I pop the translucent lime-coloured candy into my mouth and swish it back and forth from one cheek to the other. It’s not sweet, as I had expected from its Jolly Rancher-like appearance; instead, it has an organic, hearty flavour. As the candy melts there’s no overlooking the taste of herbs and the familiar gritty feeling around my teeth. Yes, someone has introduced tea flavoured candy to the world.
I’m sitting on a grey pillow shaped like a teapot that lies across the floor of Spark Design Space with Hannah Dís and Rúna Thors. They are two members of the Attikatti design group, together with Hanna Jónsdóttir and Bára Kristgeirsdóttir, and the people responsible for the creation of their new exhibition experience ‘Teaser’ and tea candy. “We wanted to find out how an Icelandic tea house could look,” Hannah Dís explains, “or look at how Icelandic tea culture is now and how we could work with it. So we asked these eleven designers—graphic designers, fashion designers, product designers and an architect— to design products based around the word tea. This is what they came up with,” she says, waving her arm towards a wall of T(ea)-shirts decorated with tea grounds.
Unable to betray my morning mug of coffee, I demand to know what exactly these smiling tea-addled devils have against the wondrous gift of caffeinated goodness that occupies a special place in the hearts of practically all Icelanders. “Coffee?” Rúna and Hannah Dís laugh for a few moments before gathering themselves in order to answer. “Well,” Hannah Dís says, “Coffee is a kickstarter—it kicks you a bit so that you can get going on a project really quick and be energised. But tea is about slowing down so that you can relax and reflect.”
Tea Time Stories
I certainly feel relaxed as Rúna returns with soothing champagne glasses of dragon pearl tea for the three of us. At the bottom of my glass sit tiny grey-green herb clumps, each one a bit smaller than a marble, that bloom and expand like a forest growing underwater before our eyes as the tea brews.
I ask Hannah Dís and Rúna what’s so rotten about Icelandic tea culture that it makes them want to completely change it. “It’s not so much that we wanted to be critical of the current tea culture,” Hannah Dís says carefully, while I ignorantly burn the tip of my tongue trying to figure out if the dragon tea is ready for consumption. (Dragon tea is served hot, who would’ve guessed?). “It’s more that we want to show people the possibilities, and expand them.”
“Traditionally, Iceland doesn’t have much of a tea culture,” Rúna tells me, “unless you count the more medicinal, alchemical brews of potions or elixirs called ‘seiði.'” Like the seiði making herbalists from back in the old days, some modern tea companies are using Icelandic mountain herbs such as angelica, birch leaves and Icelandic moss when making their teas as an attempt to introduce local ingredients into the country’s tea culture.
“We were curious about Icelandic tea tradition, so we asked people to send us their experiences and stories with tea,” Hannah Dís says, taking a sip from her glass as she gestures up at cut-out mobiles of mugs and teapots hanging above our heads. She says the mobiles are made from illustrations about people’s stories. Rúna and Hannah Dís point out a mug that looks like it’s overflowing with foam twirling by the large glass window, and tell me it’s there because one of the stories was about drinking tea with popcorn.
“One guy told us that there are all these fancy cafés in Iceland with the best, most expensive coffees, but they only have normal tea bags,” Rúna says with a chuckle, giving weight to Attikatti’s goal of a reimagined trendy and hip tea culture to compliment the rest of Reykjavík’s swanky style.
A moment of silence intervenes while we sip our tea, which is now finally cool enough to drink. Reflecting on what they have just told me about collecting all these tea stories and experiences, I ask about their own favourite memories with tea. “Probably yesterday, last night, while we were putting up the exhibition,” Rúna begins, “when I realized I actually kind of like tea.”
Hannah Dís and Rúna burst into laughter at the look on my face. But before I get the chance to point out how ridiculous her belated tea revelation is, she pushes on. “I don’t really like to drink hot things. The only time I really drink tea is when I’m sick. Because it feels like it really does something for you, it’s soothing.” She pauses for a minute in serious contemplation. “Not everything you eat or drink does that for you. You definitely never have a bad conscience about drinking tea.”
Eau de… feet?
On the ledge next to us sits a baffling contraption of bronze rods and ceramics which Hannah Dís tells me is an experimental tea kettle by Þórunn Árnadóttir and Ólöf Erla Bjarnadóttir called ‘Tea for Two.’ The kettle hangs, suspended in mid-air like a tiny swing. It has spouts located on opposite sides of the pot so that by tilting it you can refill your tea cup without having to lift the kettle.
Along with the many zany design installations around the room, Hannah Dís tells me that Attikatti, with the help of specialists, also created a variety of tea products visitors can try out. In addition to the tea candies and the dragon pearl tea, they have tea soda, tea lollypops, tea chocolate and tea soap, for starters. “I still haven’t tried the sweet tea pretzel,” Rúna says trying to decide on a favourite, “I’m curious about that one.”
One of the designers, Hildur Steinþórsdóttir, created a whole hot tub filled with tea that people could sit in to soften their skin. Hannah Dís finishes off the last of her tea saying, “We’re thinking about maybe doing footbaths so there will be one event where people can come and soak their feet in tea.”
As I upend my champagne glass to throw back the last of my dragon tea, I think to myself that despite the lack of tables, chairs or the frantic clicking of laptop keyboards the white-walled room really does have that comfortable and warm café vibe. Hannah Dís tells me that the Icelandic phrase “te hetta” (tea cosy) translates directly into English as “tea hood,” a play on words that inspired one member of Attikatti. She points out a pile of grey fuzz that looks like a folded woollen sleeping bag and is in fact a human tea cosy. The cuddle-worthy pile of fluff is without a doubt the best little corner in Reykjavík for visitors to snuggle up and enjoy a steaming cup of tea.
The ‘Teaser’ exhibition and tea experience at Spark Design Space runs until March 20. The exhibition will then be moved to the basement where it will be open throughout DesignMarch from March 25 to 30. On Saturday, March 29 there will also be a tea hot tub event at the Laugardalur pool from 13:00 to 15:00. To learn more about Attikatti you can visit their website here.