A new kind of oriental rug emerged from India in the late 1990s, the so-called tea-wash carpet. In the final step of the finishing process, carpets like this are washed in tea and sometimes henna — two natural dyes, after all — to soften their colors.
9/9 Jaipurs, as they are known to those in the oriental rug industry, have become immensely popular in the U.S. market. The name refers not just to the knot count (9 x 9 = 81 knots per square inch) but the Indian city where they are manufactured. Canny marketeers — or perhaps hundreds of retailers on their own initiative — have succeeded in making them known to the public as tea-dyed or tea-washed rugs.
At first, retailers were told by manufacturers that tea-washed carpets were made with natural dyes, and that is the impression these carpets give. But many of us became skeptical, and now it is apparent that all but a very few 9/9 Jaipurs are made with synthetic dyes. These synthetically dyed rugs, however, are washed with natural dyes (including tea) in the finishing process.
Typically, tea-washed rugs are clipped quite thick and have huge body. They are woven with low-contrast, soft colors in designs that are more European than Asian. Most are made with some percentage of New Zealand mixed with Indian wool. Their overall impression is Victorian: formal, shadowy, European, sophisticated.
Are they good rugs? I think so. They certainly have plenty of heft, and wool good enough to see them through decades of use on the floor. And they have an important place in the decorative rug market, which likes soft colors and low contrast.
I value those that are not too murky, not too clouded by tea, henna, and whatnot. Rugs should glow a little, so the more New Zealand wool and the less dulling of the colors with tea, the better. Though perhaps subject to criticism for not being very traditional in design, tea-dyed Jaipurs are different, interesting, and fun.