Historical Tea, conquering the Colonies
Friday, 26 December 2008
Just as archaeologists divide history into different periods based on the use of different materials — the stone age, the iron age, etc — you can also look at history as periods dominated by six different beverages: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, cola, and tea. All have been the defining drink during a pivotal historical period. And so it was in the American Colonies that the history of tea was key to their relationship with Great Britain, factoring into social, political and financial issues, even the development of fine art.
The practice of tea drinking arrived with colonists from both England and the Netherlands, and Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant is said to have introduced the first tea to the settlement of New Amsterdam (later re-named “New York”). Colonial settlers were confirmed tea drinkers, and in fact, Ruth Campbell Bigelow created the landmark Bigelow Tea Blend Constant Comment based on what she had learned of the practice in Colonial Times.
When tea was fully established as Britain’s national drink, maintaining the lucrative Tea trade helped drive British foreign policy. Tea production and commerce was a big part of the Empire, and ironically it contributed to the independence of the United States. Tea importation and taxation policy became an argument for independence as the British government imposed a series of taxes and restrictions on tea. Outraged Colonists took to smuggling tea and resisting the British taxes. When Parliament finally passed the Tea Act in 1773, creating a monopoly on all tea imported to the Americas, the Colonists were driven to the boiling point, and responded with the famous Boston Tea Party. A terrible waste of tea, true, but an important flashpoint in the ultimate independence of the colonies from Great Britain.