HISTORY OF TEA IN AMERICA
Fuel For The Spirit of Independence
Fascinating History of Tea In America
The history of tea in America began in the early 1600s when the Dutch claimed New Amsterdam (now New York) as a colony. Serving as the governor, Peter Stuyvesant brought tea to colonial America in 1647 via the Dutch East India Company. So Colonial America began enjoying hot tea a decade earlier than tea first appeared in advertisements in London.
The Dutch couldn’t keep New Amsterdam for long. Seventeen years later, on Sept. 8, 1664, Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam to the British without a fight.
By the early 1700s, tea drinking became more widespread. The colonists boiled more than one million pots of tea per year, and tea’s popularity grew from there.
Tea was a lucrative business. It came to the American Colonies via the British East India Company, with teas imported from China, the only country on earth that knew how to grow and make tea up until the mid-19th century.
In 1773, British Parliament passed the Tea Act, granting the British East India Company exclusivity to sell tea throughout the American colonies. Under the Tea Act, all duties charged by the crown on shipments of tea to the colonies would be waived or refunded upon sale. Monopoly at its best.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Overtaxing this beloved drink stirred the Americans’ spirit of independence and desire for local governance. “No taxation without representation.” On Dec. 16, 1773, the Boston Tea Party was born–a pivotal moment in the history of tea in America.
In the movie 9 DRAGONS TEA, we interviewed tea historian Bruce Richardson at the Old South Meeting House, ground zero of the Boston Tea Party assembly that sparked the American Revolution.
How Many Chests of Tea Were Thrown Into The Boston Harbor?
Three hundred forty-two chests of tea leaves, all from China, owned by the British East India Company, were thrown into the Boston Harbor on that fateful December evening.
What Types of Tea Were Thrown Into The Boston Harbor?
About two-thirds were Black tea (more on that later), and the rest were Green tea from various regions of China.
So How Much Tea Was Dumped into the Harbor?
A total of 92,000 pounds of tea leaves, enough to fill 18.5 million teabags. Put in simple terms:
- If you were to stack up that many teabags, it would be 70 miles high.
- Interestingly, 62-miles high from earth qualifies as being in space!
- The total value of this tea amounted to one million dollars in today’s value.
That’s how much tea was dumped into Boston Harbor nearly 300 years ago. So this booming tea splash was heard around the world.
Every chest of tea was from China. Two-thirds from Wuyi Mountains, Fujian province.
- Lapsang Souchong
History of Tea in America: Passion Shared By Founding Fathers
Since the early days, America’s brightest minds had been avid tea lovers, including:
- George Washington
- Thomas Jefferson
- John Adams
- John Quincy Adams
See the beautiful China Canton Blue tea set in the photo carousel above? It belonged to George Washington. The love for exotic Chinese teaware from the 17th through the 19th centuries also marks a distinct chapter in the history of tea in America.
History of Tea In America – Contribution to Tea
There is more to the history of tea in America than you may know.
Americans are known for their innovation, industrialization, love for convenience, and mobility. So naturally, this mindset led to breakthroughs in modern-day tea practices, for example:
Invention of Iced Tea
What would the world be without iced tea, especially on hot summer days? This beloved global beverage deserves a star in the history of tea in America.
The first recorded chilled tea recipe was published in The Kentucky Housewife, an 1839 cookbook. Then at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893, attendees got to experience iced tea.
An enterprising merchant set up a booth to sell the brewed tea – chilled with ice – and made $2,000 in revenue by the end of the fair. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $63,889 in today’s money. This foreshadowed the vast iced tea market to come.
Today, iced tea is a massive market. In 2021, tea drinkers consumed 37 billion liters around the world. The ready-to-drink (specialty tea) market was valued at nearly $30 billion globally in 2019.
Invention of Tea Bags
Many of us probably couldn’t make it through a day without teabags. In the history of tea in America, the invention of this modern tea-drinking convenience brings a dash of vibrant colors.
Around the turn of the 20th century, America entered the age of industrialism. The invention of machinery fueled mass production at an industrial scale.
In the 1920s, Americans developed and adopted machinery to package tea into tea bags. Within a decade, tea bag production reached mass quantity levels of 18,000 tea bags a day.
The United States readily adopted teabags, while the British resisted modern convenience. It took nearly 40 years for the Brits to embrace teabags. Today, 96% of tea consumption in England is from teabags.
Cultivation of Tea Plants in America
The history of tea in America is rooted deeply in South Carolina.
The tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, came to the United States in 1799 by a French botanist, Francois Andre Michaux. He planted it near Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1884, the U.S. Department of Agriculture planted an experimental tea plantation outside Summerville, South Carolina. The program ran for four years and ended due to high labor costs.
Enter Dr. Charles Shepard. He purchased the abandoned government establishment and transformed it into Pinehurst Tea Plantation.
Dr. Shepard produced a variety of high-quality Oolong tea and won first prize at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
The enterprising tea planting doctor opened a vocational school to cover the hefty production costs, making tea-picking a part of the curriculum (brilliant doctor indeed), offering students a chance to learn and his plantation free labor!
Sadly, with the passing of Dr. Shepard in 1915, the plantation dwindled and was left unattended for over 40 years.
In 1960, the Thomas J. Lipton Company purchased the Pinehurst Tea Plantation and relocated the surviving tea plants to a research facility on the island of Wadmalaw, South Carolina.
After 24 years of field study, the Lipton Company concluded that America and tea farming were not agreeable due to the high labor costs.
As the tea branch grew, in 1987, Bill Hall, a third-generation tea taster, purchased the establishment from Lipton and named it the Charleston Tea Plantation.
Mr. Hall developed a new variety of tea: fruit-enhanced tea beverages, under the brand name American Classic Tea. Today, this brand is the first and only tea made in America.
The organic tea is harvested and manufactured on-site. In 2003, Bigelow purchased the American Classic Tea brand and the plantation. In 2020, Bigelow changed the name to Charleston Tea Garden.
For all Americans, we can thank Mr. Hall for our homegrown cup of tea. A prominent figure in the history of tea in America, we say with pride that Mr. Hall is the US version of Sir Thomas Lipton.
In 1995, the State of South Carolina adopted Sweet Tea as the official hospitality beverage. Interestingly, in China–tea’s birthplace–tea originated as a Southerner’s drink.
We hope you enjoyed the fascinating, winding history of tea in America. This cup of tea is infused with revolutionary spirit, enterprising upstarts, failing ventures, and eventually led to a fruitful global enterprise.
Lapsang Souchong…. This Tea changed World History.
DISCOVER THE ART OF TEA
Every coffee table deserves a beautiful tea book. A labor of love, this art book showcases glorious images, taking you on a visual journey through ancient tea rituals and how these practices bring calmness, mindfulness, and tranquility through the ages.