When you think of tea, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t “design.” But looking at a canister of T Town tea, it’s hard not to notice the work that has gone into the branding and packaging of the product.
My first introduction to T Town was at a press breakfast at Verandah, one of the restaurants of The Standard Copenhagen. Executive Chef of Studio Torsten Vildgaards created a menu from which we enjoyed some excellent courses, including tea-infused salt (!). We then got to taste the new tea blends; did you know you’re supposed to make a really rude-sounding slurping noise when you taste tea? It’s true. I learned to make that noise, you guys, and now I can’t stop. I’m a tea-slurping disaster and Miss Marple, if she had ever lived, would be turning in her grave. God rest her fake soul.
My new manners are neither here nor there. What we’re here to talk about is tea. Specifically, the process of how to design tea in a place like Denmark where people are obsessed with design. Maybe that’s the whole point; in Denmark, people actually want their tea to be designed. Everything is expensive, so if you’re going to pay for tea, it should at least look as good as it tastes, right? Or something.
The legacy of design also plays a role; Danes want design (and want to design) because that is an indicator of thoughtfulness in production and therefore of quality. Finally, and don’t let this negate everything I’ve said to you up to this point, but EVERYTHING is designed (not just in Denmark). By someone. Even stuff that looks terrible. So, there’s that. I guess the difference here is that the T Town packaging isn’t only designed; it’s designed well. Beautifully, even.
That’s the handiwork of graphic and interior designer Christina Meyer Bengtsson. I was drawn to T Town, and to learning about Christina’s work, because the design of T Town is aesthetically unique in Denmark. Instead of minimalism, the pattern used is intricate and ornate. “I have always been inspired by the Art Deco style,” she tells us, pointing to the geometric print she’s used for the tea.
The print is certainly reminiscent of the Deco period, as well as globally-inspired. It’s a design that could be referencing Moroccan rugs, Japanese prints or Indian textile; as tea has its own particular culture in so many countries, it’s only appropriate to pay homage to its international nature.
As to what the actual process of designing tea looks like, Bengtsson notes,
“I have to get frustrated first. I never go with the first design I make; I need to play around and try lots of things. For T Town, I started in Illustrator and once I found this pattern, I started layering with various levels of opacity. Eventually, I saw that there were so many ways to use the colors and shapes; it was perfect for a series because it could be changed while keeping the same visual concept.”
In 2013, Chokolade Compagniet approached Christina about designing a new tea. They were looking to create a high-quality, organic blend and wanted the right look. By the summer of 2012 they had a prototype; by the beginning of 2014, the flavor-mixing was underway.
Asked about the flavors, Christina laughs, “I’m not a professional tea taster! Claus Meyer, Mikael Grønlykke and Jacob Kocemba worked together on the blends. There’s black teas, green teas, and some specialty blends like a Christmas blends.”
Available in metal cans with embossed lids, the containers themselves are evocative of old-fashioned kitchen wares and can be resused.
T Town’s next step is to launch for the public, slated to happen in August 2014. Decisions are still being made about where the tea will be available; likely specialty markets like Magasin and perhaps even design stores. “We’re considering all kinds of fun things; maybe a pop-up shop, maybe something at Fashion Week. We’ll have to see what works best!” Bengtsson tells me.
For me, it’s fascinating to see the process by which a simple and universal market item like tea becomes a designed, crafted product. It’s the kind of work that has made Denmark famous worldwide, from furniture to ceramics to, yes, food products. At the base of the Danish design philosophy, however, is this: regardless of what the container looks like, the product has to be excellent. Luckily for tea-lovers, these organic blends are have a classic, strong taste with subtle added flavors. A treat whether you’re in search of a hot drink or a pretty package.