HOW TEA CAME TO ENGLAND

The Romance That Brought Wars…

A New Queen And A New Beverage

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The British romance with tea began when Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza, a tea lover, married King Charles II of England in 1662. Turned out, England’s new queen played a pivotal role in the fate of tea around the world centuries later. Discover the whole story in 9 DRAGONS TEA (watch trailer).

Birth of the British East India Company 

On a fateful night, New Year’s Eve 1600, Queen Elizabeth I, chartered the formation of Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies (whew, what a mouthful). This was thankfully shortened to The British East India Company (BEIC). Aka John Company, the Honorable English East India Company, and simply The Company.

The BEIC would become the most powerful entity on the planet for more than 200 years. It dominated trade, waged wars, and relentlessly drove the Crown’s reach throughout the world. More on this later.

Tea Began to Flow into England

The BEIC first imported tea via Java (Indonesia) in 1669, decades after the Dutch did.

How much tea was in that first order? A measly 140 pounds, primarily as a gift to the King’s new bride:

The first thing Princess Catherine of Braganza asked for when she first arrived in England in 1662 was a cup of tea. Although tea was sold in London’s coffee houses as a novelty then, it was uncommon and unavailable for her in Portsmouth. Instead, she was offered a small ale (probably warm).🤮

Before marrying King Charles, Princess Catherine was already an avid tea drinker, as tea was popular among the Portuguese aristocracy.

England’s Budding Interest In Tea

A decade later, the BEIC glutted the London market with 5,000 pounds of tea and held its first tea auction on March 11, 1679. However, tea drinking hadn’t caught on with the general public at this time, as tea was an exotic beverage with medicinal values consumed by the aristocrats.

In 1660, the famous diarist (blogger of those days) Samuel Pepys wrote about his first tea tasting, “I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before…”

English Tea Trade with China

In 1689, China finally granted the British a trading post in the port of Canton. The BEIC imported its first tea directly from China. And her thirst grew…

Blossoming of British Tea Culture

By 1730, 1 million pounds of tea were imported. Tea had become increasingly popular among the upper class.

Growing Thirst For Tea

Two decades later, tea became the most popular drink in England, outselling even beer! Moreover, tea’s high margins created a profit center for the British government, generating 10% of annual tax revenue.

British Addiction to Tea

The English fervent need for tea and its riches led to serious consequences — two Opium Wars against China, loss of the American colonies, and the expansion of her global empire.

An Empire Built On Tea

By the 1800s, tea became England’s national beverage.

Tea fueled the industrial revolution during the Victorian Era. For the first time in history, women were free to move around outside of their homes.

The birth of Afternoon tea culture dazzled the fancy hotels of London.

Tea took British women from the bedrooms to ballrooms, from the palace to parliament, and eventually even Downing Street.

Tea blazed the trail for the women’s suffrage movement.

By this time, tea was a constant-flowing, must-have household commodity. The BEIC’s monopoly on the lucrative tea trade powered its rise as a pseudo-government — an empire disguised as a merchant! 

At its height of dominance in 1832, the BEIC owned 450 vessels, not counting the warships. This was the force that built “an empire where the sun never set.”

This sets the stage for England’s two Opium Wars against China, culminating in a long-buried secret of how tea flowed from China to India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and other English colonies.

Opium-For-Trade

The opium-for-tea trade was the basis of the First Opium War (1839-1841). This “Battles of the Botanicals” launched by Great Britain was an immoral vehicle to rectify the trade deficit between the two mighty empires, thanks to the addiction to tea. The following excerpts from William Gladstone’s speech captured this sentiment:

Member of Parliament William Gladstone would go on to serve four terms as prime minister of Great Britain (between 1869 and 1893). He is remembered as a humanitarian and a tireless reformer. At the time he gave this speech, his twenty-four-year-old sister was addicted to laudanum, a legal painkiller made up of a mix of red wine and opium. Thomas Macaulay, Secretary of State for War, proposed military action against China. The debates in the press and in Parliament were extensive; many strongly opposed the opium trade.
Member of Parliament William Gladstone would go on to serve four terms as prime minister of Great Britain (between 1869 and 1893). He is remembered as a humanitarian and a tireless reformer. At the time he gave this speech, his twenty-four-year-old sister was addicted to laudanum, a legal painkiller made up of a mix of red wine and opium. Thomas Macaulay, Secretary of State for War, proposed military action against China. The debates in the press and in Parliament were extensive; many strongly opposed the opium trade.

Does he [Macaulay] know that the opium smuggled into China comes exclusively from British ports, that is, from Bengal and through Bombay? That we require no preventive services to put down this illegal traffic? We have only to stop the sailing of the smuggling vessels…it is a matter of certainty that if we stopped the exportation of opium from Bengal and broke up the depot at Lintin [near Guangzhou] and checked the cultivation of it in Malwa [an Indian province] and put a moral stigma on it, we should greatly cripple if not extinguish trade in it.

[The Chinese government] gave you notice to abandon your contraband trade. When they found you would not do so they had the right to drive you from their coasts on account of your obstinacy in persisting with this infamous and atrocious traffic.…justice, in my opinion, is with them [the Chinese]; and whilst they, the Pagans, the semicivilized barbarians have it on their side, we, the enlightened and civilized Christians, are pursuing objects at variance both with justice and with religion…a war more unjust in its origin, a war calculated in its progress to cover this country with a permanent disgrace, I do not know and have not read of. Now, under the auspices of the noble Lord [Macaulay], that flag is become a pirate flag, to protect an infamous traffic.

Watch a short clip as Christy takes you behind the scenes of 9 DRAGONS TEA.

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