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Tea History 2

The same year that Pepys so intrepidly drank his first cup of tea in London, a tax was imposed by the English Parliament of 8 pence (16 cents) upon every gallon of tea made and sold as a beverage in England. A like tax was levied on liquid chocolate and sherbet as articles of sale. Officers visited the Coffee Houses daily to measure the quantities and secure the revenue.

In 1710 the best Bohea tea sold in London for 30 shillings or $7.00 a pound, inclusive of a government tax of $1.25 on each pound, and the consumption in England was then estimated at 140,000 lbs. per annum.

There being no authentic record or official computation of the population of Great Britain or of England previous to 1801, no comparison can be made of English tea consumption per capta with those early days.

Dr. Samuel Johnson, when taking tea with David Garrick, the tragedian, and Peg Woffington, about the year 1735, was amused at Garrick's audible complaints that the fascinating actress used too much of his costly tea at a drawing. In 1745 the British yearly consumption of tea was but 730,000 lbs. The Scotch Judge, Duncan Forbes, in his published letters of that period, wrote that the use of tea had become so excessive, that . . .

"the meanest families, even of laboring people, particularly in boroughs, make their morning's meal of it, and thereby disuse the ale which heretofore was their accustomed drink; and the same drug supplies all the laboring women with their afternoon's entertainment, to the exclusion of the twopenny," (i.e., dram of beer or spirits).

So that we may trace our ultra-fashionable 5 o'clock tea of 1900 back to its plebian origin among plain working people, to the working woman, to the washerwoman of 150 years ago. Let the revived custom not lose caste by this admission, but rather gain in wholesome popular estimation by evidence of a common tie between the humblest and the most fortunate of mankind.

A president of an English Court of Sessions also complained that tea was driving out beer, and indirectly injuring the farmer, in whose cottage, he omitted to say, the tea canister had begun to occupy a place of honor, despite the lessened demand for his malt.

In 1745, the British tea tax was reduced to 1 shilling (25 cents) per pound, together with 25 per cent of the gross price. The selling price immediately dropped, and British consumption in 1846 rose to 2,358,589 lbs. The use of tea has often been checked by excessive duties or excise tax. From 1784 to 1787 British consumption rose from five million pounds to seventeen millions of pounds, consequent upon a reduction of duties. Twenty years after, under the imposition of exorbitant duties, British consumption was only nineteen and one quarter millions of pounds.

It was in those early years of the nineteenth century that tea firmly and permanently established itself in the humbler households of England. Its economical prominence elicited from William Cobbett, the economist and pugnacious editor, a declaration that from eleven to twelve pounds of tea constituted the average annual indulgence of a cottager's family, at a cost of eight shilling for black and 12 shillings for green tea ($2 to $3) per pound, which was doubtless an over-estimate. And we must bear in mind that tea in those days was sold by the ounce, measured into the teapot by the grain, and was steeped until every vestige of flavor, savory or bitter, had been extracted from the precious leaves.

Although in 1807 the governing powers of Great Britain forced excise duties on teas up to ninety per cent. of their cost, tea had been proved to be so beneficial and essential to happiness by British workers that Charles Dickens, in reviewing the situation, presents it as follows:--"And yet the washerwomen looked to her afternoon 'dish of tea' as something that might make her comfortable after her twelve hours of labor, and balancing her saucer on a tripod of three fingers, breathed a joy beyond utterance as she cooled the draught. The factory workman then looked forward to the singing of the kettle, as some compensation for the din of the spindle. Tea had found its way even to the hearth of the agricultural laborer, and he would have his ounce of tea as well as the best of his neighbors." But the heavy taxed worker was often forced to choose between a tea adulterated with English plants of other kinds, or the contraband but genuine commodity offered by enterprising smugglers, who were the despair of the Crown officers of the revenue, and the recognized friends of the over-taxed poor.

It must not be inferred that tea as a beverage became naturalized in England without meeting with the unreasoning opposition that usually greets the advent of a stranger. The press and pamphlets of the day contained frequent attacks upon tea, and the violence of denunciation usually bore a fair proportion to the ignorance of the writer; ignorance of physiology, ignorance of medicine, ignorance of the pamphlets itself. The unfavorable opinions and portentous predictions of some of the physicians of the period are among the curiosities of medical records. Tea, like all other things, may be abused, and a good friend be converted into an enemy. But cold water has killed many persons, and plain bread sometimes proves indigestible.

Garway's Famous Tea Circular - Garway's Famous Circular was so often quoted and mutilated that we print it here in full; it has no date, but it is supposed to have been printed in 1660.
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