Interspersed among the exhibition's tea caddies (a sort of miniature picnic basket to transport powdered matcha tea) are the items necessary to properly perform a Japanese tea ceremony, including porcelain hanaire vases for flower arrangements.
By the 19th century, the loose-leaf green tea sencha began to replace matcha as the preferred Japanese tea. "The shift to sencha was a reaction by Japanese intellectuals and artists to the rigid rules of the tea ceremony and elite status of matcha," Hohenegger says.
To prepare sencha, a style of tea the Chinese had introduced centuries earlier, the leaves are briefly steamed before roasting to lend a more vegetal flavor to the brew. Because the leaves are whole rather than ground, matcha tea caddies and brewing pots were no longer necessary.
Like sencha, the teapot had been developed in China centuries earlier.
"There was no need for a teapot until the 1500s, when the Chinese began steeping tea leaves," Hohenegger says, pointing to an earthenware vessel resembling a miniature amphora, the two-handled clay storage vases popularized by the Greeks. "The Chinese essentially modeled the first teapots after wine jugs."
Because sencha was the everyday beverage enjoyed by the working classes, tetsubin (Japanese cast-iron teapots) soon replaced the expensive, delicate Chinese porcelain vessels initially favored for brewed tea.
By the time the beverage arrived in Western Europe and Colonial America, steeped teas were the prized commodity, the "liquid jade" of the global Chinese tea trade.
In the final exhibition galleries, a magnificent 17th century inlaid French tea table and a British portrait of a family leisurely enjoying afternoon tea embody what the beverage had once again become: a blatant symbol of wealth.
During the late 18th and 19th centuries, the country that controlled what went into the teapot dominated world politics. The Colonial paintings and satirical caricatures that Hohenegger has selected illustrate how the British monopoly on the tea trade was more than simply a catalyst for the American Revolution.
While the Colonists were tossing tea into Boston Harbor, the British opened large-scale tea plantations in Africa and, later, India that would squeeze small Chinese growers out of the market. In China, the loss of the control over the industry they had dominated for thousands of years was devastating. The taste for tea among the social elite soon gave way to opium, culminating in another trade dispute with the British and the brutal Opium Wars.
Yet it is the final exhibition gallery that illustrates perhaps the darkest side of the aromatic beverage. An elaborate embroidered Victorian tea gown to be worn only between the high tea hours of 3 and 6 p.m. is displayed amid facsimiles of tea plantation workers from the 1920s enduring slave-like conditions. Among them, Hohenegger has scattered recent Fair Trade posters promising fair wages for modern-day workers.
"All of this luxury has only been possible at a price."