“Tea is one of the mainstays of civilization,” George Orwell wrote in “A Nice Cup of Tea.” As homage to the rich and storied history of this 4,000-year-old beverage, design firm Sweetooth brings us an illustrated poster, “The Alchemy of Tea.”
It’s the result of two months of research into traditional tea recipes from around the world, from Yerba Mate to the Russian Caravan. The diagram reveals how the many types of tea bases–green, black, white, and oolong–might be mixed with other ingredients–milk, honey, lemon, and cardamom–to create 15 traditional recipes. Some of the ingredients, like the yak butter used in the salty, purplish Tibetan Butter Tea, might be hard to find at your local Stop n’ Shop. Other recipes, when done right, require superhuman effort: Vietnamese Lotus Tea was traditionally made by rowing out into the middle of a lake at night when lotus nectar is at its fullest, opening a lotus blossom and filling it with green tea leaves, tying it in a ball and letting the petals soak up the tea’s flavors overnight, then returning to retrieve it in the morning. It’s considered an art form, unlike simply ripping open a teabag and pouring hot water over it.
To show the proper serving vessels for these various recipes, the group also illustrated traditional tea sets, like the floral-printed bone china of Britain, India’s ornate brass sets, and the Chinese Yixing clay teapot, the first invented during the Song Dynasty. The full breadth of their research is available on their website, and offers insights into a drink that, as legend has it, was first discovered in the Yunnan province of China in 2737 B.C., when Emperor Shen Nong was boiling water and the leaves of a tea plant fell into his pot.
Coffee drinkers outnumber tea drinkers in the U.S.–183 million to 173.5 million–and sometimes even look down on this less jittery, fresher-breathed group. But many of history’s most creative minds, from Agatha Christie to Henry James to Mick Jagger, have praised the leaf over the bean. And it possesses greater health benefits, too.
“Tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities will always be the favorite beverage of the intellectual,” said Thomas de Quincey, who might’ve loved this family tree of tea.
Poster production for “The Alchemy of Tea” is currently being funded on Kickstarter. Posters are available for $25 here, and will ship in November.