Monday, 23 August 2010

Interview: Mrs Stokes

So, every now and then, I will post an interview with someone involved in the tea industry who I think is rather interesting. Today's interviewee is Catherine, AKA Mrs Stokes, who sells vintage china. She recently got back from Vintage at Goodwood.

1) What would you recommend a tea drinker use for the perfect cuppa?

I read somewhere how curious it is that the British adopted tea as their national drink, rather than coffee as the rest of Europe did. Whatever the reason, us Brits love our tea and drink it in many different ways, so when we talk about a perfect cuppa, it depends on what mood you are in, who you are with and what you are drinking it for. For instance, if you are moving house, or have had a shock or just need a big drink of warming stuff, it’s natural to opt for a mug that you can wrap your hands around, like a hug. But when you are sharing secrets with a girl friend, or tasting tea, or entertaining, only cups and saucers will do because they add refinement and grace to proceedings. But the one thing that mugs and teacups and saucers should always have in common is that they should be made from fine bone china, which aids delicate sipping and therefore appreciation of the tea and the occasion.
2) Why do you think tea tastes so much better in a pretty china cup?

I haven’t tested it scientifically, but I can confirm anecdotally that using fine bone china means you can actually taste the flavour of the tea better than from earthenware or ordinary ceramics. It could be that the thinness of the china means it doesn’t get in the way of the tea’s taste or that that the daintiness of china teacups forces you to slow down and take small sips. Or both. The design of the cup is very important too though because it means you will take much more pleasure from the experience and take five or ten minutes out of your day to relax, which is something we don’t do that often any more.
3) If you could have five guests to your dream tea party, who would they be, what would you serve and what type of tea set would you use?

I love these questions! For my dream tea party I would invite first George Sand, the 19th century French novelist (and first French female novelist to gain a major reputation – plus she wore trousers way ahead of her time and I like a brave woman). I think she would be challenging but stimulating company and could regale us with tales of her tempestuous affair with Chopin. I loved Benedict Cumberpatch in Sherlock recently so he would definitely have to be there along with Marie Antoinette and her love of cake and fine living. Then Paul Merton for his quirky way of seeing the world and finally Lee Mack for his cheeky northern chappy perspective on all the high-flaluting conversation It would all be served from Royal Vale’s cottage collection. It’s a little bit kitsch (well very) but I love the Englishness of the pattern. Or maybe I would go for a full set of either Royal Albert’s Lady Carlye or American Beauty as I love the blowsy big rose design.
4) If money was no object, what tea set would you buy and why?

Just once I saw a stunning handpainted, pink trio (cup, saucer, plate) with the handle shaped like a butterfly. It didn’t have a maker so was probably Victorian. The trio alone was £75, I would love to see and own the whole set.
5) Why do you think vintage china is becoming fashionable?

Probably because people want to own small items of value at the moment. We have become far less of a throwaway society and now that people are watching what they spend, their affordable luxuries are changing from a pair of shoes or a handbag to items of heritage, especially those that are handpainted or crafted or of which there are only a few. My trios range from £5-20 at the moment and my boxed teasets from £10-£45 so all are affordable and my customers know they are buying something special and if it is English-made, something of which there are a limited number as many of the big potteries no longer exist.

I think the fashion started a few years ago when china teacups were found two-a-penny in charity shops for next-to-nothing and people realised they were a unique and affordable way to add a twist to their cafes or their homes, plus they realised how pretty they are. But ever since the explosion of antiques programmes you won’t find so many bargains of good quality in charity shops any more because they know the value of the the china, either from an auction point of view or a desirable point of view.
6) Are you a tea drinker? If so, what do you use to drink it in and what's your favourite brew?

Yes I am a tea drinker and at the moment I have a wonderful blend called Earl Grey Blue Lady. It’s loose-leaf tea that I bought from Wiltshire Tea at Green Park Station Market in Bath where I also have a stall. I use a cup and saucer, currently one that was my husband’s grandmother's – the original Mrs Stokes.

For more info about Mrs Stokes Vintage china visit her website

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