A couple of nice ladies I know are working on a gathering for Ft. Toulouse’s French & Indian event this weekend and since I haven’t made any real contribution to the effort, I thought perhaps a bit of information might be welcomed. If I can get my own presentation on Native Plants and Animals in the Diet of Colonial Inhabitants of the Southeast ready, I may try to bake up something appropriate to contribute in the way of food. The verdict is out on that possibility as of this morning, however, since I’m not packed yet and the event starts tomorrow.
“The social tea-table is like the fireside of our country, a national delight; and, if it be the scene of domestic converse and of agreeable relaxation, it should likewise bid us remember that every thing connected with the growth and preparation of this favourite herb should awaken a higher feeling—that of admiration, love, and gratitude to Him “who saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good”. [Sigmond, George Gabriel. Tea: Its Effects, Medicinal and Moral. 1839. London.]
If tea had become such an institution by the time the previous author wrote the statement above in 1839, when would we consider that popularity to have gained momentum?
Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that he had tasted tea for the first time in 1660, although, it was most likely introduced in England some 50 years prior. “I sent for a cup of tee—a China drink—of which I had never drank before”, – 25 Sept., 1660. The tea Pepys purchased came from the London merchant, Mr. Thomas Garway, who had received a large shipment three years prior and established a house where he prepared it and sold it to patrons.
Pepys did not write of tea being prepared in his own home until 1667. “Home and there find my wife making of tea, a drink which Mr. Pelling, the potticary, tells her is good for her cold and defluxions”.
Garway had a handbill circulated which told interested parties he was a tobacconist and seller and retailer of tea and coffee located in Exchange Alley, “near the Royal Exchange in London”. Interestingly enough, my direct ancestor, Sir Thomas Gresham, is credited with the creation of the Royal Exchange some years before, Sir Thomas, having died in 1579. One would assume from Pepys’ diary entries about the introduction of tea, that Sir Thomas may have died blissfully unaware of the beverage or the pomp and circumstance associated with drinking it in the early days of its use.
Another source claims, however, that the East India Company brought tea to England in the first half of 1571. If that is true, then Sir Thomas and his illustrious brothers would have almost certainly joined their wealthy counterparts at the tea-house or tea-gardens of London.
Another source states, “There were at this time (1659) a Turkish drink, to be souled almost in every street, called coffee, and another kind of drink called tea; and also a drink called chocolate, which was a very hearty drink.”
The Mercurius Politicus referred to tea as, “That excellent, and by all physicians approved, China drink, called by the Chineans Teha, by other nations Tay, alias Tee, is sold at the ‘Sultaness Head’ coffee-house in Sweeting’s Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London.”
In 1710, a tea house was founded which is probably familiar to most Americans – Twinings. A portrait of the founder, Thomas Twinings, painted by Hogarth, remained a fixture long after he was gone and the establishment was being run by his great-great grandsons.
Montgomery Martin wrote that in 1662 Charles II married Princess Catherine of Portugal who was exceedingly fond of tea, and credited her with helping to make tea-drinking fashionable in England. Others, such as Dr. Alexander Carlyle, through their writings added to the appeal of tea-drinking among the wealthier class. “The ladies gave afternoon’s tea and coffee in their turn, which coming but once in four or six weeks amounted to a trifle”.
The gentry found a vast array of treats to partake of while enjoying their cup of tea, including fruit tarts, rich cakes, gingerbread, fruits in season, dry sweet-meats, and cheesecakes, but what of the country people? A historian for the town of Whitby wrote that, “tea was very little used a century ago, most of the old men being much against it, but after the death of the old people it soon came into general use”.
An Italian visitor to England wrote in 1755 that even the common maids expected their tea twice daily, but indicated that the still costly beverage was purchased by their wealthy employers and wasn’t paid for from their earnings. Was this indulgence standard, or how did the tea consumption of other countries compare to Britain? [Reade, Arthur. Tea and Tea Drinking. 1884. London.]
Several years later, Mullhall wrote in his Dictionary of Statistics that the United Kingdom consumed 72 ounces of tea per inhabitant per year compared with 21 ounces in the United States, 8 in Belgium and Holland, 8 in Denmark, 7 in Russia, 2 in Sweden and Norway, and 1 in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain. [Mulhall, Michael George. Dictionary of Statistics. 1886. London.]