Special Report  

Antique Tea Tins Highlight Taiwan’s Time as Prosperous Tea Exporter

An exhibition featuring antique tea containers from a bygone era when Taiwan was a major supplier of tea to markets around the globe was held at NTU Library for the entire month of March.  “The Story of Formosa Tea and Tea Trade Worldwide Exhibition” was organized by the Library and the NTU Museums Group in collaboration with the Formosa Tea Industry and Culture Gallery.  Not only did the tea containers and related paraphernalia highlight Taiwan’s time as a prosperous tea exporter, it also revealed how Western consumers regarded the aesthetic culture surrounding the packaging and appreciation of Asian tea.

This was the first time the Formosa Tea Industry and Culture Gallery, located in Hsinchu County, permitted the display of its collection outside of its own facilities.  The gallery’s main goal in curating the exhibition was to recreate a sense of Taiwan’s thriving tea industry and provide a reinterpretation of the local tea culture.  The gallery’s rare tea tins and cans and historical photographs were presented alongside historic documents from NTU’s archives, allowing viewers to gain an understanding of the centuries-long process through which tea transformed from a cultural asset to a commodity traded on a global scale.

With the opening of the Age of Discovery during the 15th century, tea emerged as the most important cultural medium and trading commodity driving exchanges between the Orient and the Occident.  Besides opening the door to trade and cultural exchanges, tea also became an important commodity that helped link Taiwan to the world.

Meanwhile, the tea containers became vessels for both practical and marketing purposes.  In addition to storage and protection of the tea, the tins and boxes were adorned with distinctively oriental designs which stood out as eye-catching curios at social occasions.  

The tea boxes and cans amply reveal to us the cultural characteristics and aesthetic values of those bygone times, while their images and designs possess a charm capable of withstanding the test of time.  While the containers were crafted to keep in the alluring fragrance of tea leaves, they also hold the warmth and affection of the local Taiwanese culture as well as the historical significance of a bygone era.