Tea and coffee history – the Bramah collection still exists

The Bramah collection, the probably-unique archive of historic coffee and tea-related machines, equipment and ephemera which formed the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee in south London, has been located. The present holder of the artefacts has confirmed that he intends to re-open the collection to the trade and to the public, probably within the next few years.

Ever since Edward Bramah died in 2008, and his museum and tea-room was closed and turned into a decorating merchant’s warehouse, many people in the coffee and tea trades have wondered what became of the collection. Soon after his death, there were vague news stories in the south London press which referred to a re-opening at another site, but nothing was heard after that.

To this day, it is often reported that tourists still arrive at the premises looking for the museum.

Boughton’s Coffee House magazine did not give up trying to find the answer… and last week we were permitted access to the collection by the present owner. We took with us Russell Kerr of Doctor Espresso, the collector whose renovated espresso machines were on display at this year’s Caffe Culture show, and were allowed entry to a basement store-room in which we were able to confirm with our own eyes that the collection still exists.

It is not possible to catalogue in detail the machines we found down there – for the moment we shall simply report Russell Kerr’s comment that one La Pavoni, of a design which dates from early in the twentieth century, ‘comes from the dawn of coffee’. He then he added that seeing one is unusual enough, but seeing two side by side is astonishingly rare.

“This treasure trove of hidden gems should get Espresso-Land talking a lot” said Russell Kerr on his Facebook page at the weekend, on which he published some pictures and a brief video of what we found underground. He is referring to an international ‘community’ of people who seek out, buy and sell, and renovate very early espresso machines, and news that the Bramah Collection still exists did immediately stir worldwide interest.

Edward Bramah was a rare authority on tea and coffee – he actually did start his career in the plantations in the 1950s, and he began designing his own coffee machines in the late 1960s. It has been speculated that his collection began when he started buying up vintage equipment for research into his own designs. He was one of the most entertaining natural speakers in the beverage world, and could hold trade audiences enthralled with his stories of trade history, invariably spiced by a vast amount of humour.

He was firmly of the opinion that too few people in today’s beverage trade understand the history of their subject, and once said: “I built two companies on the technique of demonstrating tea and coffee… but we are now paying the price for training salesmen to compete only on discount.”

He wrote several books, including the remarkable ‘Bramah Tea and Coffee Walk Around London’, which showed the main historical locations of events connected with the beverage trade, from the site of the first coffee house to the sites of tea warehouses and tea auctions. At the time of his death, he was working on a book to be called ‘Britain’s Tea Heritage’.

The current holder of the Bramah museum artefacts has told us: “Edward was a collector, a romantic, a social historian. I always told him I would keep the museum alive and now I think we have the first step to bringing it back, and maybe taking it to the kind of museum that Edward dreamed of.”

The full story will appear in the next printed issue of Boughton’s Coffee House.

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