Lotusier marks a milestone in tea history – interview with Åsa Eriksson-Ahuja, founder of the brand.
Åsa Eriksson-Ahuja, founder of Lotusier
What gave you the idea to create the world’s first tea humidor?
I was inspired to create the tea humidor while searching for a unique gift for my husband. My long and unsuccessful search for something truly original and masterfully crafted led me to start turning over an idea in my mind for a very special present of my own invention. I was after something that would be an uncompromising and elegant blend of beauty and functionality, and superb in the quality of its materials and making. It was then that I began to consider making a bespoke home for his favourite teas.
My idea was to create a space that would enable teas to be stored in an optimal eco-system and be beautifully presented. Regardless of the geography and climatic conditions in which they were situated, the ‘tea’ richness and nuanced flavours would be highlighted and preserved – this was important, as my husband travels a lot.
I commissioned a renowned Parisian maker of cigar humidors and jewellery boxes, as well as a talented artisan specialising in crystal, to implement my design for the first ever tea humidor as a one-off exclusive piece – utilising exquisite wood marquetry, the finest hand-blown crystal and sterling silver fittings. I was immensely proud of the result, and was thrilled that my husband loved it.
How did the product evolve into what it has become today?
It became clear over a period of time that the discovery had broader appeal than I first imagined. I did not create the tea humidor as something that would be repeated, yet when frequent and persistent expressions of interest from visiting friends and family members who were equally enthused about being served tea from his inspiring invention – kept pouring in, we decided to commission several more tea humidors for those near and dear to us. So great was this word-of-mouth demand that the next step was to consider serious product development, since I became interested in evolving and refining the design. At this stage, we also engaged in rigorous testing for functionality to ensure the optimum scientific conditions for tea storage. This developmental stage involved the input of many different specialists in various fields, and called for the integration of engineering, food R&D, industrial design, and visual arts expertise in addition to the artisanal disciplines required.
How is the tea humidor different to other methods of tea storage?
The tea humidor, which took over four years to develop, now has two international patents pending and has evolved into a fine synthesis of technical and design innovation. The internal workings reveal a smartly conceived two-way humidification system, precision instruments, exquisite craftsmanship, and much more. This has been a labour of love, but ultimately, we are bringing a highly sophisticated and innovative product to the market.
The storage of tea has not been considered or developed to this degree before, making the tea humidor an exciting development in tea history. The two-way humidity control (i.e. the ability to both add and remove humidity effectively) dovetails with the unique feature of dispersing humidity evenly across the tea. It is also possible to regulate the optimal humidity level for up to six different teas in a single humidor – and to monitor this visually, by way of German – made hygrometers.
Different teas can be stored in one purpose-made home with the distinct advantage of avoiding cross-contamination of flavours and aromas.
What technical aspects of the tea humidor make it a unique solution for storing tea?
The capacity to adjust humidity levels is crucial – most teas should be preserved at a 55-70% relative humidity level for the subtleties of flavour to be maintained. This is especially challenging when taking into account the widely divergent moisture levels between very humid locations (like India during the monsoon season) and predominantly dry places (like much of the Middle East for most of the year) – two regions that both have great tea drinking cultures.
In addition, the tea humidor effectively protects teas from four of the five major “enemies of tea” – air, moisture, odours, and light (the fifth enemy, heat, can easily be controlled via the temperature set in the home/office environment). The individual hand-blown crystal containers are air-tight, ideal for safeguarding against contaminants, while all being housed within the well-sealed wooden humidor that prevents any light penetration.
The tea humidor is thereby able to prolong the longevity of tea – keeping it fresher and flavour-rich for longer than other types of storage – while preserving the subtleties and delicacy of its notes and aromas.
How does the tea humidor impact the tea ceremony and tea drinking rituals in general?
The enjoyment of tea is a highly sensual experience – tea enthusiasts delight in and appreciate tea on many levels. The tea humidor’s crystal containers enable tea lovers to admire the visual splendour and specificities of various tea leaves, long before tasting. It also allows for the rich, complex and nuanced aromas and notes of teas to be scented and savoured, before they are steeped. The tea humidor scintillates with choice and its own aesthetics – an open tea humidor offers not only a rich selection of teas, but also highlights the beauty of the teas though their presentation. The ritual of tea drinking – enjoyed the world over, in different forms – is greatly enhanced by the tea humidor as a focal point during the anticipation, preparation and serving of tea. Above all, the taste of a tea stored in the tea humidor will be at its best. The tea humidor can be fully bespoke or customised, and is a treat for anyone with a penchant for exquisite craftsmanship and an appreciation of rarefied beauty, making it a centrepiece of the rituals of tea hosting and presentation.
What values and ethos of Lotusier are expressed by the tea humidor?
Lotusier takes pride in promoting and helping to sustain the highest traditions of craftsmanship and artisanal skill and care. The humidor has benefited from the extraordinary know-how of numerous artisanal centres of excellence in Continental Europe, such as the exquisite marquetry tradition of designs in wood and hand-made crystal making of Italy and France. We are a company that likes to marry tradition with innovation, to create as well as serve our market, all the while maintaining a signature aesthetic of our own that is both rich and contemporary. The tea humidor is the first of its king and sets an entirely new bench-mark in its field.
Lotusier is also very mindful of the provenance of its products and we make sure that all our materials are ethically and responsibly sourced. We have taken great care to find woods for the tea humidor that are not only of the highest quality but obtained from ecologically sustainable forestry (we exclusively use woods that are Forest Stewardship Council certified). This is in keeping with our philosophy of looking towards the future (we rely heavily on using natural materials and fibres which are recyclable) while drawing on the finest sources and resources.
What was involved in the product development of the tea humidor?
The initial prototype of the tea humidor was created 5 years ago, and we have since dedicated well over 4 years to its refinement and perfection. Many working models and prototypes have evolved and been tested en route to the fully sophisticated version of today.
We worked very conscientiously to come up with a solution that combined the highest functionality with the greatest visual appeal. A number of technical challenges emerges and over time were successfully resolved. These included finding a way to distribute humidity evenly, but also measurably, within the individual crystal containers; ensuring that the tea humidor was not only durable but portable too; the rigorous meeting of all safety requirements and guaranteeing that each of the 20+ different parts was perfected and easily removable (for cleaning and replacement purposes). We have co-ordinated with a wide range of technical experts, craftsmen, and no less than 12 suppliers in four different countries – from Swiss hinge makers to weavers of tassels made from Indian silk – taking care to visit each one on site to guarantee their quality and standards. Our work to create the ideal tea humidor has been enriched by our travels across the world. We have been inspired at first hand by the variety of leitmotifs from different world regions that characterise our tea humidor collections – that are devoted to the Far Eastern Orient, the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East and Maghreb, and the Euro-American Occident respectively.
What kind of person do you think the tea humidor will most appeal to?
The tea humidor is a rarefied object that will delight all lovers of tea. It sets a new standard in the storage, protection and presentation of tea and will be enjoyed by anyone who is serious about their tea. It is also a must for all who love tea as a special ritual or social occasion.
The tea humidor is an objet d’art in its own right. It will especially appeal to those who admire the marriage of functionality and beauty, of technology and artisanal skill at an equally high level of mastery. This fully bespoke or customisable offering will also appeal to those who appreciate uniqueness and individuality.
With the variety of configurations, sizes and regionally-themed collections that Lotusier has created, the tea humidor will be able to cater to a broad range of users, purposes and needs. I believe that tea lovers, tea sommeliers, fine hotels and discerning culinary establishments, as well as interior designers and the luxury travel industry will all embrace our practical innovation. Although we began to develop the tea humidor before the current surge in appreciation for premium tea, we have been enthused by this trend, to which the humidor will make a welcome and valuable contribution.