by Mafelou C. Leagogo-Agriam
When the word “tea drinking” is mentioned, what instantly comes to mind, i.e. to many Filipinos, is the tea ceremony of Japan. Images of a geisha perched on a flat tatami pillow, daintily pouring hot tea from a small teapot into tiny ear-less tea cups resting on a very low table set in the middle of an austere and quiet room, become the foremost scenery. The tea ritual signifies how much the Japanese place high value on simplicity, humility, serenity and refinements.
In Europe — particularly in the Victorian-era “high tea,” or the British afternoon tea– tea drinking is a social event. This old tradition carried into modern times still requires the use of the right equipment, proper manners and being a part of the social circle, all considered as essential as the tea itself. The appropriate tea vessels are paid much attention for their aesthetic appeal to ensure they agreeably harmonize with the correct gestures and genteel conversations that characterize a refined tea gathering.
In many Asian countries, tea is indispensable in daily life. People in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Tibet, Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka take hot tea copiously at breakfast, during lunch and afternoon breaks, at the workplace and in the evening. Different regions favor different varieties of teas (black, green or oolong), and use different flavors or add-ons (milk, cream, lemon, sugar, salt, butter, herbs or spices). Some countries in Asia are the world’s large producers of tea since way back.
In the light of all this, obviously the Philippines is a novice in the art of tea drinking. The Filipino’s tongue is largely accustomed to “iced” tea, a Southern United States iconic beverage. Teaism was not quite an object of the Filipino’s connoisseurship.
Notwithstanding the lack of adequate knowledge on the art of tea, the proverbial Filipino lover of fine things in life not at all held back from acquiring some tea wares as part of the collection of family heirlooms. Tea cups, saucers, teapots and tea caddies were kept and displayed in glass cabinets in the Filipino home, alongside precious silver, glass and china wares. Only a very important occasion in the family would bring out these table wares but with much careful use.
Here in Iloilo City, a specialty store called Chic Moms along Yulo Street in the City Proper is dedicated in selling the finest tea sets and bringing English tea culture into the Ilonggo‘s way of living. US-based, Filipino-American shop owner Merlrose Leonor “Dimple” Zapanta says many of the finebone tea sets and dinnerwares found in their shop were produced in prestigious porcelain houses in England, the United States, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, France, Russia, and Italy to name some. Decorative pieces like Sevres, Lladro, Capodimonte are also among the other valuable things displayed in the shop.
Vintage Royal Winton
An insatiable shopper and hunter of rare and curious articles, Dimple hops from one Estate Sale to another in America. She patiently queues in long lines just to get a glimpse, and if luck works on her favor, gets hold of the precious home collections wealthy people would like to unload. Her very supportive husband drives her to the rich neighborhood and even pick up items for her, she said.
Blue Willow Sadlers
The value of the porcelain pieces in the store is determined by a lot of intrinsic factors. Their worth may be measured by the story of its previous distinguished owners, the circumstance surrounding their acquisition or removal, and time-honored history and heritage. Existing Certificates of Authentication from the world’s great porcelain houses is a component that greatly adds to cost as well.
The mirthful mother of three from Chicago loves to cook. “I love to host dinners for friends using fine dinnerwares and tea sets I got from notable estates.”
Dimple certainly has eye for beauty. A staunch collector, she ticks off brand names of tea wares, china and other table items absolutely unfamiliar to the uninitiated: Royal Crown Derby, Meissen, Limoges, Swansea, Spode, Lomonosov, Wedgwood, Aynsley, Royal Doulton, Royal Albert, Sadler, Crown Staffordshire, Hammersley, Royal Adderly, Royal Grafton, Royal Worcester, Paragon, Lenox, Bavaria and a lot more namedroppables in the chinaware business.
Royal Albert Moonlight Rose made in England
Dimple is a native of Mambusao, Capiz. She once worked as a ground stewardess of Air Philippines and Macro Asia, after earning a degree in Mass Communications at the West Visayas State University in 1999. Six years later, she married male nurse Adonis Zapanta in Manila before the couple left for Chicago, USA for work and migration.
Joining her in this venture is a high schoolmate and college classmate Sheree Parreno-Montano. Prior to venturing into the buy-and-sell business of vintage fine wares, the pretty and petite co-owner of Chic Moms went to Bangkok, Thailand in 2000 and landed a job as English and Advertising teacher at Siam Business Administration College, St. John’s College and Attawit Commercial College. She returned to the Philippines eight years ago to raise a family with her husband Rayman and to pursue a field she never before stepped into — event planning and later event styling. A friend’s wedding in December 2008 at Centara Grand Hotel(formerly Centara Sofitel) in Bangkok was Sheree’s baptism of fire that became a rousing success.
Never did Dimple and Sheree thought of opening a western-inspired vintage store. They were quite enjoying their online shop and upscale bazaars showcasing the valuable merchandise in the city. It drew attention from the locals, specially from serious antique collectors, and started asking where their shop is located.
“Unlike online shoppers from Manila and other parts of the country, Ilonggos are sensible buyers. They must see and feel the item to appreciate its value,” Sheree said.
Old Foley Sugar Bowl and Creamer
Fueled by their passion, Dimple and Sheree finally opened a scanty physical shop along Valeria Street in January 2016. Ten months after — for some reasons — they were obliged to move to the present location. The visionary moms considered it as a blessing in disguise.
Dimple labeled their business team-up as LDR (long-distance relationship). Regardless, they complement each other well. Their combined strengths reinforce their joint undertaking. US-based Dimple has the gift of finding the goods and bargaining hard to get priceless acquisitions from the best homes abroad. Her job is to shop hard to ensure that the store shelves are stocked-up regularly so as to satisfy the cultivated and fastidious tastes of their clients. Sheree calls Dimple “the mother of all packers.” Just imagine the thousand pieces of finewares she heedfully packed all the way from the States to Iloilo.
On the other hand, Iloilo City-based Sheree, on the other hand, has the gift of gab. She has the knack to promote the goods, enlighten the client, and an undying passion to arrange the shop’s interior to make it very attractive to the eyes. And by all measure, she is the most suitable frontliner of the their business.
The two young moms are realizing their goals. Their first afternoon tea service, held a month ago, was already introduced to the Ilonggos. Sheree and Dimple share the same catchphrase “By all means dream, work hard to reach it, and trust God to make it happen.”