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
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.
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.