The era of packaged green tea began in the 1990s. At first, tea became available in small transparent plastic sachets, and shortly later the sachets were sold in small and larger packages of printed carton. The packages of 25g make up the main collection of this virtual green tea museum.
The creation of the packages was also the beginning of the tea brands. Before, tea was just tea. There was a choice of a couple of qualities of Gunpowder and of Chunmee, but for the consumers, all this was just tea. It was sold unpackaged from wooden boxes. The desired quantity of tea and sugar were measured with the small tea glasses imported from France and rolled in paper for the customers. In Mali people call this tea ataya with a term derived from Moroccan Arabic due to the fact that green tea first came from Morocco across the Sahara to Mali. As a former French colony, Malians also use the French term du thé.
Nowadays, tea is no longer just tea. It has names that have become the brands of importers and wholesalers. Tea has become Azawad, Arawane, Tombouctou, Touareg, Niger, Askia, Haidara, Africable, Arafat, Obama, and many more. Every day new brands arrive at the market and older ones disappear. Their numbers amount to more than a hundred on the Grand Marché of Bamako. Some of them are available also on other West African Sahel markets and they are found in many places to which Malians have migrated.
The creation of the tea package designs opens up a cultural space in which Chinese and African imagery is combined. Their brand names and designs refer to the historical journey of the tea from China to Africa, to Chinese landscapes and tea plantations, trading places, desert and savannah environment, the Islamic calendar and festivities in Mali, political elections and military action. They provide insights into a vibrant culture of remembrance that invites to reflect upon how some of the names and designs on the tea packages pick up on current and historical social and political events. They visually connect China and West Africa.
You can find more information on this topic in the books by Ute Röschenthaler (forthcoming), Teatime in the Sahel: How Green Tea became Mali’s National Drink. London: Bloomsbury; and The Agents in the Malian Tea Trade (in preparation).
The virtual green tea museum provides a selection of the great variety of West African green tea brands. They are displayed one by one. A click the packages offers further information about the name and the design, the variations of the brand, the place and year of acquisition, the type of tea, its potential registration date. Many importers register their brands at the trademark office Organisation africaine de la propriété intellectuelle (OAPI) that has national offices but is centrally administered in Yaounde. If available nationality/ethnic identity of the importers is indicated.
Many packages have different front and backsides; some brands are available in different qualities, often indicated by numbers and colours. Popular green tea brands have been distributed to neighbouring countries; a careful look occasionally reveals that a brand is a counterfeit or subject to trademark infringement. The variety of similar designs might also be understood as comments on already existing popular brands, but often, the importers consider this piracy and sue the copiers at the commercial court If you have such green tea packages yourself and want to share them and other information, we invite you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org