Tea was very popular in the 18th century and became a European tradition similar to the modern coffee tradition of Americans today. Tea originated in Central Asia and comes in three basic types: black, green, and oolong. How the leaves are prepared determines which type it is, while oxidation creates its color, body, and flavor. Tea became a staple and beverage of choice for Asian culture and a tea production manual published by Lu Yu standardized tea production.
In 1600, Queen Elizabeth founded the East India Company to create a pathway for Eastern riches to travel to England. At this time, the East India Company held exclusive rights to English-Oriental trade. So, the tea shipments were initially small with imposed tariffs. Other merchants began to illegally import tea—its clandestine nature made tea an item of high demand. By the middle of the eighteenth century, tea had replaced ale as England’s national drink. It spread throughout the English colonies, eventually available in colonial Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The tea trade remained primarily with England, and tariffs were increased to lessen the brunt of expenses incurred from wars with other countries.
In December of 1773, the Boston Tea Party took place. The Massachusetts Patriots fought against the monopoly on American tea importation granted by Parliament to the East India Company (an effort of the Parliament to rescue the financially destitute East India Company in order to keep benefiting from them). The Patriots seized over three hundred chests of tea in a midnight raid on tea ships and dropped them into the harbor. To Parliament, the Boston Tea Party confirmed that Massachusetts formed the brunt of resistance to British rule.
Not only was tea a source of political unrest, but it also was a source of social congregation. In both America and England, fine hotels included tea courts and tearooms, where people gathered to socialize and sip tea. Anna Maria, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, invented the afternoon tea in 1841. For the upper and middle classes, lunch was generally taken at 12 or 1 o’clock and dinner taken quite a bit later. Maria supplemented this tradition by drinking tea and eating a light snack between lunch and dinner; the idea was contagious. The Duchess would frequently invite guests to join her in the ritual. Clearly, tea was largely associated with the highest social circles. Tea was more of a symbol of wealth, elegance, and ritual, rather than valued solely for its taste. Certain social traditions were understood regarding tea: the hostess would be responsible for pouring the tea, and gentleman would distribute the tea. Biscuits would be served with the tea so that ladies could eat without removing their gloves. Through centuries, tea was a symbol for political, social, and class stance all across the world.
Sources Used for Tea Article
Garraty, John, and Eric Foner, eds. “History.” Boston Tea Party. Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt Publishing Company, n.d. Web. 10 Mar 2013. <http://www.history.com/topics/boston-tea-party>.
“History of Tea.” Bigelow Tea. Bigelow, n.d. Web. 07 Mar 2013.
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