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Paper &Tea presents premium leaf tea as a vital contemporary culture
Paper & Tea opened ten new retail locations in 2023, bursting forth at the culmination of a decade-long expansion from a celebrated Berlin flagship to to a spectrum of twenty-two stores across Central and Northern Europe—with five more on the way. The modernist branding we developed a decade ago with great concern for endurance remains firmly in place. Longevity is a central concern in developing a serious retail brand. Many venture out equipped with ephemeral or restrictive visions that must soon be discarded or revised via disruptive rebranding efforts as success carries them upward. This squanders the brand equity gained in getting there. P & T has instead built upon that hard-won equity by retaining a consistent visual branding and consistent voice. Alongside a curated range of fine tea and accessories, the brand is also expanding into an eclectic offering of ready-to-drink beverages, unique aromatics and artisanally-crafted printed products perpetuating the art of letterpress and lithography. And they continue to expand into partnerships with select names in the hospitality, events and retail space while growing a thriving online B2C marketplace for discerning customers who value exceptional tea, sensory refinements and things of enduring substance and quality.
Augmenting the core artisanal orientation, a classic modernity was essential. We were determined to avoid the cliches of nostalgia. This was not a feminine boutique brand; it had to evoke a subtle industrial androgyny. Initial inspiration came from mid-century publishing house logos. I sketched ideas informed by the intricate stylized symbolism common to these marks, but ultimately they proved to be too illustrative to represent Jens’ minimalist vision.
P & T was embracing the mastery of selecting and brewing tea, thus, we were envisioning the core brand identity as a classic maker’s mark. While we were entranced by the flaws inherent in hand-stamping, to simulate these in a modern application seemed disingenuous and contrived. Instead, we resolved to incorporate the essential shape and simplicity of such marks into a more refined, minimal brand identity. The typography would therefore have to be distinctive.
Jens traveled throughout China to mine for tea and tea wisdom and the project took on a more traditionally Asian influence. Still, we sought to expand beyond the dogmatic niche of Asian tradition that typically accompanies tea, presenting tea rather as a creative catalyst in an industrial age. A notable intersection of busy industry and tea tradition occurs in the railway culture of the old British Empire. Following this thread, whilst combing through an extensive archive of boilerplates and cast signage from this era, I happened upon a peculiar sign featuring a wedge-shaped leg on the letter ‘R’. There was something curiously calligraphic and Asian about that detail. Extrapolating other glyphs from this idea, I drew the rough basis for a hybrid modern logotype.
The ampersand I had always viewed as an opportunity for defining symbolism. I created one as a symbolic abstraction of a teapot within the new angular typographic style. Interestingly, the resulting symbol struck me as being sort-of Japanese-modern.
I originally gravitated towards slightly more ornamental forms informed by our research, however, with his modernist, minimalist vision for the brand Jens asked me to explore simple shapes. The personality transformed from idiosyncratic to clean and austere. Ultimately a simple chamfered rectangle was chosen.
With such an austere identity for a retail storefront brand, I saw the need to balance it with an expressive typographic ‘voice’. Scotch Modern, a new typeface by Nick Shinn, hit the mark. I first encountered it in 2008 while working for Details Magazine, when it was still a work-in-progress tentatively named Austin Display. A true Scotch revival conspicuously faithful to the 19th-century forms that inspired it, it had a certain elegance and beauty in its imperfection. In small applications, it gives a touch of whimsical elegance. On posters and promotions, it takes on a brash charm. This is a perfect example of a typeface being central to the brand voice and personality. I paired this with National, a modern san-serif inspired by pre-Akzidenz grotesques, with a similar vintage note.
I didn’t handle package design, but it faithfully followed the type program laid down in the brand charter.
Brand Charter / Sample Pages
The basic brand charter provides a full brand standards guide. This includes specifications for digital as well as print applications, program typefaces and color specifications, and ‘do’s and don’ts’. Download links to all artwork were provided.