Shayne House has been hot on the brew of one of the world’s most ancient beverages since he co-founded the Tea Appreciation Society in 2007 with designer Stephen Nelson. The raisons d’être of the cause are noble and brave indeed: they draw on the 1909 manifesto of the Futurists, flip it on its head and in doing so, destroy it.
Where the Futurists “hurl defiance to the stars” in a poetry of aggression, machines and danger, the Tea Appreciation Society calmly advocates that “beauty exists only in considered brewing” and that “the splendour of the world has been enriched by an old beauty: the beauty of tea.” Where there was speed, there is serenity, where there was feverish insomnia only slumber and where there was darkness, only loose leaf tea.
The philosophy is simple, ancient. We all do it. In a moment of crisis, indecision, togetherness, tea is a distraction, a comfort, a prop. For Shayne, there is “a correlation between drinking tea and being creative.” Got work to do? Make a cuppa. A statement that is testament indeed to his own prolific creative output, ranging from film making to photography, writing to surfing, illustrating to music. But he goes still deeper into the leaves. Into the spiritual. “It’s all about taking time out. Years ago, while I was reading the Tao Te Ching, I realised that the tea in my hand was more than just quenching my thirst, tea drinking is one of humanity’s most noble practices. It transcends borders and nationalities.”
Talk turns to our own local tea estate, Tregothnan, and the so-called “miracle tea” as it’s described by the estate’s Japanese distributor. Less than a decade ago, witnessing the success of plants native to Darjeeling growing in the grounds, such as magnolia campbellii, garden director Jonathon Jones planted tea bushes. The estate now sells its single-estate tea for an impressive £1,500 a kilogram and generates just over a million pounds worth of tea every year, exporting to Japan and China, as well as supplying Claridge’s and Fortnum and Mason.
“Tea is like fine wine, “Shayne explains, “there are so many flavours people aren’t aware of.” And with the growing interest in high-end tea, the leafy substance seems to be going the same way as gourmet coffee. According to Waitrose, specialist teas such as Earl Grey and Darjeeling have seen a surge in popularity year on year, indicating increased consumer concern with flavour and quality.
As further proof of the positive relationship between tea and creativity, Shayne is in the middle of writing The Book Of Tea. This charming and informative book not only reflects the growth in premium teas, but details the pleasure and preparation of the nation’s favourite drink and showcases 50 of the world’s ‘drink-before-you-die’ teas.
Shayne explains that the original Book Of Tea was written by Kakuzo Okakura in 1901, to which his own pays homage. The opening chapter of the original, A Cup Of Humanity, delightfully describes how tea entered China in the eighth century “as one of the polite amusements.” The Japanese then elevated it into “a religion of aestheticism” out of which came teaism: “a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.”
And that is exactly what Shayne and Stephen aim to do – draw on the heady brew of the spiritual + the historical + the cultural properties of tea over time = the ordinary + the extraordinary x the exceptional. Look no further than your next cup of golden brew for enlightenment and no farther than lovetea.co.uk for all things tea-related for some very appealing tea products, not least of which is the cult ‘I love tea’ T-shirt. The logo was donated to the eco-exemplary clothing company Howies for a limited print run, on the basis that 20% of all sales were donated to the ‘Do Lectures’.
Shayne does, however, confess to one probably unforgiveable sin when I ask what his first cup of the morning is: “My first cuppa is coffee, I need it to kick start me. It’s my dirty secret I’m afraid.” The disciples of caffeine are fickle it would seem. He goes on however, “After that it’s cups of tea all the way. I like a cup of Yorkshire, probably the only tea worth drinking in a teabag, the rest of the time it has to be loose leaf. I’ve a penchant for Oolong and Darjeeling. I don’t do milk though, not ever.” Only a purist would advocate no milk. All is forgiven.