tea pot like this has allowed me to start working my way through all the loose leaf tea I’ve bought or been gifted. The last few weeks, I finally opened a beautiful green tea my friend Hitha brought back to me from China quite a while ago (Hitha, if/when you read this, know I was saving it for a proper tea vessel!). I love making the tea in the cast iron pot and bringing it into the office to sip on throughout the afternoon. I think I drink more (yay for being hydrated!), and the ritual of it is just so fun.
Beyond obvious tea sources like Mariage Frères, I’ll cop to it: I know very little about finding the best full leaf teas, especially online, so I’m just gonna let this post do it for me. In my case, it was step one: fun tea cups. Step two: find amazing tea. So with that in mind, recommendations are welcome! If you’re a tea lover, what loose leaf tea brands/companies do you like? As I mentioned, I’m particularly partial to jasmine.
I hope you liked getting to see my burgeoning tea and coffee cup collection! I’d love to know — do you collect anything? Why’d you pick that item in particular?