HOW TEA CAME TO ENGLAND

A Love Affair That Brought War…

Tea Was A Love Affair Between China And Great Britain. The Type That Brought Wars…

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. sign up for email updates for screening]

The British East India Company began importing tea via Java in 1669, nearly six decades after the Dutch did. How much tea was imported? A measly 140 pounds, primarily as a gift to King Charles and Queen Catherine. A decade later, the British East India Company glutted the London market by importing 5,000 pounds of tea and holding its first tea auction on March 11, 1679.

In 1689, China granted the English a trading post in Canton. The British East India Company imported its first tea direct from China. And her thirst grew.

By 1730, 1 million pounds of tea were imported. Tea had become popular among the upper crust. By the 1750s, tea became the most popular drink in Britain, outselling beer. Tea’s high margins created a profit center for the British, generating 10% of annual tax revenue.

The British addiction to tea and its riches led to serious consequences, including two Opium Wars against China, and losing the American colonies.

The opium-for-tea trade was the basis of the first Opium War (1839-1841). This “battle 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:

British William Gladstone Speech Against 1st Opium War 1840.pdf


Source: Quoted by W. Travis Hanes III and Frank Sanello in “The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another.” Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2002. 78-79

Document 5.4: Excerpts from William Gladstone’s speech to Britain’s House of Commons, 1840

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.

Read more about the First Opium War here

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