A Tea Addict's Journal

Tea caddies

March 29, 2008 · 7 Comments

I’ve gotten interested (yes yes, among many other things) recently in tea caddies. Storing tea is pretty simple, of course. You just need a can that isn’t leaky, is preferably opaque so that light doesn’t penetrate, doesn’t give your tea a nasty smell, and maybe is cheap to boot. Beauty, however, has a price. Being somewhat dissatisfied with using cheap plastic Carrefour containers that sort of give off a plastic smell, and tired of paying $7 for a stainless steel can that is practical and air tight, but is rather ugly, I decided maybe there’s a better way to store tea, especially things like aged oolongs that need the sun and air protection, but which I hope to treasure (and avoid plastic smells of all kinds. So recently I’ve started paying that price.

I’m still in an exploratory stage right now with tea caddies, and am trying to figure them out as I go along. These are all made of pewter of one sort or another, and are of various ages. The oldest is probably the one in the middle, which is certifiably old (around 100 years). The newest, no doubt, is the one hiding in the back, second from the left. That one is in a style that is easy to find from places like Royal Selangor, which will at least set you back a Ben Franklin, or if you want a cheaper variety, China.

One of the issues with these things, especially the older ones, is that they sometimes have stuff either growing in them, or at least smell like they have stuff growing in them. I have yet to figure out how to clean them properly (anybody who’s skilled in dealing with old pewter ware, speak up now please!). The one on the far right has whitish powder on the inside. The second to the right has some green stuff and smells like old socks. I’ve put some of my cheap Benshan in it in the hopes that it will suck out some of the nasty smell. Failing that, I might use some of my old sencha to get the job done.

The cleanest one is actually the one on the far left, which I have to say is the best score I ever got through any auction site anywhere. You can hardly buy a new pewter tea caddy that is mediocre in looks and quality for $50. When it is an older piece, made of fine pewter, I probably have to pay triple that price, at least, to get something like this. Somehow I got lucky. I have a bag of tieguanyin that I’ve been carrying around for years, waiting to open it for a drink. I think I will do that soon and stick the rest of it in this caddy. It will probably just fit.

Unfortunately, pewter tea caddies is probably not the most practical in terms of tea storage on a large scale. It’s very heavy, and since it’s soft, over time you’re bound to get a few dents in the caddy. In addition to the cost of the caddy itself, the shipping also costs a fortune, as they are extremely heavy (the silvery one, for example is 650g, not counting the box and all). Still, there’s something to be said about owning a few pieces of fine teaware, and I like the idea of having some of my best teas sitting in nice looking jars… if only I can clean them properly.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • mama_jess // March 29, 2008 at 10:00 am | Reply

    I would think that you’ll have to sanitize them with boiling water, at the very least, and then leave them open and upside down in on a drain board; really let them air out. If that doesn’t work, you might need more desperate chemical measures.

    Or, and this is just off the top of my head, the herb Pau D’Arco is prized for its anti-fungal qualities. You could try soaking them in a strong infusion of that. Maybe some essential oils, like oregano, tea tree or lavendar, would help. You (as you know) really don’t want fungus growing on your tea. After these measures, perhaps some baking soda to remove the smell…

    They are beautiful. At my Teahouse, we use very simple versions of tins like those, made of stainless steel.

  • MarshalN // March 29, 2008 at 11:19 pm | Reply

    I really don’t know, because using hot water in them didn’t really do much of anything in terms of cleaning them out….

  • Anonymous // March 30, 2008 at 1:06 am | Reply

    I have read that pewter can contain dangerous levels of lead. Granted the pewter you have may not, but I think it’s worth researching. I love fine tea storage vessels, I think it really adds to the whole tea experience.

  • MarshalN // March 30, 2008 at 7:33 am | Reply

    I don’t see how pewter cans storing dry leaves would transfer the lead to my body?

  • behhl // March 30, 2008 at 10:03 pm | Reply

    Bamboo Forest – Royal Selangor Pewter does not contain any lead. You can verify by calling/email/writing them for confirmation. Lead in pewter is a concern only with very old productions or if you buy an XYZ factory make.

    MarshalN – I have handled the Royal Selangor cask in your pic, and it has a nice ‘suction’ action on the lid when closing … and it is hefty for such a small size. I observe here in Malaysia most go with steel cans (cheap China made as I never able to find a nice steel can), or clay vases.

    Or if you don’t mind small, and willing to pay the price you can consider new or antique Japanese tea caddies … you know the cha-ire? They are very small but poisonously beautiful.

  • MarshalN // March 30, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Reply

    Actually both the far left and the middle are Japanese cha-ire. You can’t see the details on the small one, and it’s in not a very good condition, but is quite nice.

    Their problem, as you stated, is that they are usually far too small. The one I have that’s big is very rare because of its size. usually they are about the size of the middle one, which makes them not very useful for Chinese tea drinkers.

  • Jay // February 22, 2015 at 9:17 pm | Reply

    The ‘dirt’ sounds like corrosion. Scrub down with toothpaste and wash out well.

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