Chinese Teaware and Packaging Innovation

XIAMEN, China

Designer Hongqiang Kong tells design forum attendees “the brand of China is taking on greater meaning.”

Wing-Chi Ip studied art as a young man and as a university professor but his love of tea offered greater opportunity, leading in 1991 to his founding the Lock Cha Tea Shop and Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware in Hong Kong.

Since 2014, Mr. Wing-Chi, guest professor at Shuren University and Tenfu Tea College, has organized the International Teawares Forum during the Xiamen Tea Fair. His presenters are renowned designers from the east.

Co-located with the annual event is the International Tea Packaging & Design Forum. This year’s theme: The Boundless Aesthetics of Tea Wares, Tea Tabletop and Tea Space featured designer Hongqiang Kong; Japan’s Mitsuyuki Kawagou, manager of Toyama youth tea ceremony union and a Urasenke Tea ceremony master, and Jiansheng He, Third President of the Chinese Tea Promoting Association.

Hongqiang Kong presented a fascinating description of China’s ability to assimilate the modern design philosophy of hundreds of countries. IKEA is an example of looking forward, he said. “If we then look backward in our culture we see examples of proper process. We need to move forward, but often we forget to look into the past. Made in China, the brand of China, is taking on greater meaning,” he explained. “Made in China is now also designed in China and manufactured in China. Greater affluence of consumers allows opportunities to reflect on our traditional and spiritual aspects,” he said.

He cited ancient kettle design made with modern materials and illustrated his point with the example of a child-sized portable tea table to introduce gong fu to young children. “China is learning to sell lifestyles, rather than products,” he said. Companies like Muji Taichung, in Taiwan’s Taichung City, reveal this trend.

Portable child-sized gong fu table.

Muji Taichung is a modern department store with design flair.

Hakuji porcelain is made from translucent amakusa stones that are ground into powder and kneaded into clay, then finished into white porcelain with traditional Japanese techniques.

“We try to navigate, not contradict the past, by not totally abandoning it. New technology and old ideas are not in conflict, added Mr. Wing-Chi.

On the Show Floor

Bright colors, new shapes, and utilitarian design were all evident on the Xiamen Tea Fair, where about 300 companies, primarily packaging firms, displayed their latest designs. Several eye-catching displays showed renewed interest in traditional kettles.

Ancient techniques for decorating and shaping metal into modern styles.

There were hundreds of examples of cast iron kettles with enamel interior, the standard for tea brewing throughout Asia. Not every tea fares well in iron, even enameled. White tea, for example, is said to brew best in silver kettles. There were dozens on display, decorated in relief, etched and hammered. Traditional shapes prevailed. China is not the place of whimsy like England and France, where teapots take on fanciful design. The most popular style remains clay, and proprietors selling Yixing Zisha are by far the most numerous.

In the West, recyclable, bio-friendly materials are highly processed. In China handmade paper, bamboo, and large leaves from the jungle floor have been the choice for centuries. Packaging puer in bing cha disks is standard. Aged white teas are similarly wrapped but Pin Pin Xiang has a patented “chocolate bar” brick that is scored into 5-gram rectangles, loosely pressed to easily enable the tea to be crumbled into a gaiwan, teapot or mug.

Puer bing cha wrapped in bamboo.

A bamboo-wrapped thousand-tael of tea.

The Hua Yuan Cultural Creativity company featured a clever tradition-inspired boiling pail with dipper that is designed carry a gaiwan with four cups stacked inside a smaller pitcher. The entire lid of the decorative metal pail is removable for cleaning. All the accessories fit under a metal cap.

Pails by Hua Yuan Cultural Creativity Co. contain all tea-making accessories.

Bamboo and cloth “lunch boxes” tied with cord and holding tea in cylinders capped with wood are popular. Made for multiple uses in decorative colors from lavender and sea green to turquoise and navy blue, they can be repurposed as handbags, used to carry food and small items.

Fabric lunch boxes can be repurposed.

Ornate never goes out of style when it comes to gifting teas. In many instances the packaging exceeds the cost of the tea. Exotic wooden boxes with bright gold clasps and porcelain tea jars are typical of the teas given to a bride.

A gift for the bride. Modern packaging displays bright colors, new shapes and concern for staling.

A very common sight is boxes in boxes. Larger ornately designed containers are partitioned to hold 12, 18 or 24 smaller decorative boxes that contain a variety of tea (or vacuum-sealed individual servings). Tea packaged in China remains fresh for up to five years and some teas, such as puer, are purposefully wrapped in paper and bamboo to ensure proper aging for decades. Ju-pu puer is carefully pressed into fresh tangerines emptied of their fruit. The tea and rind are then slowly cured, shrinking into a tight ball before brightly wrapped in foil.

Ju-pu puer is cured in tangerines and wrapped in foil.