A tea box tells its story.

Sortland Museum

Sortland • Vesterålen

The tea box on the worn countertop inside the Jennestad trading post is from 1890-1915. Back then, tea was only sold in loose weight and weighed for the customer by the storekeeper behind the counter.

Tea was expensive and exclusively for the rich for a few hundred years after coming to Norway in the early 1700s. In the 1800s more and more people grew to like and could afford this warm and fragrant drink. Tea was even available in Vesterålen, because the merchant Ødeberg Johanssen considered its import to be a profitable endeavour.

It cost seven kroner a kilo, the same price as 35 litres of milk. During the first decades of the 1900s most of the population of Vesterålen would drink homemade tea made from caraway seed they gathered themselves.

This was when the packages of tea began to get new and modern decorations text and drawings to attract customers. The manufacturer, Thomas Lipton, learned about advertising in America, so he designed his own trademark to increase sales. “Branding” is no new idea. The box has a drawing from Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as the island is now known. We see the plantation on which the tea was grown; women are picking tea leaves and carrying cases of tea on their heads into the factory, while men clad in white wearing pith helmets organize the work.

The tea box also shows us a glimpse of British colonial history. If you look at the back of the box you will see a beautiful smiling woman holding a palm leaf coquettishly over her shoulder like a parasol. The box also has a drawing of the stately manor on City Road in London where Lipton had his main office and warehouse.

Thomas Lipton made an important discovery later on. He started selling quality teas in bags, which stayed fresh longer and tasted better with long-term storage. He chose yellow as the main colour of Lipton’s products because it meant joy in Africa and symbolised happiness in Asia. And Lipton is still packaging tea in yellow bags…

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