Global power of tea links Yorkshire and Africa for pair of Pump Room and Mercer Gallery shows

By Ben Miller | 23 September 2010
A photo of an African woman picking leaves in a field
Tea provides Rwanda's largest industry© Tim Smith,
Exhibitions: Time for Tea, Royal Pump Room Museum, Harrogate, and
Tea: From the Land of a Thousand Hills, Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate, from September 25 2010

Without dwelling on how the stats were reached, official figures suggest the British down 165 million cups of tea a day.

In the county of Yorkshire Tea, the Pump Room is honouring this national obsession by exploring how tea leaves went from expensive 18th century luxuries to universal quenchers, including mugs from hundreds of years ago and tea-making tips courtesy of a World War II public information film.

© Tim Smith,
The Mercer show concentrates on the lush mountains of Rwanda, where rich volcanic soils produce some of the world’s best teas.

In a country indelibly shadowed by the horror of genocide in 1994, photographer Tim Smith captures a tea trade playing a vital part in the transformation of the tiny African state, travelling 10,000 feet above sea level through the towns of Gisovu, Mata and Kitabi and across to the borders of Burundi and Congo.

His journey illustrates how the towns have supplied Taylors of Harrogate with the readies for high-profile brands such as Yorkshire Gold since the 1970s, and documents how thousands of tea farming families are being supported by the company's pledge to match financial backing for the industry by the UK government.

A photo of African women carrying crops on a mountain path
© Tim Smith,
"Rwanda is a country that’s gone through a difficult time," explains Anthony Butera, Director of the Rwanda Tea Authority.

"We're living in the aftermath of 1994, and a lot of hearts have been broken. People who killed and people who survived, and those whose relatives were killed, all have to live together.

"One of the things that brings them closer is working together in the tea gardens and factories – it’s part of the reconciliation process.”

From Harrogate to Africa, the rejuvenating power of the brew seems to know no boundaries.

Tea – From the Land of a Thousand Hills runs until January 16 2011. Time for Tea runs until March 20 2011.
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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