Museum of the Home and social practice artists YARA + DAVINA are creating a tea blend with Hackney residents that reflects and celebrates the people and cultures of the borough, part of the Museum’s What’s Your Cup of Tea? project.
Over the past year Yara El-Sherbini, Davina Drummond and Museum volunteers have made regular visits to Hackney’s Arden Estate and the surrounding community with our bicycle-mounted tea wagon, blending aromatic tea herbs, leaves and fruit peels to residents’ individual tastes. From this, a shortlist of five tea blends has been selected by a panel of Hackney residents and Museum volunteers.
This July, the tea wagon is back out in the community, serving up the five blends as refreshing cuppas for free and asking people to vote for their favourite. The favoured blend will be named by the local community and sold in the Museum shop this Autumn, with the tea’s branding and packaging directed by the panel. Proceeds will fund Free Tea Friday, a weekly social gathering open and free to all at Museum of the Home, from October 2022.
The Museum will also design and produce a set of tea mugs celebrating ordinary Hackney residents nominated by the local community. The mugs will honour the selected individuals lives and achievements as part of the fabric of the borough, incorporating them into traditionally-styled ‘commemorative’ mugs of the kind associated with royal British coronations or jubilees. Copies of these will be gifted to the selected individuals and a set will be incorporated into the Museum collections, to be shared with the community for generations.
The five shortlisted blends offer tea drinkers everything from a pick-me-up to a sleep remedy. Cleansing Cinnamon, a caffeine-free blend of rooibos, ginger and cinnamon aims to soothe digestive issues, stabilise blood sugar and act as an anti-inflammatory. Calming Cardamom, a rooibos tea with cacao and cardamom, can lower blood pressure, enhance heart health, aid blood circulation and offers anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Wake Up is a green tea with mint, elderberry, fennel, and chilli, intended as a blast of immune-boosting herbs to support energy levels and digestion while lowering blood pressure. Builders and Spice mixes assam tea with lemon peel, cinnamon, and turmeric to boost the immune system, offer stress relief and an energy pick-up, while reducing blood sugar. The fifth blend, Drowsy, is a mix of chamomile, lavender, liquorice, and elderberry to create a sleep-inducing tea, offering an immune boost while you rest.
Sharing tea is a deeply social practice in many cultures and can represent a moment of welcome, contemplation, celebration, or rest. While drinking tea seems quintessentially British to many, its origins and intersection with slavery give it a more complicated story. Museum of the Home recently created a free trail around its displays exploring the colonial and migration histories of tea, Tea Through Time. This was part of its programme building public awareness around the wealth of Robert Geffrye, who funded construction of the almshouses in which the Museum is situated today. The import and consumption of tea to Britain is entwined with the story of how Geffrye made his money, among other things, from investments in the East India Company, a tea importer with deep involvement in transatlantic slavery.
What’s Your Cup of Tea? celebrates tea’s role in cultures and traditions across its home community of Hackney, and its power in the 21st century to bring people from different cultures, faiths and backgrounds in a diverse London borough together. Free Tea Fridays will provide a regular way for local people to connect with one another, hold conversations and share experiences.
YARA + DAVINA comment, Making a cuppa is rooted in British culture and custom; familiar, comforting and welcoming. As social practice artists, we are using the social language of serving tea as a way to create an engaging project about home, welcome, celebration and remembrance, while exploring the context of the Museum’s history and its relation to tea through Geffrye’s investments in the East India Company.
Hackney locals who wish to nominate someone to be on a commemorative mug can do so using this form.