Tea House Theatre

Winner of Time Out Love London Awards 2014, 2016 & 2018!

We are based in an old Victorian public house that opened in 1886 on the site of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens; immortalised as the ‘Vanity Fair’ in Thackeray’s eponymous novel.

We serve some of the best loose leaf teas available, proper sandwiches and homemade cakes; not to mention the best full English breakfast in London. Our teas have individual subtle flavours which would be overpowered by the instant, coarse, hit of coffee, so we do not sell it.

We make our own marmalade and jams, all for sale by the jar and all our teas can be bought by the ounce. Our meat comes from our local butcher and our fruit and vegetables from the local market gardens around us.

We are trying to be different. We will not hurry you. If you visit us on your lunch break, then have one, you will be more productive in the afternoon. If you want to have a meeting, we will not disturb you. If you are ‘working from home’, we have wifi. If you have children, we have highchairs, a chest of toys, and milkshakes. We always have the daily papers, so please, relax, and share in what we are trying to create, take a load off, and have a cuppa.

George Orwell - A Nice Cup of Tea 1946

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.

Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it outwith hot water.

Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is,the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connection with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtle the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tea leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.



The Humble Tea Bag

Tea Infusers and origins of the Tea Bag

The arrival of tea in Britain in the seventeenth century altered the drinking habits of this nation forever. The late eighteenth century saw black tea overtake green tea in popularity for the first time, which also accelerated the addition of milk. In the nineteenth century widespread cultivation of tea in India began, leading to the imports of Indian tea into Britain overtaking the imports of Chinese tea. And in the twentieth century there was a further development that would radically change our tea-drinking habits - the invention of the tea bag.

The purpose of the tea bag is rooted in the belief that for tea to taste its best, the leaves ought to removed from the hot water at the end of a specific brewing period. Then there is the added benefit of convenience - a removable device means that tea can be made as easily in a mug as in a pot, without the need for a tea strainer, and that tea pots can be kept clean more easily. But the earliest examples of removable infusing devices for holding tea were not bags. Popular infusers included tea eggs and tea balls - perforated metal containers which were filled with loose leaves and immersed in boiling water, and then removed using an attached chain.

Thomas Sullivan and an accidental American invention

Needless to say, it was in America, with its love of labour-saving devices, that tea bags were first developed. In around 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, started to send samples of tea to his customers in small silken bags. Some assumed that these were supposed to be used in the same way as the metal infusers, by putting the entire bag into the pot, rather than emptying out the contents. It was thus by accident that the tea bag was born!

Responding to the comments from his customers that the mesh on the silk was too fine, Sullivan developed sachets made of gauze - the first purpose-made tea bags. During the 1920s these were developed for commercial production, and the bags grew in popularity in the USA. Made first of all from gauze and later from paper, they came in two sizes, a larger bag for the pot, a smaller one for the cup. The features that we still recognise today were already in place - a string that hung over the side so the bag could be removed easily, with a decorated tag on the end.

Use of Tea Bags in the UK

While the American population took to tea bags with enthusiasm, the British were naturally wary of such a radical change in their tea-making methods. This was not helped by horror stories told by Britons who had visited the USA, who reported being served cups of tepid water with a tea bag on the side waiting to be dunked into it (an experience which is still not as uncommon in the USA as it should be!).

The material shortages of World War Two also stalled the mass adoption of tea bags in Britain, and it was not until the 1950s that they really took off. The 1950s were a time when all manner of household gadgets were being promoted as eliminating tedious household chores, and in keeping with this tea bags gained popularity on the grounds that they removed the need to empty out the used tea leaves from the tea pot. The convenience factor was more important to the British tea-drinker than the desire to control the length of infusion time, hence the appearance of tea bags that did not have strings attached.

It was Tetley in 1953 that drove the introduction of tea bags in Britain, but other companies soon caught up. In the early 1960s, tea bags made up less than 3 per cent of the British market, but this has been growing steadily ever since. By 2007 tea bags made up a phenomenal 96 per cent of the British market, and there can hardly be a home or workplace in Britain that does not have a stash of the humble, but vital, tea bag.


Smuggling Tea

By the eighteenth century, tea was a hugely popular drink in Britain, but, to the ordinary consumer, it was also hugely expensive. The monopoly on imports held by the merchants of the East India Company meant that tea prices were kept artificially high to protect profits, and on top of this government imposed a high level of duty. This created a demand among the British population for cheaper tea, and when that demand could not be met by legal means, a great opportunity was presented to those people who were less than concerned about breaking the law.

From the beginning of the eighteenth century, the trade in smuggled tea began to flourish. This was tea that was brought in illegally - it was not imported by the East India Company, and it did not pass through customs. Being light and easy to transport, tea was a very  smuggling commodity - even more so than gin and brandy, in which there was also a healthy smuggling trade.

Everybody knew that high taxation encouraged smuggling, and the quantity of tea being smuggled was directly linked to the level of duty levied on legal tea imports. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the government´s need to finance a war in Spain led to an increase in taxation on tea, and the price of leaves rose to 5s per lb in 1711. This was exorbitant, and provided a great impetus to the activities of the tea smugglers. Duty was slashed by Henry Pelham in 1745. This meant that more tea was brought in legally - the quantity passing through customs more than doubled - and the increase of tea imports on which duty was paid actually led to the government´s revenues from tea being increased. But in the 1750s the need to finance another war led to the duty on tea being raised again. This in turn led to a surge in the business of the smugglers, which continued to flourish throughout the third quarter of the eighteenth century.

Though illegal, the smugglers had the support of millions of people who could not otherwise afford to buy tea. In fact, the East India Company had unwittingly facilitated smuggling by allowing officers on their ships to have a certain amount of space on the ship for their private trade. Many of these officers had seized the opportunity to make a substantial profit by taking tea back and selling it on to smugglers who met their ships offshore. Much tea was smuggled in from continental Europe, shipped into Britain via the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Although smuggling was widespread, in the first decades of the eighteenth century many of the smugglers themselves operated on a very small scale. They used small boats - even rowing boats - to bring tea in, rarely carrying more than 60 chests at a time, and frequently a great deal fewer. The tea was then sold on to personal contacts and local shopkeepers.

As time went on some smuggling operations became larger scale and more sophisticated - and more ruthless. This was in part due to the peaceable conditions in Europe from the mid-1760s, which encouraged more European trade with China, which in turn meant more tea imported to the continent that could then be smuggled to Britain. Scottish excise officers called this the 'new mode´ of smuggling: gangs crewed large, heavily armed ships, which carried hundreds of chests of tea and gallons of spirits like rum and brandy. Distribution was through highly organised networks that carried the smuggled tea far inland.

In fact in London, distribution of smuggled tea mirrored distribution of legal tea, and the smugglers´ ships could even be insured against loss or seizure at Lloyd´s of London. But while the London dealers in smuggled tea may have been thoroughly respectable, the smugglers themselves were often hardened criminals who thought nothing of using violence and intimidation to ply their trade.

An early example of the brutality of smugglers is seen in the case of the infamous Hawkhurst gang, who operated on the south coast of England in the mid-eighteenth century. On 22 September 1747, customs officers intercepted a boat off the coast of Dorset that was carrying two tons of illegal tea. This was taken for storage to the customs house at Poole. But the thwarted smugglers, known as the Hawkhurst gang, had no intention of allowing their precious cargo to be taken from them, and 60 members of the gang took part in a raid on the customs house to retrieve their smuggled tea.

They rode north, and through the small Hampshire town of Fordingbridge, where many of the villagers turned out to watch the procession. Such was the confidence of the gang that they made no attempt to disguise themselves or what they had done, and when one of the smugglers, John Diamond, recognised one of the villagers, Daniel Chater, they exchanged greetings and Diamond gave Chater a small bag of tea. The Hawkhurst gang had for some years operated relatively freely in the area - intimidating local people into keeping quiet, and burning down the property of any local magistrates who attempted to interfere with their activities. But the attack on the customs house took their outrages to a new level, and the authorities decided that something must be done.

Unfortunately for the Fordingbridge villager, Daniel Chater, customs officials got wind of the fact that he had seen and recognised the smuggler John Diamond, and he was pressurised into agreeing to give evidence against him. On 14 February 1748, Chater and a customs officer named William Galley set out to ride to Chichester to see a magistrate, but on the way they stopped for a drink at the White Hart pub in Rowlands Castle. Their decision was to prove fatal: the landlady had two sons who were smugglers, and growing suspicious of her guests she sent word to her sons and their smuggling colleagues. Members of the Hawkhurst gang arrived at the White Hart, and proceeded to get Chater and Galley drunk while they decided what do with them. There was a suggestion that they could be taken to France and dumped there, but the wives of two of the smugglers were determined that they should have a more serious punishment. To this end Chater and Galley were horsewhipped and then tied to horses and taken on a 15 mile ride to another village. Weak from the constant whipping, the two men frequently slid upside down, hanging beneath their horses' bellies so that the horses´ hooves struck their heads. Galley begged to be killed quickly, but the smugglers showed no mercy, and continued whipping and beating them. By the time they arrived at their destination, the Red Lion at Rake, Galley appeared to be dead. After burying Galley and chaining up Chater, the smugglers spent the rest of the day drinking in the Red Lion, before returning home to establish alibis. Two days later the smugglers, 14 men in total, met again in order to kill Chater. Having decided that shooting him would too soon put him out of his misery, the gang took Chater to a well. When he knelt to pray, one of the gang took out a knife and sliced his face with such force that his nose was cut off and his eyes almost put out. Chater, wishing to hasten his own death, attempted to jump down the well, but he was prevented from doing so and hung by his neck above it. But after quarter of an hour he was still alive, so the smugglers cut him down and threw him down the well head first. Even this did not kill him, so the gang threw logs and rocks into the well until his groaning ceased. They then became concerned that their possession of Galley and Chater´s horses would be incriminating, so they killed Galley´s horse but could not find Chater´s.

The smugglers assumed that they would be protected by silence, but large rewards were offered, and when one gang member was arrested he agreed to give evidence against his fellows in exchange for leniency. The whereabouts of the bodies of the two men were revealed, but it was only when the authorities went to recover the bodies that they realised the full horror of the crimes of the Hawkhurst gang. When Chater was brought up from the well, one of his legs had been entirely severed by the injuries inflicted upon him. Then when Galley, the customs officer, was dug up some time later, he was found in an upright position, with his hands in front of eyes. Though the smugglers claimed that they had all believed him to be dead, it was clear that Galley had actually been buried alive.

There was an outcry at the brutality of these crimes, and in the end, eight of the ringleaders were tried and sentenced to death. One of them died before he could be executed, but his dead body was still put in chains and hung in the open air as a warning for all.

While the murders of Galley and Chater were especially barbaric, they were not isolated incidents. A few months after these murders, two members of the Hawkhurst gang who had not yet been arrested accused a farm labourer of stealing two small bags of tea from a huge stash of smuggled tea which they had concealed in a barn where he was working. Though the labourer begged them to spare him on account of his wife and children, they whipped him to death and then threw him into a pond, his body weighed down by rocks. Later they returned to the barn, and discovered the missing bags of tea, which they had simply overlooked earlier.

Despite such violence, tea drinking was so popular that many people continued to turn a blind eye to the activities of the smuggling gangs. Because it was an illegal trade, it is impossible to know exactly how much tea was smuggled into Britain during the years of high taxation in the eighteenth century, but it was plain to see that while tea drinking was becoming ever more popular and widespread, the official imports of tea were not increasing. In areas where the smugglers operated most freely - in Scotland and around the south coast of England - it seems  . Overall, it has been estimated that the amount of tea smuggled in yearly at this time was between 4 and 7.5 million lbs, significantly more than was brought in legally.

By the 1780s smuggling was so rife that the anonymous author of a pamphlet on the subject lamented that in the countryside thousands of men had turned away from respectable jobs in order to be employed in the smuggling trade, to the detriment of the whole nation: 'Thousands... who would otherwise be employed in fishing, agriculture etc., to the emolument of this kingdom are now supported in drunkenness, rioting, and debauchery by their iniquitous traffic; - a traffic obviously productive of so numerous a train of evils, that prudence, common honesty, decency, order, and civil government, unitedly cry out for redress.´

Neither was it just a concern for decency and order that made people demand action from the government. The smuggling trade had a massive impact on the profits of the East India Company, which was the only organisation legally allowed to import tea. It was in part the impact of smuggling that led the Company to seek to dump surplus tea on the American market, a decision which would lead to the Boston Tea Party and ultimately to the American War of Independence. It was by now widely acknowledged that the only way to tackle the smuggling problem was to make tea cheaper - in effect, to reduce the duty paid on it. So the East India Company, who had powerful allies in the British Parliament, lobbied for the duty to be lowered.

 It was when William Pitt the Younger became Prime Minister in 1783, aged only 24, that the work of the anti-tea duty lobby finally achieved its goal. After consulting with the great and good of the tea trade, Pitt decided to slash the tax on tea, and make up for the revenue lost by hugely increasing the window tax. This was a property tax which was much easier to enforce.

The Commutation Act of 1784 at one stroke reduced the tax on tea from 119 per cent to 12.5 per cent. The smuggling of tea ceased to be profitable, and the smuggling trade vanished virtually overnight. The consumption of taxed tea rocketed, so much so that even with the reduced rate of tax, the amount of revenue collected from tea was soon restored. Thus, coupled with the increase in window tax, the Exchequer revenues were actually increased overall.

While Pitt´s Act brought an end to smuggling, it did not have such an effect on another widespread problem within the tea trade - adulteration. Like smuggling, this was designed to make tea cheaper. But smuggled tea had often been a high quality product - particularly in the early days of small scale smuggling, it was in the interests of the smugglers to bring in teas than could be sold at a relatively high price (even though still far cheaper than taxed tea) - whereas the East India Company's imports were primarily of a very basic kind of tea. Adulteration was a different matter; it sought to maximise profits by mixing genuine tea with leaves from other plants, or with leaves that had already been brewed.

One product popular in the eighteenth century was 'British tea´, made from tree buds such as elder, hawthorne and ash. This was sometimes sold without any pretence that it was the genuine article, but it was also used to adulterate real tea, and in 1725 an Act of Parliament was passed banning the mixing of tea leaves with any other leaves. This was followed in 1777 with a complete ban on the sale and manufacture of 'British tea´, prompted in part by government concern about the destruction of the trees needed to make adulterated tea.

But these measures were not immediately effective and the public became increasingly concerned about some of the more bizarre ingredients included in the adulterated tea. These included various chemicals used to dye green 'tea' the right colour, such as copper carbonate and lead chromate. Compared to such poisonous ingredients, the frequent inclusion of sheep´s dung in adulterated tea seems relatively harmless! After one adulteration scandal in 1817, a tea dealer wrote that such was the public fear about adulterated tea that a tea dealer was regarded 'almost as a secret assassin, ready to enter every man´s house to poison him and his family. It almost converted the English into a nation of botanists...´.

It was partly to avoid the possibility of drinking these poisonous dyes, that black tea became more popular than green tea by the end of the eighteenth century. Accompanying this the addition of milk to tea became popular. Already smuggling had made tea so much more affordable that tea drinking had become the norm in even the poorest of homes, while its local distribution networks ensured that it became the beverage of choice in the countryside as well as in the towns. So smuggling and adulteration, while both illegal and at times dangerous, had a lasting impact on patterns of tea consumption in Britain.

The Beginnings of Tea

There are various legends surrounding the origins of tea. Perhaps the most famous is the Chinese story of Shen Nung, the emperor and renowned herbalist, who was boiling his drinking water when leaves from a nearby tea shrub blew into the cauldron. He tasted the resulting brew, and the beverage of tea was born.

An alternative story claims that links tea drinking to the Indian prince Bodhidharma, who converted to Buddhism and in the sixth century and went to China to spread the word. He believed that it was necessary to stay awake constantly for meditation and prayer, and took to chewing leaves from the tea shrub, which acted as stimulant, helping him stay awake. (An alternative, more macabre version has Bodhidharma accidentally falling asleep, and upon waking cutting off his own eyelids in disgust at himself. He threw the eyelids away, and from them sprouted the first tea shrub).

Part of the problem in pinpointing the origins of tea stems from the fact that the Chinese character t'u is used in early sources to describe infusions made from several different plants, not necessarily just tea. By the third century AD though a new character, ch'a, was developed to refer specifically to tea. Ch'a is very similar in its calligraphy to t'u, and its development suggests that tea had become such a popular drink that it needed its own character. The word ch'a is now sometimes used in English to refer to China tea.

Tea was certainly known as a beverage in the time of Confucius (c.551-479 BC) and grew in popularity during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). By the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) tea was the national drink of China, spreading from court circles to be popular throughout Chinese society. It was during this time that the practice developed of sending finest teas to the emperor's court as a tribute to him.

At this time, it was manufactured in brick form: the tea leaves were pounded and pressed into a brick-shaped mold, then dried. To prepare the tea, part of the brick was ground down, and the result was boiled in water. Later, powdered tea was developed from green tea leaves. This gained popularity during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Boiled water was poured onto the powder and left to brew, and the resulting liquid was whisked into a frothy tea. It was during this period that tea drinking became popular in Japan, reintroduced there by a Zen Buddhist monk who had been studying in China. So in Japan, it was the Sung method of preparing tea that took hold.

In China, tea fell out of favour as a drink during the years of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368), when the Mongol rulers considered the drinking of tea a symbol of decadence. But it returned to popularity under the native Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). After years of foreign rule, this Dynasty saw a revival of all things considered quintessentially Chinese, and tea was certainly one of them. It was in this period that tea began to be brewed by steeping cured loose leaves in boiling water. Because it was at this time that the tea was first tried by Europeans, it was this method of making tea that became popular in the West, and remains so to this day. Also under the Ming Dynasty there was experimentation with different types of teas, fermented black teas, unfermented green teas, and the semi-fermented variety that it is now known as oolong, and within these categories with innumerable different varieties.
But the variation in types of tea in China is not even half the story. The history of tea in China and Japan is bound up with its cultural significance.For tea was a drink that would take on literary, artistic and even religious overtones. This can be traced to the writing of a fascinating treatise on tea by a Chinese scholar called Lu Yu.By the time Lu Yu wrote the Ch'a Ching, The Classic of Tea, in the eighth century, tea was already a fairly common drink in China. 

But Lu Yu's work was the single most influential aspect in developing the cultural significance of tea. Little is known about the man himself, except that he was probably born in the second of the eighth century and died early in the ninth century. He was a scholar from Hupei Province in Ching Ling, an area of Southern China where the cultivation of tea was most widespread, and lived for a time in seclusion in Chekiang Province. It was during this time that one story claims he came to write the Ch'a Ching. According to this, he had been walking in the wilderness, chanting poetry until he was moved to tears. Returning home for some tea he was inspired to write the Ch'a Ching. A more prosaic version of events suggests that the Ch'a Ching was in fact commissioned by a group of tea merchants, wanting to popularise the drink that was the basis of their livelihood. If this is the case, then it was a remarkably early - and remarkably successful - work of PR!

The Ch'a Ching itself elevates the preparation and drinking of tea to near-religious status. Like a religious ceremony, there is a set ritual, using particular implements which are endowed with individual significance, and there are guidelines on the appropriate state of mind for the tea drinker, and the atmosphere in which tea should be drunk. This similarity to religious ritual is no coincidence; the Taoist faith was central to culture in eighth century China, and with it the belief that every detail of life was an act of living that was worthy of celebration, and that one should attempt to find beauty everywhere in the world. Thus the emphasis on tranquility and harmony in the preparation and drinking of tea was recognition of its part in the masterpiece of life.
The Ch'a Ching begins with an explanation of the tea shrub and how it grows, and on the proper manufacture of tea, right down to the weather conditions when it should be picked (only ever on a clear day). Lu Yu next describes the implements needed for the preparation of tea - 24 in all, a number which would put even the most elaborate modern western tea service to shame! These range from the brazier and the cauldron for heating the water, to the roller needed to grind the solid bricks of tea, to the bowls from which the tea was drunk, to the container for carrying it all. Lu Yu gives advice on every aspect of these implements, and indeed the right equipment was so important to him that he states that if even one implement is missing, it is usually best to dispense with the tea altogether.Lu Yu then gives advice on the best sources of water for tea (mountain water from slow-flowing streams is best), the stages of boiling, and the correct method of drinking the finished beverage.After all the rigours of its preparation, it is no surprise that Lu Yu believes that tea must be sipped slowly in order to savour the flavour. He also states that to enjoy the tea at its best, the drinker should have no more that three cups, and five at the most.

 He also laments the practice of adulterating tea and lists some of the things added to it by his contemporaries. Some of these - ginger, orange peel and peppermint - are familiar to tea drinkers now, but Lu Yu also mentions the custom of adding onion to the boiling tea! In fact, the only adulterant of which Lu Yu approves would also now be considered very strange by western tea lovers - salt.

The stringent rules of Lu Yu's tea making seem at odds with the modern western notion of a quick cuppa, but in some ways they are not so different. Lu Yu was concerned that tea should be made in an atmosphere of tranquility and the drinking of it should create still greater tranquility. Most modern British tea drinkers would agree that the familiar act of making tea can be calming at times of stress - and that the drink itself can enhance that feeling of tranquility. We may not need 24 implements, nor have to draw our water from mountain streams, but a nice cup of tea is still a good way to enjoy a moment's peace.

Lu Yu's book was certainly influential in his homeland, China, but it was most avidly read in Japan.There it helped form the basis for the development of the Japanese Tea Ceremony (Cha-no-yu), a ritual that has raised the preparation and drinking of tea to an art form that still flourishes today. Tea was probably introduced to Japan in the eighth century by a Chinese priest, and for some years the practice of tea drinking remained the preserve of Buddhist priests. In 1191 a Zen Buddhist monk named Eisai arrived from studying in China bringing new seeds, and introduced the tea ceremony. The ceremony was based on the tea-drinking rituals of Zen Buddhist monks in China, who believed tea's properties as a stimulant were an aid to meditation. This started a revival in tea drinking, and Eisai went on to write the first Japanese book on tea, the Kitcha-Yojoki, or Book of Tea Sanitation.

Gradually tea drinking became popular outside religious circles, and the Tea Ceremony came to be regarded as the quintessential expression of social sophistication and elegance.As with the tea preparation and drinking described by Lu Yu, the Ceremony is about much more than just making a hot beverage. The Taoist idea of trying to find beauty in the world was combined with the Zen Buddhist belief that the mundane and particular were of equal importance with the spiritual and universal. Thus the ritual of tea making expressed the quest of greatness in the smallest details of life, and the formalised acts of graciousness and politeness that are integral to the Ceremony are an outward form of an inner belief in the importance of peace and harmony.

This did not happen overnight though, and early tea ceremonies in Japan were often quite boisterous affairs that could include gambling and the consumption of alcohol. But the ceremonies gradually became more and more refined, in large part due to the personalities and influences and three Tea Masters. The last of these, Sen No Rikyu (1522 - 1591), lived for much of his life in Kyoto, where he studied Zen. It was Rikyu who incorporated the essence of Zen into the Tea Ceremony, and it is in the form he developed the Way of Tea (chado) that is practised through the Tea Ceremony to this day. Rikyu himself became the personal Tea Master of the powerful political leader Hideyoshi and was his chief aide, but the close relationship between the two men broke down, perhaps because other men jealous of Rikyu conspired to turn Hideyoshi against him. Eventually Rikyu was obliged by Hideyoshi to commit ritual suicide (seppuku), a more honourable death than being executed. Despite this sad end, Rikyu's sons and grandsons continued to practice the Way of Tea. Today the Urasenke Tea tradition (the largest of the various different Ways of Tea) is headed by grandmaster Zabosai Sen Soshitsu XVI, the sixteenth generation of direct descendants of Riyku to hold this position.

A very formal Ceremony, based on Rikyu's teachings, would take place in a specially built tea room (Sukiya) - usually a small wooden structure with a sloping roof, built with immense care. There is also an anteroom (midsuya) where the tea utensils and washed and arranged, a portico (machiai) where guests wait untilsummoned to the tea room, and a path through the garden (roji) which connects the two. Inside, the tea room is simple and spare in design, in emulation of a Zen Buddhist monastery.

The walk through the garden to the tea room is the first stage of meditation and breaks the connection with the outside world. Guests are expected to approach silently in order of precedence - samurai warriors were obliged to leave their swords on a rack outside - before bending to enter the tea room through a low door, an act intended to imbue the guests with a sense of humility. The guests then look at the ornaments and the flower arrangement and the tea caddy and kettle before taking their seats. The host then enters from the anteroom, makes a formal greeting, which is returned by the head guest, and proceeds to make the tea. The preparation and receiving of the tea is subject to numerous rituals and uses various different implements, and would doubtless meet with Lu Yu's approval!

But not all ceremonies are so rigid. Tea is practised throughout Japan by people from all walks of life, who have usually learnt it a their local tea club. It is thus a very social activity, and one in which participation by the guests is crucial.Although some Ceremonies are held on special occasion and are very formal and private, others are open to anyone who would like to buy and ticket, and so they are often held as fund-raising or charity events. Nonetheless, there is still an emphasis on harmony, respect, purity and calm. Within its formality is the belief that rigidity and structure can in some senses be liberating and meditative - that freedom and beauty can be found within a strict form - which is at odds with the contemporary western notion that formalism can only restrict art.

It should be remembered that the Tea Ceremony is as far removed from everyday methods of tea making in Japan as afternoon tea at the Ritz is from a cuppa from a flask on a construction site in England. It is more like the old-fashioned English tea party, with the hostess using the best china and serving the best snacks, and polite chit-chat being made. Even now though most tea lovers in Britain have their own rituals - the first cup of the day, the favourite mug, the method of stirring, tea first or milk first - which still illustrate the comfort and peace that can be found in the familiar act of making the perfect cup of tea.

The East India Company

The East India Company was perhaps the most powerful commercial organisation that the world has ever seen. In its heyday it not only had a monopoly on British trade with India and the Far East, but it was also responsible for the government of much of the vast Indian sub-continent. Both of these factors mean that the East India Company (or, to call it by its proper name, the British East India Company) was crucial to the history of the tea trade.

Before 1600, Portugal controlled most European trade with India and the Far East (an area known then as the Indies). But in 1600 Queen Elizabeth I gave a royal charter to a new trading company, the East India Company, by which it was given a monopoly over all British trade with the Indies. The Company soon began competing with the Portuguese, as did later East India Companies, set up in the Netherlands, Denmark and France (though for ease, the term East India Company shall here be used to describe the British East India Company). The East India Company's first major base was in western India, where it found a rich source of exotic textiles and other produce, which could be exported back to Britain or taken further east to exchange for spices.

The Company successfully weathered the various political storms going on in Britain in the seventeenth century. Oliver Cromwell provided the merchants with a new charter after Charles I was deposed and the Commonwealth established in 1649. Then when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the Company ingratiated itself with him in order to protect its interests. In fact, Charles II actually extended its privileges to allow the Company to take military action to establish itself in places where it wished to trade.

But where does tea fit into all this? Charles II's Queen, Catherine of Braganza, was a Portuguese princess who had grown up with a taste for tea. When she married Charles and came to England, tea gradually became a fashionable drink in courtly and aristocratic circles.This was made possible by the East India Company, which in 1664 placed its first order for tea - for 100lbs of China tea to be shipped from Java for import into Britain. This steady supply continued until 1678, when an import of 4,713lbs swamped the market until 1685, when 12,070lbs was imported, swamping the market again. This pattern continued until the end of the century. But the eighteenth century was very different. Tea drinking really took hold as an activity for the whole population, and the East India Company's imports rocketed. By 1750, annual imports had reached 4,727,992lbs.

In fact though, tea was still very expensive, partly because of the Company's monopoly on the trade and partly because of high taxes imposed upon it. To satisfy the demand of the less wealthy, an enormous amount of tea was smuggled in and sold illicitly - some was even brought in on the East Company's own ships, by crew members who then sold it on to smugglers. This situation continued for years, until the William Pitt the Younger became Prime Minister in 1783. With the Commutation Act of 1784, he slashed the tax on tea so dramatically that smuggling became pointless. Thereafter virtually all tea was imported legally by the East India Company.


In the decades leading up to Pitt the Younger's Commutation Act, tea smuggling had really hit the profits of the East India Company. Needing to increase profits and offload the surplus tea that the Company had accumulated during the worst years of the smuggling, it asked the British government for permission to export direct to America, which at this time was still a British colony. Permission was granted, and it was decided that the tea would carry a tax of 3d per lb. The Americans were outraged, many considered such British-imposed taxes illegal. They were doubly angered by the decision that the Company should also have a monopoly on distribution, another move that was intended to help it out of financial trouble. When the Company's ships arrived in Boston in late 1773, the townspeople resolved that the tea should not be brought ashore nor the duty on it on paid. But the colonial administration would not allow the ships to leave port. The deadlock eventually resulted in the Boston Tea Party, when a mass of townspeople, dressed as Native Americans, boarded the ships and threw all the cargo of tea overboard. This was one of the key events that sparked off the American War of Independence.

When America eventually won its independence from British rule in 1783, it began its own and independent tea trade with China. The success of this trade made some people in Britain  the wisdom of the East India Company's ongoing monopoly on British trade with the East. In 1813, the Company lost its monopoly on trade with India, but still had a complete monopoly on trade with China, which meant it was heavily dependent on the tea trade. The Company's charter was due for renewal in 1834, and in the decades before that there was a growing call for the abolition of the monopoly and the instigation of free trade with China as well. Supporters of free trade argued strongly that the Company kept tea prices artificially high in order to maximise its profits, using tactics which included restricting the supply of tea. One anonymous pamphleteer writing in 1824 stated that 'the lordly grocers of Leadenhall Street [where the Company was based] have most scandalously abused the monopoly of which they are now in possession'. Comparing the prices of tea sold at auction in London with the prices at auction in Hamburg and New York, he thundered that 'the monopoly of the tea trade enjoyed by the East India Company costs the people of this country, on average, not less than TWO MILLIONS TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND pounds sterling a year!'

The movement gathered pace, and committees were set up by  trade organisations to examine the evidence. The report of one such committee in 1828 claimed that the restriction of supply by the East India Company, and the artificially high prices, had actually driven down the annual consumption of duty-paid tea per person in Britain, from almost 28oz in 1800 to just 20oz in 1828. This was particularly objectionable because (in the words of another contemporary pamphleteer) tea was one 'of the principal necessaries of life'. The report noted with abject horror that tea consumption among the 'poor convict population' of New South Wales in Australia, which enjoyed direct trade with China, was over three times higher than among the 'free and wealthy people of Great Britain'. It concluded that 'in the United Kingdom, where the Company have a complete monopoly, they fleece their countrymen of the last penny they can give'.

 An added complication was that at the same time, the East India Company's sphere of activity was fundamentally changing.Charles II's charter to the Company had allowed it to use military force where necessary to establish trading stations, and in the seventeenth and eigthteenth centuries it established many well-fortified trading posts in India. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the control of the Mughal Emperor in Delhi was in decline, with independent regional princes taking power instead. But unhappy with this turn of events, the Company increasingly used its private{C}{C}{C} army to establish governmental control over large territories of India. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, with help from the British army, the Company had conquered about half of India.

Thus India was being ruled by twenty-four merchants from the East India Company boardroom in Leadenhall St, London, the same merchants who controlled British trade with the east. This caused great uneasiness to many in Britain, who considered the dual roles of merchant and ruler to be completely incompatible. This view was eloquently summed up by a writer in 1831, who argued that as well as losing its trade monopoly, the Company must have nothing to do with commercial affairs as long as it had anything to do with the government of India. He wrote, 'we object to their (the Company) being allowed to combine in their own persons the seperate and irreconcilable functions of tea-dealers and rulers of a mighty empire. Let them make their election; let them choose as to whether they will be grocers or emperors; but do not allow them to attempt both... To be a good grocer or a cheesemonger, a man must be nothing else. If the Company prefer these useful functions to those of a loftier character, we shall not blame them for their choice. But we protest against their being allowed to carry a sword in one hand and a ledger in the other - to act at once as sovereigns and tea dealers.'

 These arguments were too powerful for the British government to ignore. In 1834, Parliament's new charter for the Company abolished its trading functions altogether. Instead, the Company became an agent of the British government, administering British India on behalf of the Crown. India was still to be ruled from the boardroom of the East India Company, but its rulers would no longer also be tea dealers. China was still the major source of tea, and since the Company had now been relieved of any trading rights with China, its thoughts turned to the possibility of growing tea in India. Previously, when the Company had had a monopoly on the Chinese trade, it had not been in its interests to encourage cultivation of tea elsewhere.

A Tea Committee was established to investigate where in India might be most suitable for the cultivation of tea plants and seed imported from China, and to oversee that cultivation. One obvious area was Assam, where indigenous tea plants had already been found growing. Seeds from China were germinated in Calcutta and then sent on to Assam and other areas to conduct trials. C.A. Bruce, an agent of the East India Company in Assam, was appointed Superintendent of Tea Forests and set about cultivating plantations of both China tea and indigenous tea. In 1838 12 chests of Assam tea were sent to the East India Company in London. Some was used for public relations purposes - sending out samples to stimulate interest - and the rest went to the regular London Tea Auction. This was the first auction of Assam tea in London, and the novelty of the product ensured that it got a very good price. Bruce's experiment had been a resounding success. A new organisation, the Assam Company, was formed to exploit the potential of Assam tea. This new company faced many problems - not least the need to capture and train wild elephants which were necessary to transport tea through the dense jungles - but by 1855 tea cultivation in Assam amounted to over half a million lbs.

Soon though events in India were to take a dramatic turn. The East India Company had lost its trading rights, but it had not lost its desire to make money. The cost of the Company's of India administration was met through heavy taxation and charges on the Indian people - they even had to pay for medals to be struck to commemorate their own conquest. There were localised rebellions and the Company used increasingly heavy-handed tactics to control the Indian population. In May 1857 three regiments of Indian soldiers serving in the Company's army at Meerut near Delhi rebelled. The revolt spread, and led to a vicious conflict as the British forces tried to put it down. The rebellion lasted over a year, during which time both sides committed acts of terrible cruelty. Even after peace was established, the trust between the Indians and the East India Company administration was destroyed. The British government decided that enough was enough, and directly assumed all the Company's powers and possessions in India. The first viceroy, Lord Canning, was appointed to govern British India.

The heyday of the East India Company was well and truly over, but the heyday of Indian tea production was just beginning. With the exception of Darjeeling, which was producing high-quality but low-yielding tea crops, there was little tea cultivation outside Assam. The new British administration in India saw the potential for more widespread cultivation and offered generous land leases to would-be tea planters. By 1888 Indian tea production had reached 86 million lbs - and for the first time British tea imports from India exceeded those from China.


The Tea Clippers

The age of the tea clippers lasted only two decades, but this brief reign was marked by such excitement and enthusiasm for the ships and their cargo that it has gone down in history, famed for its glamour and romance.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the East India Company had the monopoly on British trade with China and India.Because no other company could legally import goods from these countries, the Company was rarely in a hurry to transport its merchandise. Rather, its priority was to minimise costs by carrying as much as possible on each ship. This meant that its ships - known as East Indiamen - were enormous, strong and very slow. By 1800, the average East Indiaman could carry 1,200 tons of cargo. The trading pattern for China tea usually meant the East Indiamen set sail from Britain in January, sailed round the Cape of Good Hope at the southern-most tip of Africa and arrived in China in September.

They would load up that year's tea harvest and set off again, and depending on the wind and weather, aim to arrive back in Britain by the following September. So even with favourable sailing conditions, the round trip took almost two years, and if anything went wrong it could take a lot longer.

But by 1834 the Company had lost its trading monopolies, and tea and had become a freely traded item. The Company, having no more use for its great ships, sold them off, and many were bought by merchants or their captains, who continued to plough the seas between Britain and China plying the tea trade. But now that tea could be traded freely, a few canny sailors began to realise that whoever brought the tea from each new harvest to Britain first stood to make the most money.

This was partly because of practicalities - if you were home first, you could sell your shipment of tea before your competitors even arrived - and partly because consumers in the nineteenth century believed that the fresher and earlier-picked the tea, the better the resulting drink. The lumbering East Indiamen seemed less appealing, and tea traders wanted faster, sleeker ships to bring their precious cargo back. Nonetheless, this idea only caught on in Britain slowly, and while the 1840s saw a few faster ships launched, for the time being many merchants remained satisfied with the slow but reliable East Indiamen.

In fact it was the Americans who pioneered the first clipper ships. Based on an earlier type of ship called the Baltimore clipper, they were fast and slender, with a narrow hull that was deeper at the back than at the front, and acres of sails on tall masts. Some had as many as six tiers of sails to a mast, and a total of 35 sails. They earned their name from the way that they 'clipped off' the miles.

The first true tea clipper wasRainbow, designed by John W. Griffiths and launched in 1845. She made the journey from New York to Canton in 102 days - taking more than two weeks off the previous record for that trip. Their development was given another boost by the discovery of gold in California in 1848 and in Australia in 1851 - people rushing to seek their fortunes wanted ships that would transport them as fast as possible.


Up until 1849 the use of clippers in the tea trade was largely confined to America. But in 1849 the British Navigation Laws were repealed, meaning that American ships were allowed to carry tea from China to Britain for the first time. The first clipper to take advantage of this was Oriental, which arrived at West India Dock in London on 3 December 1850 - just 97 days after leaving Hong Kong. British merchants were horrified - this was three times as fast as the East Indiamen. They resolved to build their own clippers to rival the Americans, and the first British tea clipper, Stornaway, was built in Aberdeen in 1850.

After this, tea clippers were designed and built in Britain throughout the 1850s and 1860s; they had a narrower beam than their American equivalents, making them less powerful in heavy weather, but faster in lighter winds. There was a great spirit of competition between the British and American ships plying the tea trade, but to begin with the Americans had the edge. Then in 1851 the British ship owner Richard Green announced that he was fed up with hearing about the dismal prospects for British shipping since the repeal of the Navigation Laws, and built the aptly named clipperChallenger, with the stated intention of beating the American ships. Leaving Canton for London in 1852 loaded with tea, she fell in with the American clipper Challenge, a much larger, older ship, already greatly admired for her speed. Large sums were bet on which would make it to London first, and in the

event the British Challenger beat Challenge to the docks by two days, amid much jubilation about the British success.


The time of the international races was relatively short lived though, because after 1855 the American ships gradually ceased to participate in the English tea trade. But even without the Anglo-American rivalry, the competitive spirit continued. It was really ignited in 1853, when new ports in China were opened up for trade. These included Fouchow, which was much closer to the tea producing areas than Canton, the port used previously. As a result the tea could be loaded onboard earlier and fresher, and the clippers could set off in late May or early June - sometimes not even taking time to complete the official paperwork - racing back to Britain come hell or high water.

They thundered down through the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean, then raced to round the southern-most tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Then it was north across the vast Atlantic, past the Azores, through the English Channel and into the Thames estuary, from where they would be towed down the Thames by tugs.

The cargo of the winning ship could earn a premium of up to sixpence per lb - and so the captain and crew were rewarded by the owners of the cargo.But the races were about more than just financial gain: the crews, about 40 men on each clipper, were expert sailors, proud of their ships, who delighted in competing against each other. Without their enthusiasm the races would never have happened, since getting the ship home as fast as possible required complete dedication from the crew, who sacrificed rest for the excitement of the race. The lively rivalry between crews is exemplified in the story of a gilded model cockerel which was exhibited on the clipper Thermopylae. Other clipper crews took this as an affront, because at the time Thermopylae had yet to win a clipper race. One night at the harbour in Fouchow, when her officers and crew were below, a sailor from the rival clipper Taiping jumped overboard, swam across to Thermopylae, climbed aboard and stole the cockerel. Discovering their loss, the crew of the Thermopylae was furious, and there were a number of angry (and even violent) incidents between them and rival crews.

The clipper races quickly caught the public's imagination - the speed and rivalry were thrilling while the ships themselves were as beautiful as they were fast. The ships would sail past certain marker points, and then telegrams would be despatched to Britain with news of their progress. When the time for the arrival of the first clippers grew near, the race would be a central topic of conversation, and crowds gathered at the docks to watch the arrival of the ships (the masts and bulwarks of which were all painted differently, to make the ships distinguishable from each other), greeting the winner with great cheers. Such was the public enthusiasm for the clipper races that large amounts of money were bet on which ship would be home first.

The greatest and most famous clipper race took pace in 1866. 10 clippers bound for London set out from Fouchow on 28 May. Fastest away were Taeping, Fiery Cross and Serica, but Ariel swiftly gained on them. So evenly matched were these four ships and their crews that the clippers were frequently within sight of each other as they raced across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope and north across the great Atlantic.

On 29 August the four were dead level at the Azores, but as they entered the Channel Ariel and the Taeping pulled away, the ships magnificent in full sail.


Practically the entire population of London was electrified by the news of the race - huge sums had been bet on the ships, while the crews of Fiery Cross and Serica had wagered a month's pay against each other - and the merchants and dealers on Mincing Lane, the centre of the London tea trade, were beside themselves with excitement. At the Thames estuary the two ships were still neck and neck, but tugs were needed to tow the ships down the river to dock, and Taeping was fortunate enough to pick a faster tug. With this slender advantage Taeping reached her berth just 20 minutes ahead of Ariel - an amazingly small gap considering the journey had taken 99 days. (Almost as amazing - Serica docked just a few hours after the winning pair, on the same tide, and Fiery Cross less than 48 hours later.) Despite Taeping's tiny lead, in the spirit of sportsmanship the race was declared a dead-heat, and the ships' owners agreed to divide the winner's premium, while the two crews shared their bonus.


Of course, life on the tea clippers was not just about the excitement of racing and the glamour of being the first ship home. There was serious work to be done onboard, and loading the tea was an art form in itself. The cargo needed to be packed incredibly tightly, not just to carry as much tea as possible, but also to prevent the potential hazard of the cargo shifting as the ship sailed, which could have thrown the ship off balance and caused disaster. The Chinese dockers packed the chests in tiers, sometimes hammering them into place with great wooden mallets. It was skilled work carried out at great speed, and equally skilled were the English dockers whose job it was to unload the cargo at the other end of the journey.

The reign of the tea clippers was to prove as brief as it was glorious. In November 1869 the Suez Canal opened, creating a navigable passage between the Far East and the Mediterranean. Overnight, it became economically viable for steamships to ply the China tea trade. Previously, the amount of coal the steamers needed to carry to complete the journey to and from China round the Cape of Good Hope left little space for a bulky cargo like tea. But sailing via the Suez Canal, the journey length was cut dramatically and the steamships became a more efficient option than the clippers, which could not use the Canal. The plodding steamships had none of the glamour of the clippers and their brave and skilled crews, and while there was rivalry between the steamers, it never caught gripped the public imagination like the clipper races.


Happily, one great tea clipper has survived and is now in dry dock at Greenwich in London. Cutty Sark, launched from the Clyde on 22 November 1869, was one of the last tea clippers to be constructed. Built for John 'White Hat' Willis, she was intended to win the annual clipper race, although in fact she never beat her biggest rival, Thermopylae. The decline of the clipper tea trade meant that Cutty Sark only carried tea until 1877, but she survived many later incarnations, and is now the only remaining tea clipper in the world. Small to modern eyes, Cutty Sark is nonetheless breathtakingly beautiful, and a visit offers a fascinating insight into the life of a tea clipper.




Boston Tea Party

Nowadays tea is thoroughly associated with the British, and taking time for a cup of tea is considered by millions to be a moment of calm and enjoyment in our hectic lives. It seems a little incongruous to remember that a little over 250 years ago, tea was such a hot political issue in America that it led to event that changed history forever. This was the infamous Boston Tea Party, a protest against tea duties in December 1773 that sparked off the American War of Independence and so eventually led to the United States of America becoming an independent nation instead of a group of British colonies.

During the eighteenth century, tea drinking was as popular in Britain’s American colonies as it was in Britain itself. Legally, all tea imported into America had to be shipped from Britain, and all tea imported into Britain had to be shipped in by the East India Company. However, for most of the eighteenth century, theEast India Company was not allowed to export directly to America. But during the 1770s the East India Company ran into financial problems: illegal tea smuggling into Britain was vastly reducing the amount of tea being bought from the Company. This led to a downturn in its profits, as well as an increase in its stockpile of unsold tea. In an attempt to revive its flagging fortunes and avoid bankruptcy, the Company asked the British government for permission to export tea direct to America, a move that would enable it to get rid of its surplus stock of tea. The Company actually owed the government £1 million, so the government had no desire to let the Company go bankrupt. Thus in 1773 the Tea Act was passed, granting the Company’s wish, and allowing a duty of 3d per lb to be levied on the exports to America.

The British government did not anticipate this being a problem: by being exported directly to America, the cost of tea there would actually become cheaper, and 3d per lb was considerably less duty than was paid on tea destined for the British market. But it had underestimated the strength of the American resistance to being taxed at all by their British colonial masters. The issue of the taxation in America had been hotly debated for some years. Many Americans objected on principle to being taxed by a Parliament which did not represent them. Instead, they wanted to raise taxes themselves to fund their own administration. But successive British governments reserved the right to tax the colonies, and various bungled attempts to impose taxation had hardened American opposition. In the later 1760s, opposition took the form of boycotts of taxed goods. As a replacement for them, the Americans either bought smuggled goods or attempted to find substitutes made from native products.

These included ‘Labrador tea’, which was made from the leaves of a plant that flourished in the colonies, and ‘Balsamic hyperion’, made from dried raspberry leaves. The successful boycott of such a popular domestic product as tea was largely made possible by the active support of American women, who were on the whole responsible for household purchases. An anonymous American commentator writing some decades later noted that by abandoning the use of imported tea, ‘American ladies exhibited a spirit of patriotism and self-devotedness highly honourable to their sex’.

In 1770, the British government repealed most of the import duties - with the exception of the duty on tea, which remained at 3d per lb. For a time this calmed down the situation in the colonies, although taxed tea continued to be boycotted. But the maintenance of duty in the Tea Act of 1773 reawakened the anger of the Americans. They were further incensed by the decision of Parliament that the East India Company would have a monopoly on the distribution of tea in America, using its own agents instead of established American tea merchants. This seemed like an attempt to put patriotic Americans out of business.

The colonists were united in their decision to resist the new arrangements, and decided to refuse to pay the tax on tea. Regardless of the opposition, the East India Company pressed ahead with its plans, and in autumn 1773 four ships, Dartmouth, Eleanor, Beaver and William, set sail for Boston with their precious cargo of tea. In the weeks that these ships were sailing, the American opposition stepped up a gear.

The Massachusetts Gazette reported a meeting in early November when the people of Boston resolved that no one would import any tea that was liable for duty, and that anyone who aided or abetted the East India Company would be considered an ‘enemy of America’. Tempers were clearly running high, and there were further riotous public meetings against the tax, and even attacks on the warehouses for which the tea was destined.

When Dartmouth reached America on 28 November 1773, it was faced with the resolve of the townspeople that the tea must not be brought ashore or the duty paid. But the customs officers completed the necessary paperwork for the import of the tea, after which the ship could not legally set sail for England with the tea still on board. A few days later Eleanor arrived, followed by Beaver, which had been delayed by an outbreak of smallpox onboard. William had run aground and was stranded near Cape Cod. So it was that these three ships languished in the harbour at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, waiting for the situation to be resolved. 

But there was deadlock. The townspeople would not allow the tea to be brought ashore without an agreement that no duty would be paid on it. The Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson (whose sons were to have been agents of the East India Company for the distribution of the tea), refused to let the ships leave port without paying duty on the tea. An armed guard of patriots was posted at the wharf to prevent the tea coming ashore, while a naval blockade of the harbour prevented the ships from leaving. Mass meetings were held by the resistance leaders, Samuel Adams and Josiah Quincy, and the Bostonians were further buoyed up by messages of support which they received from all over New England.

On 16 December, perhaps as many as 7,000 local people met at the Old South Meeting House. Francis Rotch, the American owner of two of the ships, attended the meeting. He was in an unfortunate position: unwilling to risk the wrath of his countrymen by bringing the tea ashore, but yet knowing that if he ordered the ships to set sail illegally he risked them being confiscated by the navy or even sunk. In an attempt to resolve the situation, Rotch was sent in person to see Governor Hutchinson, to demand from him a pass for the ships to leave port, with the tea still onboard. The Governor, who was at his country house seven miles from Boston, refused, and Rotch returned to the meeting with this news. George Hewes, who took part in the Tea Party, remembered that Rotch’s announcement created a great patriotic stir at the meeting; men cried out '"Let every man do his duty, and be true to his country”; and there was a general huzza for Griffin’s Wharf’. The townspeople were faced with a stalemate, and so decided upon drastic action.

In the early evening of 16 December, a band of men, some disguised as Mohawk American Indians (Hewes recorded that he darkened his face with soot), assembled on a hill near the wharf. Whooping Indian-style war cries, they marched to the wharf, where they boarded the ships one after another, hoisted the tea on board deck, split open the chests - 342 in total - and threw all the tea into the sea. The whole affair took about three hours, and it was not a violent protest - the ships’ crews attested that nothing had been damaged or destroyed except the tea - and the protesters swept the decks clean afterwards. The Massachusetts Gazette even reported that when it was realised that a padlock that had been broken was the personal property of one of the ships’ captains, a replacement was procured and sent to him. Hewes also recorded that any man caught attempting to steal any of the tea for personal consumption was punished by the Bostonians. The following morning large quantities of tea were still floating in the harbour waters, so to prevent any being salvaged, men went out in rowing boats and beat the tea beneath the surface of the water with their oars. A joke went round for months afterwards that fish taken from American waters tasted strongly of tea.

This Tea Party sparked off other protests: tea being shipped to New York and Philadelphia was sent back to London, while tea off-loaded at Charleston was left to rot in the warehouses. In retaliation, the British government passed five laws in early 1774 that became known as the Intolerable Acts. Although intended primarily to punish the people of Massachusetts (the Acts included closing the port of Boston until the tea was paid for, restricting town meetings and giving the British-appointed governor more power), in the event the Acts played a key role in uniting the 13 American colonies against British rule. In September 1774, representatives of the colonies, including Samuel Adams, one of the Bostonian resistance leaders, met at the First Continental Congress to plan common measures of resistance against the Acts. The united resistance of the colonies would lead to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, which was signed in July 1776, just three years after the Boston Tea Party.

One anonymous balladeer wrote a song to commemorate the historic events in Boston, ending in the verses:

Quick as thought the ships were boarded
Hatches bust and chests displayed;
Axe and hammers help afforded,
What a glorious crash they made.

Quick into the deep descended,
Cursed weed of China’s coast;
Thus at once our fears were ended
Freemen’s rights shall ne’er be lost.

The London Tea Auction

The London Tea Auction was a grand tradition that lasted 300 years. From the very first event in 1679, until the last sale on 29 June 1998, the London Tea Auction was a regular event that made London the centre of the international tea trade. The first auctions were held by the East India Company, which at the time held the monopoly for the import of tea (and other goods) from China and India. They were held at the headquarters of the Company on Leadenhall Street. The building was decorated with reliefs of ships, sailors, fish and a large coat of arms, and swiftly became known as East India House.

Auctions were held roughly quarterly, and tea was sold 'by the candle'. This meant that rather than allowing bidding to go on for an unlimited length of time, a candle was lit at the beginning of the sale of each lot, and when an inch of the candle had burnt away, the hammer fell and the sale was ended. In the late seventeenth century tea was not always the star of the show, as the auctions sold other goods, primarily fabrics, which the Company had brought back from the East. But by the early eighteenth century, tea was so popular that the London Tea Auction came into its own.

It was something of a riotous affair. An anonymous tea dealer, writing in 1826, described the noise and confusion of an auction taking place at East India House: 'To the uninitiated a Tea sale appears to be a mere arena in which the comparative strength of the lungs of a portion of his Majesty´s subjects are to be tried. No one could for an instant suspect the real nature of the business for which the assemblage was congregated...'

Things changed in 1834, when the East India Company ceased to be a commercial enterprise, and tea became a 'free trade' commodity. The tea auction had to find a new home - and it was moved from the splendour of East India House, via a brief sojourn at a dance studio, to the newly built London Commercial Salerooms on Mincing Lane. Within a few years, various tea merchants followed the auction and established offices of Mincing Lane, earning it the nickname the 'Street of Tea'.

By the middle of the nineteenth century tea was such a popular beverage that auctions took place monthly, and then weekly, and the tradition of selling 'by the candle' was replaced by more practical methods. Tea was sent from India, China, Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) and Africa for sale at the auction, and as the Auction grew busier and busier, a practice developed of devoting particular days of the week to the sale of teas from each individual country. By the 1950s, a third of all the world's tea was bought through the auction. Once purchased, the tea was sent from the London warehouses either direct to retailers where it was sold loose, or to companies which specialised in blending and packaging. These companies then sold the tea ready packed under various brand names, offering a wide range of choice to tea-drinkers.

Except for breaks necessitated by the First and Second World Wars, the London Tea Auction continued to be held regularly until almost the end of the twentieth century, though its location moved first to Plantation House, then to Sir John Lyon House, and finally in 1990 to the London Chamber of Commerce. Yet its business gradually declined, particularly after India, Sri Lanka and Kenya became independent states in 1947, 1948 and 1963 respectively. The owners of many tea estates preferred to sell their teas as soon as possible after manufacture, rather than go through the costly and timely process of shipping them to England for auction.

To meet this demand auctions were set up in locations including Calcutta, Colombo and Mombassa, and they gradually eroded sales in London. The decline of the London auction was further hastened by new methods of international trading, such as sales via the telephone and the internet. The methods of the auction became increasingly outdated, and it was decided that the sale on 29 June 1998 would be the last. The proceeds of the final auction went to charity, and a grand City tradition came to an end.


Catherine of Braganza

In the contemporary era tea is so much associated with the British way of life that it can come as a surprise to learn that it owes much of its popularity here to a foreign princess. While it is not true to say that Catherine of Braganza, the queen-consort of Charles II of England, actually introduced tea to Britain, she certainly had much to do with it becoming a fashionable and widely drunk beverage.Portuguese traders imported it to their homeland from the East, and its high price and exoticism helped it to become very fashionable in aristocratic circles and at the royal court,where Catherine grew up. By the mid-seventeenth century, it was very popular there.Tea had also gained popularity in elite society in Holland, through Dutch trade in the East, and in neighbouring countries. But at this stage, Britain somewhat lagged behind. The famous English diarist Samuel Pepys first mentioned drinking tea in his diary entry for 25 September 1660. He wrote that he had been discussing foreign affairs with some friends, 'And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never drank before'. Since Pepys was a member of the wealthy and fashionable London set, his failure to mention tea earlier suggests that it was still unusual at this time. This was soon to change. Just a few months before Pepys was writing, in May 1660, Charles II had been restored to the throne after the Commonwealth administration which had been set up by Oliver Cromwell in 1649 collapsed under the weight of its own unpopularity. But Charles II inherited many debts from that government, and soon ran up new ones of his own, and so was desperately short of cash. One solution to this was to marry a wealthy foreign princess and to demand with her a great deal of money or goods as a dowry. After some negotiation, it was agreed that he would marry Catherine, and that her father King John IV of Portugal would provide with her several ships full of luxury goods, some as gifts and some which could be sold to pay off Charles II's debts. These goods included a chest of tea, the favourite drink at the Portuguese court.Catherine arrived in Portsmouth on 13 May 1662. It had been a long and stormy crossing, and as soon as she arrived she asked for a cup of tea. So rare was it at this time that there was none available; the princess was offered a glass of ale instead. Not surprisingly, this did not make her feel any better, and for a time she was forced by illness to retire to her bedchamber. Eventually though Catherine and Charles II were married, on 21 May 1662. Initially Catherine, a deeply pious Catholic who had been schooled in a convent, found it difficult to fit in at the bawdy and fun-loving English court. But over time she established herself, and as the pre-eminent woman in the kingdom became something of a trend-setter. Although she adopted English fashions, she continued to prefer the cuisine of her native Portugal - including tea. Soon her taste for tea had caused a fad at the royal court. This then spread to aristocratic circles and then to the wealthier classes. In 1663 the poet and politician Edmund Waller wrote a poem in honour of the queen for her birthday:

Venus her Myrtle, Phoebus has his bays;
Tea both excels, which she vouchsafes to praise.
The best of Queens, the best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.
The Muse's friend, tea does our fancy aid,
Regress those vapours which the head invade,
And keep the palace of the soul serene,
Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen.

As well as being important to the growth of tea's popularity in Britain, the reign of Charles II was also crucial in laying the foundations for the growth of the British tea trade (and of British trade in the east generally). The East India Company, the commercial company that enjoyed a monopoly on trade with the 'Indies' (that is, lands east of Africa and west of South America) was highly favoured by Charles II. This was not wholly surprising, since the Company had showered him with gifts upon his restoration to the throne. Charles confirmed its monopoly, and also extended it to give the Company unprecedented powers to occupy by military force places with which they wished to trade (so long as the people there were not Christians). Further, another gift to Charles II in Catherine's dowry was Bombay in India (now called Mumbai). This valuable port was made over to the East India Company, for an annual rent of £10 in gold. In time it became the Company's Far East trading headquarters and was to prove important to the tea trade. It is certainly fitting that when in 1664 the Company opened its first trading point in Macau, the merchants sent a silver case of tea and cinnamon oil as a gift to Charles II and Queen Catherine.

The marriage of Queen Catherine and Charles II in fact was not an altogether happy union. They had no children together, a source of great heartache for them both, and made worse for Catherine by the fact that Charles had several illegitimate children from a series of mistresses. Further, Catherine was a Roman Catholic, which occasionally made her a victim of popular anti-Catholic feeling. Although she remained in England for some years after her husband's death in 1685, she eventually retired to Portugal, where she died in 1705. But while though Catherine's experience as queen of England may not have been an entirely successful or happy one in many ways, it is this young foreign princess whom we have to thank for the development of the British taste for tea.

A Social History of Tea

A cup of tea is a vital part of everyday life for the majority of people in modern Britain - in fact tea is so integral to our routine, that it is difficult to imagine life without it! But it was not always so; tea was once a luxury product that only the rich could afford, and at one time there was even a debate about whether it might be bad for the health. It was over the course of several hundred years that tea gained its place as our national drink, and only relatively recently that its health-giving properties have been recognised.Tea first became established in Britain because of the influence of a foreign princess, Catherine of Braganza, the queen of Charles II. A lover of tea since her childhood in Portugal, she brought tea-drinking to the English royal court, and set a trend for the beverage among the aristocracy of England in the seventeenth century.

The fashion soon spread beyond these elite circles to the middle classes, and it became a popular drink at the London coffee houses where wealthy men met to do business and discuss the events of the day. But the tea that was being drunk in those seventeenth century coffee houses would probably be considered undrinkable now. Between 1660 and 1689, tea sold in coffee houses was taxed in liquid form. The whole of the day's tea would be brewed in the morning, taxed by a visiting excise officer, and then kept in barrels and reheated as necessary throughout the rest of the day. So a visitor to the coffee house in the late afternoon would be drinking tea that had been made hours before in the early morning! The quality of the drink improved after 1689, when the system of taxation was altered so that tea was taxed by the leaf rather than by the liquid.

Some coffee houses also sold tea in loose leaf form so that it could be brewed at home. This meant that it could be enjoyed by women, who did not frequent coffee houses. Since it was relatively expensive, tea-drinking in the home must have been largely confined to wealthier households, where women would gather for tea parties. Such a party would be a genteel social occasion, using delicate china pots and cups, silver tea kettles and elegantly carved tea jars and tea tables. All the equipment would be set up by the servants, and then the tea would be brewed by the hostess (aided by a servant on hand to bring hot water) and served by her to her guests in dainty cups. Both green and black teas were popular, and sugar was frequently added (though like tea, this was an expensive import); in the seventeenth century though, it was still unusual for milk to be added to the beverage. We can imagine then that while seventeenth century men were at the coffee houses drinking tea and exchanging gossip, their wives gathered at one another's homes to do exactly the same thing - just in a more refined atmosphere!

Fluctuations in the level of tax meant fluctuations in the price of tea, and during the seventeenth century frequent tea-drinking was beyond the means of the majority of British people.But despite its high price, the British took to tea drinking with enormous enthusiasm.In the eighteenth century there was a clear gap between the large number of people who wanted to enjoy tea regularly, and the relatively small number of people who could actually afford to do so. And into this gap stepped the smugglers. If tea was smuggled in, no duty was paid on it, so it could be sold much more cheaply. Highly-organised smuggling networks were developed to cater for the popular demand for tea. Though these gangs of smugglers could frequently be ruthless in their practices, such was the popularity of tea-drinking that many people were prepared to turn a blind eye. By the later eighteenth century, it is estimated that more tea was smuggled into Britain than was brought in legally. This had two important effects for tea drinking: firstly, because it made tea affordable, it made the beverage ever more popular among all sections of society, and ever more integral to everyday life. Secondly, because the smugglers were based in coastal areas and their networks spread across the countryside, it drove the enthusiasm for tea drinking out of the larger towns and cities and into rural areas.

By 1785 the government (under pressure from legal tea merchants whose profits were being seriously undermined by all the smuggling) slashed the duty on tea, making it much more affordable. This wiped out the illegal smuggling trade virtually overnight. It still was not cheap, and for many years tea was often adulterated with leaves from other plants or with leaves that had already been brewed, which made it more affordable but much less pleasant! There was a great deal of concern about adulteration - some unscrupulous individuals added poisonous chemicals to make green 'tea' the right colour - and these concerns led to an increase in popularity in black tea, and a parallel increase in the addition of milk to tea. Such was the popularity of the beverage that many employers provided free tea to their employees (just like tea breaks in offices and factories today!) while household servants were often provided with a tea allowance. Although it is not documented, these employers were surely well aware that a cup of tea was just the thing to refresh their employees and perk them up.

But not everyone agreed that tea was an appropriate drink for the working classes. Indeed, from the early eighteenth century well into the nineteenth century a debate raged among middle and upper-class commentators about the benefits or otherwise of tea drinking - and particularly about whether the lower classes should be allowed to drink tea at all. This was partly based upon a consideration of whether tea might be injurious to health (it was a long time before the benefits of tea to health would be scientifically proven) but also partly based upon snobbery and a belief that the poor existed essentially to serve the needs of the rich.In 1706 a book by a doctor from Montpelier, France, was translated into English. Its title:Wholesome Advice against the Abuse of Hot Liquors'. Its particular targets were tea, coffee and hot chocolate. In the late seventeenth century, great medicinal claims had been made for hot drinks, including tea, and this book was a response to them, arguing that though while moderate consumption could be beneficial, an excess of hot drinks caused the blood and insides to heat up and that 'Excess of Heat is the most Common Cause of Sickness and Death'. Indeed, noted the doctor, 'The name of Phlegeton, one of the rivers of Hell, coming from a word that signifies to Burn, denotes, That the Abuse of Hot Liquors contributes very much to People the Kingdom of Death'. Medical science at the time was so basic that the 'evidence' presented in the book was based largely upon vague anatomical knowledge and references to Bible stories and classical Greek and Roman texts. It is noted, for example, that Methuselah, the Old Testament figure who lived almost a thousand years, never drank hot liquors.This book though counselled moderation rather than abstinence (and noted indeed that an excess of cold is equally as damaging as an excess of heat). But a few decades later in 1748 John Wesley, the great preacher and founder of the Methodist movement, was arguing for complete abstinence from tea, on the grounds that it gave rise to 'numberless disorders, particularly those of a nervous kind'. He cited the example of himself, claiming that tea drinking had caused in him a 'Paralytick disorder', which had cleared up since he began to abstain from the beverage. Wesley urged that the money previously spent by an individual on tea should instead be given to the poor, and as an alternative hot infusions could be made from English herbs including sage or mint. His argument was certainly thorough (although medically entirely incorrect), and he even touched on how one ought to deal with the awkward situation of having to refuse an offered cup of tea. The tract is shot through with the emphasis on the religious importance of self-denial that was a central tenet of early Methodism, but in fact at later in his life Wesley went back to tea drinking.In the following years the debate about the health-giving properties of tea got under way in earnest. An anonymous 'Gentleman of Cambridge' published a pamphlet claiming (based on the work of a physician who had served no less a figure than the King of Denmark!) that tea was virtually a cure-all. He cited conditions as varied as scurvy, rheumatism, inflammation and poor sight, all of which he said could be cured by the daily drinking of large quantities of tea. He also noted that it was particularly beneficial to the 'fair sex' (meaning women), which was a great contrast to the doctor of Montpelier, who was very concerned that hot liquors could heat the womb and adversely affect a woman's fertility (his evidence for the adverse effect of heat included the Biblical figure Rachel, who had rather a hot temper, and had to wait many years to conceive).In 1757 the philanthropist Jonas Hanway published an essay on the effects of tea drinking, 'considered as pernicious to health, obstructing industry and impoverishing the nation'. Published in the form of 25 letters written to two wealthy female friends, Hanway dismissed the claim that tea could cure scurvy, and claimed instead, like Wesley, that it caused 'paralitic and nervous disorders'. He was particularly concerned about its effect on women: 'How many sweet creatures of your sex, languish with weak digestion, low spirits, lassitudes, melancholy, and... nervous complaints? Tell them to change their diet, and among other articles leave off drinking tea, it is more than probable the greatest part of them will be restored to health.' He also appealed to their vanity - insisting that due to women drinking tea 'there is not quite so much beauty in this land as there was'. But more than just injurious to women, Hanway believed that tea-drinking risked ruining the nation, because of its increasing prevalence among the working classes, and associated the drinking of tea with the drinking of gin. He argued that the poor could ill-afford to spend their money on tea, claiming that 'those will have tea who have not bread', and that children born to poor mothers were dying because their mothers were spending all their money on tea, and drinking this 'liquid fire' while breast-feeding. This, he claimed, had led to a decline in numbers in the workforce, which he believed was obstructing agriculture and manufacturing, and would leave the country open to attack because there would not be enough fit men for the army. Thus Hanway urged the rich to give up tea drinking, in the hope that their example would be followed by the poor, on whose labour Britain depended. Much of Hanway's essay is then based on the assumption that the injurious habits of the poor must be controlled, not for the sake of poor themselves, but because a decline in their numbers or would ultimately be damaging to the interests of the rich.In 1758 an anonymous author entered the debate with a pamphlet entitled The Good and Bad Effects of Tea Consider'd, which very much supported Hanway's arguments. The pamphlet argued that while tea-drinking was acceptable for the middle and upper-classes, it should be prevented among 'persons of an inferior rank and mean abilities'. Although his argument started reasonably, pointing out that a cup of tea alone was an inadequate breakfast for those who had to do hard work, it soon descended into a tirade based, like Hanway's original essay, on the belief that the social habits of the poor must be controlled for the sake of the rich. He claimed that the practice of tea-drinking in the afternoon among working class women meant that they were 'neglecting their spinning knitting etc spending what their husbands are labouring hard for, their children are in rags, gnawing a brown crust, while these gossips are canvassing over the affairs of the whole town, making free with the good name and reputaion of their superiors.' He believed that it also encouraged these 'artful husseys' to drink spirits and to complain about their husbands, and urged innocent people to hold out against their malign influence. Unsurprisingly, this author was set against the practice of providing servants with an allowance for tea.But not everybody followed Hanway's argument. The eminent intellectual Dr Samuel Johnson, a devotee of tea, so disagreed with Hanway's 1757 essay that he published a hilariously satirical review of it in the Literary Magazine, a monthly journal.

Johnson started of by admitting that Hanway should expect little justice, since Johnson himself was 'a hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant, whose kettle scarcely has time to cool, who with Tea amuses the evening, with Tea solaces the midnights, and with Tea welcomes the morning'. He then poured scorn on Hanway's suggestion that women are less beautiful than they once were, before considering the claim that tea-drinking has led to an increase in nervous disorders. Johnson suggested that rather than blaming tea, one ought to blame the 'general languor [that] is the effect of general luxury, of general idleness', because those who are idle get no exercise, and are thus susceptible to nervous disorders. He argued that there is only a link with tea-drinking because tea-drinking is common among those who are already 'idle and luxurious'. Johnson was also perceptive enough to note that often tea-drinking was just an excuse for bringing people together: 'a pretence for assembling to prattle, for interrupting business' - but unlike tea's critics, who saw such gatherings as dangerous (particularly among the working classes), Johnson saw no harm in it. Thus he has much in common with many modern tea-drinkers, who delight in getting together with a cuppa for a gossip and a giggle.Jonas Hanway was as furious with Johnson's review as Johnson had been scathing about Hanway's original work. He wrote a response to Johnson's review in the Gazateer, and in turn Johnson was moved to respond to this, again in the Literary Magazine, the only occasion on which Johnson was ever moved to reply to an attacker.Hanway would have been wise not to have taken up his pen again, for Johnson's reply to him was so witty and effective that it demolished once again Hanway's arguments. Thus ended the spat between Jonas Hanway and Dr Samuel Johnson, but the arguments about tea raged for years. As late as 1826, a London tea dealer (admittedly biased by his profession) published a book which included a defence of tea from the claim that it caused 'nervous disorders'. With some insight, he questioned the medical basis of these disorders, and suggested that they might be cured not by giving up tea, but by the sufferers taking up regular exercise, eating healthy food and getting plenty of sleep. He noted that tea 'quenches the most burning thirst, and cheers the spirits without heating the blood... I am inclined to believe that the man who could willingly forgo the pleasures of the tea-table and society around it, wants that kind of congenial spirit without which life would be a burden, and the world a dreary waste...'. In conclusion he pointed out the government provided tea to the Navy, without any concern that 'our future enemies will have to contend with bilious and nervous sailors, instead of hearts of oak, and sinews of iron'. The arguments are now over once and for all, since it has now been shown scientifically that drinking four cups of tea a day can be beneficial to health.Given the insistence of some eighteenth-century authors of a link between tea-drinking and 'dram-drinking', it is somewhat ironic then that tea-drinking was actually being used as a weapon in the armoury of the temperance movement - a movement that was primarily an attempt by sections of the ruling classes to get the working classes to give up alcohol. Virtually since historical records began, alcoholic drinks had been a central part of the diet of men, women and even children in Britain. There was some sense in this: weak alcoholic drinks could quench the drinker's thirst without the risk of contracting disease from contaminated water. But the eighteenth century saw a rise in the popularity of strong wines such as port among the upper classes, and of spirits, particularly gin, among the working classes. In the nineteenth century there was the inevitable backlash, inspired primarily by upper class fears that gin-sodden working class would be difficult to control and unable to work. Thus a movement developed in support of temperance - the drinking of alcohol only in moderation, if at all. Tea was useful to the temperance movement because it offered a refreshing, thirst-quenching alternative to alcohol that was cheap and (made of course from boiled water) safe to drink. Preachers of temperance urged people to sign a pledge to give up drinking alcohol, and millions did so (although merely signing the paper was no guarantee of a future of abstinence). Often this took place at mass meetings, and tea would be served to those who attended. The Methodist church was at the forefront of the temperance movement and often served tea at its meetings, rather ironically since its founder, John Wesley, had been so anti-tea.During the 1830's the movement was so successful that businessmen recognised that there was a gap in the market for catering outlets that sold non-alcoholic refreshments - a temperance alternative to pubs and inns. A great many new cafes and coffee houses opened up. Though in principal similar to the coffee houses of the seventeenth century, they were different in that these new businesses catered to the needs of ordinary people, not just wealthy men. From the 1880's, tea rooms and tea shops became popular and fashionable, particularly among women, for whom they offered a most welcome and respectable environment in which to meet, chat and relax, without the need to be accompanied by a man.

Later in the nineteenth century then, going out to a tea shop became a popular pastime for women. But tea remained a beverage that was mostly drunk at home. Tea was drunk at breakfast by all social classes. Among the rich, it would typically accompany a vast spread of bread or toast, cold meats and pies, eggs and fish. Of course some families favoured a lighter breakfast, and lower down the social scale this was a necessity rather than an option. Poor families usually began the day with a cup of tea, as well as bread and butter, or perhaps porridge or gruel. Tea was then drunk at regular intervals throughout the day.Tea features often in the work of the great nineteenth century author and social commentator Charles Dickens. His books make it clear that tea-drinking was ubiquitous among the working classes, and through the eyes of Pip, the hero of Great Expectations, we can sense Dickens' affection for it: '...we returned into the Castle, where we found Miss Skiffins preparing tea. The responsibility of making toast was delegated to the Aged [an elderly man]... The Aged prepared such a haystack of buttered toast, that I could scarcely see him over it... while Miss Skiffins prepared such a jorum of tea, that the pig in the back premises became strongly excited... We ate the whole of the toast, and drank tea in proportion, and it was delightful to see how warm and greasy we all got after it.' On the other hand, in Oliver Twist, Dickens uses the precise tea-making ceremony of Mrs Corney, the matron of workhouse, to display her self-satisfaction, and she is wooed over a cup of tea by the tyrannical and grasping beadle, Mr Bumble, who, when she has she left the room, inspects her tea-making equipment to check that it is genuine silver.

While tea was part of the staple diet of the poor, among the rich tea-drinking was evolving into an elaborate social occasion. Afternoon teas probably had their roots in the ladies tea-parties of the seventeenth centuries, but evolved during the eighteenth century into something of a national institution. Tradition has it that afternoon tea was 'invented' by Anna Maria, the wife of the seventh Duke of Bedford, who in 1841 started drinking tea and having a bite to eat in the mid-afternoon, to tide her over during the long gap between lunch (eaten at about 1 o'clock) and dinner (eaten at around 7 o'clock). This swiftly developed into a social occasion, and soon the Duchess was inviting guests to join her for afternoon tea at 5 o'clock. It did not become instantly popular elsewhere though, partly because in fashionable circles dinner was eaten earlier, leaving less of a gap to be filled by afternoon tea. But by the 1860s the fashion for afternoon tea had become widespread. Such teas were elegant affairs, with tea drunk from the best china and small amounts of food presented perfectly on little china plates. On offer might be bread and butter, scones and cakes, and sandwiches with the crusts cut off.Contemporary manuals on etiquette and good housekeeping are full of advice on how to conduct a correct afternoon tea. The idea of needing an instruction book in order to enjoy a cup of tea and a biscuit with some friends seems rather alarming these days, but although nineteenth century afternoon teas were elaborate affairs from our point of view, in those days they were considered relatively informal occasions. Invitations were issued verbally or by note, and rather than attending for the entire duration guests were free to pop in when it suited them and likewise leave when they wanted to. The hostess would pour the tea, but it was the responsibility of the men to hand the cups round. If there were no men present, this job fell to the daughters of the hostess or other young women present (goodness know what happened if there were no men and no daughters available!). There was a fashion for women to wear tea gowns, but these were softer and less restrictive than evening gowns, and it was not always deemed necessary for women to wear gloves. Nonetheless many did, and the author of The Etiquette of Modern Society points out that a thoughtful hostess should always provide biscuits with tea, since these can be eaten more easily than sandwiches without removing one's gloves.

Some poorer households also adopted the practice of afternoon tea, and in some areas women pooled their resources and equipment in order to make such occasions affordable. But more common among the working classes was 'high tea'. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when most people worked in agriculture, the working classes tended to have the main meal of their day at midday, with a much lighter supper late in the evening. But after the industrial revolution, more and more people were employed for long shifts in factories or mines, and hot midday meals were thus less convenient. They were also not approriate for the increasing numbers of children who were at school during the day. The custom developed of having a high tea in the late afternoon, at the end of the working day, consisting of strong tea, and hearty, hot food. Unlike afternoon tea, high tea was the main meal of the day, rather than a stop-gap between lunch and dinner.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, there could be no doubt about the importance of tea to the British people. This was acknowledged by the government during the First World War. Tea was not initially rationed, but tea prices began to rise as a result of ships being sunk by German submarines, and so the government took over the importation of tea and controlled prices. During the Second World War, the government took even more drastic action to safeguard this essential morale-booster. Just two days after war broke out, it took control of all tea stocks, and ordered that the vast reserves then stored in London must be dispersed to warehouses outside the capital in case of bombing. When during 1940 enemy blockades prevented ships from getting through, the Minstry of Food introduced a ration of 2oz of tea per person per week for those over the age of five. This was not a lot, enough for two or three cups a day of rather weak tea. But there was extra tea for those in the armed forces, and on the domestic front for those in vital jobs such as firemen and steel workers. Tea was also sent in Red Cross parcels to British prisoners of war abroad.

The end of the war in 1945 did not signal an immediate end to rationing, and tea remained rationed until October 1952. It was shortly after this that the tea bag, an American invention, began to make an impact on British tea-drinking habits. It was to revolutionise the tea industry, and today 96 per cent of all tea sold in Britain is in tea bag form.

Rationing by no means diminished the British enthusiasm for tea. In January 1946, the author and journalist George Orwell published an essay called 'A Nice Cup of Tea' in the Evening Standard newspaper, calling tea 'one of the main stays of civilsation in this country', and listing his 11 'golden rules' for tea making.He acknowledged the controversial nature of some of them - such as his insistence that the tea should be poured and then the milk added, and that tea should always be drunk without sugar - but he also offered sensible advice to make the 2oz ration go as far as possible, such as using water that is still at the point of boiling, in order to make the strongest brew from the least tea. Orwell also used the ritual of tea-making as a device in his fiction. In his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the main character, Gordon Comstock, makes tea secretly in his rented room as a means to undermine the oppressive authority of his landlady, who does not allow it. But the ritual and secret delight of Comstock's evening cup of tea also reveals something about himself: Comstock, an aspiring poet, has attempted to reject everything that he associates with bourgeois society - but he cannot reject its favourite drink.

Certainly for much of the twentieth century, methods of preparing tea were still the subject of some snobbery: in a letter to Nancy Mitford (a social commentator and great satirist of upper class behaviour), the author Evelyn Waugh mentions a mutual friend who uses the expression 'rather milk in first' to express condemnation of those lower down the social scale. Nowadays the 'milk in first or tea in first' debate is altogether more light-hearted, but nonetheless everyone has his or her preferred method of making tea. Tea has for centuries been a beverage at the very heart of social life in Britain - for millions of people today, just for Dr Johnson nearly 250 years ago, tea amuses the evenings, solaces the midnights and welcomes the mornings.