Friday, February 19, 2010

When Tea was not Quintessentially English

When we think of tea we tend to think of England or even possibly China. China is where we credit the origin of tea but it wasn't until almost the 17th century that people began drinking it in Europe. The Dutch trade routes increased tea imports from China into Europe and people cautiously began to take an interest in the new hot beverage.

It was the many coffee houses that were strewn about England that got the British addicted to tea. Once the coffee houses introduced tea into their menu it became a big hit! Some say this was because tea was patriotic since it was harvested in British colonies unlike coffee. This popularity surge was actually a problem, believe it or not. King Charles II, anticipating the popularity of the newly imported good heavily taxed it so as to hinder its popularity. This tax reached its height by the middle 18th century when it was a whopping 119%. And you thought the colonists had it bad! This meant only the richest people could afford tea for their own home and everyone else was stuck scouring for a coffee house which sold their favourite beverage.

With the insane tea tax a new market emerged: the tea smuggling market. Dutch traders would smuggle tea in to England, and it would be sold at a cheaper price, but was still very pricey. Someone needed to put a stop to the tea madness. You may be surprised at who did. William Pitt introduced the Commutation Act in 1784, which dropped the tea tax down to a reasonable 12.5%, obliterating the smuggling market. Now tea could healthy grow into British culture as it had been trying to do for a century.

In the following century tea houses were introduced and it was Anna, Duchess of Bedford who would come to invent Afternoon Tea so as we could have a small meal to hold us over until supper. And of course there's the old favorite, Earl Grey, which graces many a teacup in the morning. The tea was named after Georgiana's old lover and the future prime minister. However, it remains a bit a mystery as to how the bergamot tea got its name seeing a Pitt really had nothing to do with it.


  1. Wonderful post. I'm enjoying the beverage culture theme.

  2. Thank you Heather (and Charles ;D)!

  3. I love my tea! I believe Catherine of Braganza introduced tea to England? I could have sworn I read that somewhere? I know the Portuguese were big tea drinkers.

  4. Why was the tax on tea so high? Was it thought of as unhealthy or something?

  5. It was just the expense of importing it since it wasn't grown in England. Of course, 119% is a little carried away!

  6. Glad you like it! I know I've been tea-crazy the last two days.

    @Bearded Lady, That does seem right, I believe I saw that somewhere too that she is credited with it.

    @Jean-Francois, Why thank you very much!

  7. Oh dear... That post was so chauvinistic...

    Go to MY OLD BLOG and prove me wrong.

    Nothing could me more Portuguese than tea, marmelade and china wear...