Tea and the Industrial Revolution

Last week my girlfriend invited me to attend a lecture sponsored by a local library.  The presenter was from the organization “History on the Hoof” an organization that gives “entertaining presentations on historical items”. This time the presentation was entitled “Revolutionary Tea”. You can, of course, discern the program was about the contribution and importance of tea in the lives of the colonists and to the Revolutionary War. It was a very interesting and well done presentation!

Some of the snippets I learned included:

  • Black and green tea, theoretically, come from the same bush. The processing is different.
  • Sugar came in 9 to 18 pound loaves wrapped in dark purple paper at the cost of 25 cents a pound. The light brown pieces were chipped off and served in a bowl with silver sugar tongs. 
  • South Jersey people used molasses to ‘sweeten’ tea.
  • Tea was/is high in caffiene. Prior to its introduction ale, rum or hard cider was the breakfast beverage of choice. Imagine starting your day with a belt of rum to wash down breakfast! 
  • Tea was in the domain of the wealthy due to its cost of $100 a pound. Introduced by the Dutch, tea found its way to Europe and America by the 1600’s.
  • Was tea a contributing factor to the Industrial Revolution? Afterall, prior to its consumption for breakfast, alcohol (a depressant) was the day’s drink. In comes tea at affordable prices and with caffiene.  Tea became a central part of entertainment and conversation. Wouldn’t it make an interesting study to determine how much caffiene may have contributed to brainstorming and invention!
  • Tea tables, teaware, silver tea sets and teaspoons were often listed in wills and estate contents. Family portraits were painted with tea sets to convey hospitality, weath and refinement to the viewer since only the wealthy could afford a complete porcelain tea set and the tea itself!
  • It was the hostess’ job to keep the tea cup full. The signal for no more tea? Laying your teaspoon across the top of your cup.
  • Tea was brewed loosely and would settle to the bottom of the cup. The dredges of the cup would be dumped into a silver waste bowl on the table which the servants would remove. Sometimes the servants would take the dredges, dry them, color it and resell it!
  • The tea chest was usually locked to prevent stealing.
  • Tea was steeped “as long as it takes to read the 51st Psalm in a leisurely manner.”
  • The first tea saucers did not have indentations in them. The indentation was called a ‘depression trembleur’. As people got older they trembled and could shake the cup right off the saucer. The indentation was intended to prevent that.
  • Tea ‘bags’ were not used/invented until the 20th century.
It was a really entertaining presentation and I learned a lot.  Not to mention it was a great time with a friend!

3 thoughts on “Tea and the Industrial Revolution

  1. Apropos of swilling down rum at breakfast: My husband and I were in Oberammergau in 1970 (site and time of the Passion Play), and will never forget seeing someone come roaring into the parking lot at 7:30 a.m. and knocking back a bottle of beer with his breakfast of hard-boiled egg and wurst…!

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