Ca Mau Cargo Chinese Tea Bowl 1723-35

Contributed by Geffrye Museum

Ca Mau Cargo Chinese export porcelain tea bowl and saucer c1723-35. Copyright Geffrye Museum.

Tea, commonplace today, was an expensive commodity when first advertised by the Sultan's Head coffee house in 1658.Fancy a cuppa? This familiar question makes it hard for us to imagine that in Britain, tea was once considered an exotic novelty. Imported by sea from China by the East India Company, tea was one of the 'new' luxury goods flooding into London during the 17th century. Drinking tea quickly became a fashionable part of social life. Tea was costly and only drunk in small amounts, not in the large mugs we often use today. This elegant early 18th-century saucer and tea 'bowl' (at this point the cup had no handle) were recovered from a shipwreck off Ca Mau in Vietnam in 1998. The wrecked Chinese ship contained a huge cargo of porcelain destined for Europe, where there was a growing taste for the products of far-off cultures. Porcelain such as this was considered refined and highly desirable. This tea set is housed at London's Geffrye Museum.

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