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A new luxury (part three)
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Many coffee houses realised the commercial benefits of selling loose-leaf tea to their customers. This meant that men and especially women (who did not frequent the coffee houses) could enjoy the drink at home. Wealthy women subsequently initiated the refined custom of visiting each other for tea. These were elegant affairs involving dainty tea wares and furniture, such as teapots and cups, tea kettles, tea jars and tea tables. While servants laid out the table with the tea paraphernalia, the hostess brewed the tea herself and served it to her quests in her private sitting room, often known as a closet or boudoir. One such room can still be seen at one of Britain’s best preserved seventeenth-century houses: Ham House in Richmond, Surrey, home to the Duke and Duchess of Laureldale in the 1670s. it was in her Private Closet that the Duchess would keep some of her most treasured possessions, including her books and her tea. Here she would take tea with friends surrounded by lacquered, eastern-style furniture – an appropriately exotic setting for the enjoyment of what was at the time a highly exotic beverage. Visitors to Ham can still see the Duchess’s delicate white teapot.


A new luxury (part three)

Businessmen engaged in drinking, reading and lively conversation were a common sight in London’s coffee houses, as this print of Lloyd’s Coffee House vividly portrays.


In the early days of tea drinking in Britain, tea leaves were kept in Chinese porcelain jars with lids or stoppers. Tea was served in tiny porcelain teapots and drunk from small handle-less cups (also known as tea bowls). All these items of Chinese porcelain were transported on the same ships as the tea. Being both water-resistant and heavier than tea, the porcelain was placed in bilges of ships where it acted as essential ballast, and could be sold on arrival at the docks. In the period 1684 to 1791, it has been estimated that about 215 million pieces of Chinese porcelain were imported into Europe.


A new luxury (part three)

This late eighteenth-century Staffordshire pearlware tea canister has been designed to imitate a valuable Chinese export blue-and-white porcelain jar. From the eighteenth century onwards, countless variations of blue-and-white ceramics were produced by British potteries.


A new luxury (part three)

During the seventeenth century and for most of the eighteenth, tea cups (or bowls) were handle-less, as is this New Hall tea bowl from 1795. Handles started appearing in the 1750s, but it took over fifty years for them to become the norm.


When did the British start making their own teapots and tea wares? As we shall see in the next section, the British fascination for making tea wares really took off in the eighteenth century. However, one of the first English teapots was made out of silver in about 1670. It was given to the directors of the East India Company by Lord Berkeley. Its inscription reads: ‘This silver tea Pott was presented to the Committee of the East India Company by the Right Honourable George Lord Berkeley of Berkeley Castle’. This simple yet elegant item, similar in style to contemporary coffee or chocolate pots, is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The British always favoured adding sugar to their tea. Milk, on the other hand, didn’t appear in the drink until about 1720. The British habit of taking tea with milk probably originated in France in the late seventeenth century. It is strange to think that nowadays the French prefer to drink their tea without milk, and often accompanied with a slice of lemon.
Tea drinking in the seventeenth century was very much a royal and aristocratic pursuit. Many experts credit its popularity at the English royal court to the arrival in 1662 of King Charles II’s Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza. Tea was already a popular beverage in Portugal and Catherine herself had been enjoying it since her youth. She continued drinking tea after settling in England and helped establish a fashion for the drink. The appearance of tea drinking in Scotland has been partly attributed to Catherine’s sister-in-law Mary of Modena, wife of King James II (and James VII of Scotland). It was she who in the 1680s introduced the habit at Edinburgh’s Royal Palace at Holyrood. Subsequent monarchs William and Mary and Queen Anne (and, much later, Queen Victoria) were also keen tea drinkers.



A new luxury (part three)

A nineteenth-century painting shows items of porcelain being carefully packed. The man on the left is pouring sand into a box to stop the bowls from getting broken during transit.


Although tea leaves were still very expensive, by the end of the seventeenth century more and more wealthy families were enjoying tea as part of their daily routine. At breakfast, tea, coffee or chocolate were often served instead of the usual beer or ale. During the day, tea was drunk in the coffee houses or at home by women, and, in the evening, aristocratic men and women retired from the dinner table to have tea. As we shall see in the next chapter, during the course of the eighteenth century tea drinking began percolating down to a much broader section of society.


A new luxury (part three)

This fashionable mid-eighteenth-century lady is sipping her tea from a spoon while she waits for the drink to cool down.



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