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Tea democratised (part five)
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Tea was seen as such a marketable commodity that a few businessmen used it as a means to advertise or boost a separate enterprise. David Lewis, founder of Lewis’s department stores (first in Liverpool and later in Manchester and Birmingham), started selling ‘Lewis’s Two-shilling Tea’ in the 1880s. By buying straight from the tea ships at Liverpool docks, Lewis was able to offer affordable tea to his customers. Within three years of launching it, Lewis was selling about 20 000 lb of tea a week. When he opened his Birmingham store in 1885, he cannily placed the tea counter right in the centre of the ground floor where it would act as a magnet for tea-craving customers.

Tea democratised (part five)

Tin tea caddies were an effective means of promoting brand awareness and encouraging customer loyalty. This particularly attractive caddy dates back to the early twentieth century and features scenes from children’s stories and nursery rhymes.

Savvy slogans, enticing offers and competitions, memorable packaging (including beautifully designed and, now highly collectable, promotional tea caddies) and colourful advertising all helped create recognisable brands. Some companies, such as Co-op Tea, used dividends to stimulate customer loyalty: on each packet was a stamp to be stuck on a card; when the card was complete, it could be exchanged for a gift or money. A few companies went to even greater lengths to get noticed. In 1894, Priory Tea used a hot-air balloon to drop promotional leaflets over the streets of Birmingham.

Tea democratised (part five)

Ty-phoo claimed that its tea had special digestive qualities and was, accordingly, successfully sold in chemists across Britain.

Those companies that had focused on developing a strong brand began to dominate the tea market. By the early decades of the twentieth century, these included Mazawattee, Brooke Bond, Co-op Teas and Ty˙phoo (established in 1903 and famous for its ‘one blend, one price’ approach).
Both cheaper and more conspicuous, by the end of the nineteenth century tea was enjoyed at every level of a rapidly expanding population, from servants, gypsies, farmers and factory workers to the aristocracy and members of the royal family. Each had their own tea-drinking rituals and routines.

Tea democratised (part five)

An early twentieth-century postcard showing gypsies enjoying afternoon tea.

Perhaps the most significant tea-related development in the upper echelons of society was the introduction of afternoon tea in the early 1840s. With dinner moving later into the evening (from between 4 pm and 5 pm in the late eighteenth century to about 7.30 pm in the 1850s), there was now a need for an afternoon ‘snack’ to fill the gap between luncheon – a light midday meal – and dinner. Many historians attribute the appearance of afternoon tea to Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford and friend of Queen Victoria. After experiencing ‘a sinking feeling’ in the late afternoon, she realised that sandwiches served with cake and tea were the perfect antidote to her complaint. She invited friends to share her new habit and soon the wonderful British custom of afternoon tea was born. Scones were not a common feature of nineteenth-century afternoon teas; only in the twentieth century did they become such an intrinsic part of the ritual.

Tea democratised (part five)

This wonderfully realistic mid- to late-nineteenth-century painting by Matthias Robinson shows two ladies enjoying A Gossip over a Cup of Tea.

Tea democratised (part five)

Edwardian tea gowns often featured attractive lace inserts and allowed more freedom of movement than other more corseted dresses.

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