The Rise of Tea in Eighteenth Century England

The Rise of Tea in Eighteenth Century England

In entering discourse concerning tea in eighteenth century England it is vital to begin with the charter granted to the East India Company by Queen Elizabeth. In granting this charter Queen Elizabeth effectively gave the East India Company a complete monopoly on all trade conducted in Asia by the British.

At this time “the empire of China had a near complete monopoly on tea, as it was the only country to grow, pick, process, cook, and in all other ways manufacture, wholesale, and export” teas (Rose 1). However, England held the only means to extract tea from China as a result of their control of India. The East India Company possessed the rights to a commodity that was widely used and valued in China at the time. That commodity was the poppy, which is used to process opium. One could make the claim that the tea trade could not have existed in this fashion without the poppy and vice versa.  As the historian Sarah Rose sites, “for nearly two hundred years the East India Company sold opium to China and bought tea with the proceeds. China, in turn, bought opium from British traders out of India and paid for the drug with the silver profits from tea” (2).

This arrangement became absolutely vital to both economies and Great Britain became willing to take any means necessary to preserve it. Huw Bowen articulates this dependence brilliantly throughout his piece entitled 400 Years of the East India Company, “the fortunes of the Company and nation had become so tightly intertwined that they had begun to move in tandem with one another… when the company flourished, the nation flourished” (3). This relates the British economy’s dependence on the East India Company and in turn their reliance on the opium-tea exchange.

At this time in London Tea was considered an essential part of high-society life. To fully grasp how vital tea was to life in England consider to following, “in 1784 six million pounds of tea were imported, in 1785 it was 16 million and in 1786 20 million pounds. People were known to drink up to 50 cups a day” (Gill 1). Tea forced Britain to commit unspeakable acts in flushing opium into China well after it was outlawed and justified their continued conquest of the East as well as further exploitation of India and other colonies with the East India Company becoming the vehicle to realize these goals. When examining the rise of Tea in this manner it becomes easier to understand the timeline of development and connection of the British, Chinese, and Indian economies, but one cannot still help but wonder how a drink was so incredibly vital that it incited such conquest and destruction.

Works Cited

Bowen, Huw. “400 Hundred Years of the East India Company.”

Gill, John. “The Company That Lost Its Way” March 1st, 2006

Rose, Sarah. For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History. New York: Viking, 2010. Print.


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