Tea for Two!

Tea for Two!

What is it about putting the kettle on and having that comforting and calming cup of tea? Ask these two creative cousins, Joanna Micallef Farrugia and Diana Mifsud, who have turned their lifelong love for the tea ritual into a unique brand, built on the idea that these brews simply make everything better. Together with artist Stephanie Borg, they have created not only the taste, but also the look and feel of Tettiera [inspired by the traditional Maltese word for teapot] – down to a T.

Where did the idea of Tettiera sprout from and how did it go from concept to teacup?

We have been lovers of tea since before we canremember, each with our own toy tea set when we
were little girls. This drove us to share our love of tea with others and revive the tea ritual. It all started a long time ago over endless cups of tea, with the usual question: ‘What If we had to open a tea business? What would we do? Why would we want to?’ We
started mapping out a scenario of what ifs… until it was too exciting to leave it in dreamland and we took a decision to bring it to life. Once we started the ball rolling on the product development process, our vision began to take shape. It has been a journey of
endless discussions, discoveries and sleepless nights!

Tea is a lifestyle. Is it yours too? What does this beverage mean to you? Why do you think putting the kettle on and sipping a cup of tea can be so consoling?

The tea ritual is part of our daily lifestyle. I treat myself to tea from the early morning to whenever I feel I need to revive and refresh my mind, body and soul. A cup of tea always makes you feel better, and even better if you brew it the proper way and serve it in pretty porcelain. They say a cup of tea makes everything better and the actual ritual of boiling the kettle and brewing the tea
leaves gives you a sense of comfort and calmness. In today’s hectic life, sometimes, we find pleasure in the simple things. The quote from The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo is perfect to explain this: ‘Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the
romanticism of social order… Let us have a sip of tea…Let us dream of evanescence and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.’

How strong do you think the tea-drinking ritual is in Malta, or are we more into coffee?

We Maltese have inherited the instant coffee and teadrinking culture from the UK and the bold coffee bar culture from Italy. We strongly feel there are as many tea lovers as there are of coffee, and surprisingly enough, there are many dual drinkers in Malta too.

How did you go about sourcing artisan loose-leaf teas and where do they come from?

Our ambition is to provide a high-quality cup of tea and we wanted to choose a supplier whose plantations are
managed by tea masters, who still follow the traditional methods for plantation and cultivation. This is why ours are artisan teas, coming from different and renowned plantations in China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, India, Africa and Egypt… and also Malta. During our tea masterclass at the UK Tea Academy in London last year , we had access to the best advice on suppliers and what to look out for.

Do you think people, even tea lovers, notice the difference between these and their more commercial counterparts?  Is the world heading in that direction in general; looking for good-quality, environment-friendly and traditionally grown products?

Lovers of life, and especially tea lovers, would surely notice the difference in quality between a cup of loose-leaf brewed tea and tea dust going back to basics is good for the soul and Mother Earth. When we were travelling in India and Sri Lanka, we saw our cup of tea in a new way as we witnessed the hard work of the natives, who wake up very early in the morning to pick up the leaves from the shrubs one by one! It is a lot of hard work, and you start to appreciate that cup of tea even more, especially when you experience the beauty of the plantations, the passion of the natives and the tea masters. We want to celebrate the traditions and rituals related to tea and appreciate this more.

What’s your own preferred brew?
[Joanna] My daily morning cup is the Earl grey Radiance, and when I feel like I need my moment ofpampering, there is nothing more comforting than a cup of oolong – Ali Shan.
[Diana] My daily morning cup is our Maltese blendTgħanniqa [sometimes with milk and sometimes with
honey, depending on the mood], and before I head to bed, it’s a must for me to sip on our delicate Fujian Pekoe green tea.

You’ve also created your own local tea. Talk us through the process. And do you have more plans for the creation of your own blends in the pipeline, or to encourage the growth of indigenous products that could be used to produce local teas?

We have created a unique Maltese blend with Maltese carob and Ceylon tea – a true morning cup of tea with the aromatic bittersweet flavours of the Maltese carob. The process is long and precise: We pick the carob pods ourselves from our old family carob trees; we clean and dry them one by one; we remove the carob seeds and cut the pods into small pieces and then we roast them; we then blend the carob pieces with the Ceylon tea leaves and both absorb each other’s aroma. Our plan is to revive Maltese-grown flowers and herbs and to infuse these with traditional teas from the Orient. This is not an easy journey, but we hope to find the right collaborators to help us harvest these herbs and flowers in Maltese soil again.

Packaging has also played a part in Tettiera. You collaborated on the design with artist Stephanie Borg, best known for her Maltese tile-inspired work and ink drawings of traditional doors. How important is the ‘cover’ at the end of the day, and what was the look and feel you wanted to achieve?

We wanted to capture the emotions that a cup of Tettiera tea will make you feel, and feelings can also be understood with colour.
Tea revives you in an elegant and calming way and we wanted the artist to capture the calming colours of tea through her pattern.

Why did you choose Stephanie and how did she ‘adapt’ her art to reflect the mood of Tettiera, which could be described as fresh and feminine?

Stephanie is one of Malta’s treasures! Our collaboration is a special one. She immediately understood what we wanted to create and she also liked the idea of the natural and earthy kraft paper tube that we wanted to develop. After some discussion about the look and feel, she delighted us with the packaging artwork that included our logo design. When we saw the brand identity and the proposed colours and patterns for the first time, we fell even more in love with our brand. We sent the artwork to our packaging supplier and waited impatiently for the postman to deliver our packaging mock-up.

The packaging is also versatile and you have put emphasis on its other uses. Does this stem from an underlying eco-friendly approach to the whole project; is it a means to further highlight the importance of its design; or do you simply want it to offer a dual role for added value?

Being environment-friendly is part of our brand philosophy. We also want to generate awareness about the reduce, reuse, recycle trend that is paramount for the sustainability of Mother Earth’s natural resources. So apart from being one of our fundamental pillars, we also wanted to prolong the lifespan of the Tettiera tube by encouraging its potentially different uses. To say that the
packaging is as vital as the actual tea leaves might not be an overstatement. Everyone is attracted to pretty, little things and we wanted to create a whole experience for the end user. When creating Tettiera and our packaging design, it was always important that we develop something that limits the environmental impact after the tea is consumed. Being lovers of our surroundings and
nature in general, we wanted to create something easily recyclable. Enter kraft paper – a natural, unbleached, totally biodegradable material made from virgin fibres of maritime pine. This miracle material decomposes naturally within a few weeks
just like leaves under a tree. We’ve all heard of the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra. Recycling might not solve our world problems, but taking materials and giving them a second life should be nothing but our sacred duty. Although kraft paper is totally
biodegradable, this is not an excuse to just dispose of it. We are firm believers that, whenever possible, packaging should be reused, or even up-cycled.

Coming from the world of marketing, what do you think Tettiera would have been without the design and packaging details?

Without its holistic brand concept and consumer proposition, Tettiera would not be what it is today. The brand identity foundations are of paramount importance to the creation of the product story and the value it offers to its consumers. You’ve also created pretty trial gift boxes, which, apart from 13 tea blends hand-packed in unbleached teabags, include a surprise book.

Tell us about the connection between tea and reading – especially in today’s fast-paced life – and how you are going about promoting this somewhat romantic image which may be far removed from reality.

We want to encourage tea lovers to find time and rediscover the tea ritual. Nothing beats a steamy cup of tea and a good book to allow the mind to switch off from your daily routine. This is such a simple gesture that is taken for granted. We need to relearn how to enjoy little moments of pleasure like this and find time for our enjoyment and peace.

Your campaign is also a completely in-house creation, from the photography to the styling. Again, what’s the feel and how important is it to effectively convey this ‘lifestyle’ message – the experience beyond the tea.

The idea is that the tea ritual can be created and enjoyed by anyone at any home, or office. So we are simply setting the example that everyone can create the effect and mood they want, even with the ceramics and accessories they already have. Sometimes, we
need to make that extra effort to make that cup of tea for our partners and friends that bit more special.

You’ve gone all out to create the picture-perfect tea party experience… and you even intend to organise Tettiera tea-tasting sessions in Stephanie’s vibrant art studio boutique in Rabat. How do you think these will go down?

We want to revive the afternoon tea party concept and help consumers rediscover the tea ritual… with hot scones, delicious biscuits, stylish macaroons, mouth-watering canapés and a few pots of brewed tea all served in proper crockery with a set-up that will make you wish the party would never end! This would be a haven for any tea devotee and for those who appreciate the finer things in life. Tea time is also about the accessories… Gimmicks, vital tools, or just more fun? The true ritual of tea involves
various accessories. Some are functional and necessary and others are decorative, fancy and just for personal enjoyment.

Tettiera products are being sold from a handful of outlets. How and why did you select these?

Tettiera is a unique brand of tea and we are working with premium retail partners, who believe in our brand philosophy and can help us write our story. The selection process was thorough and we are quite content that we have six retail partners. We do
have plans to expand and we even have further trade requests, but we prefer to visit the actual shop to make sure our brand fits into the mood and its shopper profile before we move forward.

And finally, could you pass on some tea-brewing tips in between sips…

Surprisingly, the ritual itself can be quite personal, and if you had to ask 10 people how they prepare their tea, you would surely get 10 different replies. Our most important rule is to never boil water twice. Make sure to use an infuser that is big enough to let
the tea leaves infuse properly. Respect the time indicated for brewing the leaves to maximise their aromas, and never over-brew them. Always drink your tea in your favourite mugs and cups!

Interview by Fiona Galea Debono Executive Editor of Places Design & Living Magazine – Allied Group Malta.