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History

Women’s History Month: 3 Women Who Shaped the Tea Industry

March 18, 2018

March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, we’ve profiled three women who made a big impact on the history of tea. So sit back and give thanks for these three ladies while sipping your afternoon cuppa:

1) Catherine of Braganza 

Catherine of Braganza | Public Domain

Today, we almost instantly associate tea with England. But it took one woman, Catherine of Braganza, to introduce the beverage to England before it could become so ubiquitous. Catherine, a Portuguese princess, married King Charles II of Great Britain in 1662. Per the BBC, When packing for her new life as Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Catherine made sure to include loose-leaf tea. Tea was popular in Portugal among the upper class, and Catherine enjoyed sipping it daily. However, tea was not so prevalent in England yet, and was used more as a medicinal herb than a social drink. That changed when Catherine arrived. As the public yearned to emulate their new queen, Catherine’s social tea drinking habit became more popular, and we can certainly give her some credit for England’s major tea habit today.

2) Penelope Barker

Penelope Barker | Public Domain

The Sons of Liberty get all the attention in the history books when it comes to tea and the American Revolution, but Penelope Barker deserves some recognition too. Barker organized the first ever recorded women’s political demonstration in America when she got 50 women in Edenton, North Carolina together to protest the 1773 Tea Act. The women signed a resolution to boycott British tea, using their buying power to protest Great Britain’s unfair taxation and the British East India Tea Company’s monopoly on the tea trade. In their resolution they stated, “We, the aforesaid Ladys will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed.” The event was called the Edenton Tea Party, and was widely mocked in London where a political cartoon depicted the participants as bad mothers and loose women:

A 1775 political cartoon from a London newspaper depicts a less than respectful version of a women’s political gathering, featuring lots of flirtation between men and women, and an unattractive woman at the helm. | Public Domain

3) Ruth Campbell Bigelow

Constant Comment creator Ruth Campbell Bigelow with her husband David. She developed the formula in the kitchen of her New York brownstone. | Bigelow Tea

A woman founded Bigelow Tea, one of the most recognizable tea brands in the country. Ruth Campbell Bigelow developed her version of the perfect cuppa in 1945. She blended black tea with orange rind and spices in her kitchen. It sparked “constant comment” among her friends, and when it became the first product of the Bigelow Tea Company, that was its name. The brew is one of many varieties that is still available today. The company operates out of its Fairfax, Connecticut headquarters, generating about $150 million in sales per year. Three generations after Ruth founded Bigelow, it continues to be a family-run business, with Cindi Bigelow in charge as President and CEO.

Tea Recipes History

Apple Cider Teas for Thanksgiving

December 12, 2017

If you want to be historically accurate this Thanksgiving, serve cider. If you want your spread to be historically accurate and unique, serve tea-infused apple cider.

The Golden Age of Cider 

The first Thanksgiving, held in 1621, happened during a time when cider enjoyed great popularity, an era spanning the 16th and 17th centuries that beverage historians call The Golden Age of Cider. Recall that during this time, safe drinking water was not readily available, so cider joined beer and other spirits as common everyday drinks. And as Great Britain expanded its global trade industry in the 15 and 1600s, cider emerged as an ideal export since it didn’t spoil over long journeys. According to the Daily Beast, the Pilgrims definitely brought beer over to America on the Mayflower, and probably brought cider, too.

Historian Elizabeth Pearce told WGNO, “What the pilgrims drank was fermented apple juice, or what we call hard cider. And that’s because it was something they were used to drinking back in England. Cider was very, very popular in Europe and they were lucky – several varieties of apples are native to America.”

New England’s native apple species included: garland, sweet crab, prairie crab, and southern crab.

Cider’s Modern Surge in Popularity

Cider continued to be popular in America throughout the 18th century. The Daily Beast even reports that in 1767, the average colonist drank 35 gallons of cider a year, and one in 10 New England farmers worked a cider mill.

But cider’s popularity declined as the nation changed.

Serious Eats explains that the large influx of early 20th century German and Eastern European immigrants didn’t have the same appetite for cider as Western Europeans, and beer production enjoyed improvements in quality thanks to refrigeration technology, boosting its status over cider. But the biggest impediment to the cider industry was Prohibition. Even after Prohibition ended, Americans didn’t significantly revive their taste for cider.

Until now.

Cider production has been on a meteoric rise as of late. Apples are cheap to import, making orchard maintenance optional for cider producers. Millennials are flocking to cider as a “new” culinary experience, and cider producers are making the product even more attractive to their adventurous palates with unique flavor infusions. Plus, it’s gluten-free, making it an on-trend choice for today’s gluten-phobic consumers.

NPR reports that cider sales rose 65% from 2011 to 2012.

Per the Cider Journal, the industry has continued to grow, but has not maintained that 2012 boom in growth:

2015CiderSales.png

One of the ways that cider is staying on-trend is with flavor innovations. Which brings us to tea:

Sweet apple cider pairs perfectly with bitter tea, evening out the drink’s flavor profile. A tea infusion drives interest and can offer an alcohol-free spin on cider, perfect for G-rated family functions.

Apple Cider Tea Recommendations for Your Thanksgiving Table

This year, bring history and culinary trends to the Thanksgiving table with these tea-infused apple ciders.

MAKE IT:

1) Earl Grey Apple Cider Cocktail

apple-cider-tea-cocktail.jpg

This recipe from Healthy Delicious blends earl grey tea and hard apple cider for a tea twist on the alcoholic treat. Lemon and vanilla provide extra flavor, and lemon twists provide a fun finish.

2) Smoked Apple Cider

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This recipe from Fresh Cup Magazine is simple to make and delicious to taste—the ultimate combo. Black tea and apple cider are the stars of the show, sharing the stage with cinnamon sticks and cloves.

3) Apple Cider Rooibos Hot Toddy

This recipe from The Minimalist Baker uses apple juice and rooibos tea as its base, adding lemon, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and pepper for extra flavor. Optional add-ons include a coconut sugar or maple syrup sweetener, cayenne, or bourbon.

BUY IT: 

1) Ruby Spice Cider Tea Blend from Teavana

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This tea blends Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos tea and Mulled Pomegranate Herbal tea for a deliciously sweet concoction. 

2) Maple Apple Cider Herbal Tea from Stash Tea

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This caffeine-free option gets its sweetness from maple and caramel flavors and fruity goodness from a mix of hibiscus and rooibos tea. Cinnamon and apple flavors complete the profile.

3) Apple Cider Herbal Tea from Bigelow

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Go classic with this apple cider tea from Bigelow. Apple, hibiscus, and cinnamon headline, with featured performances by orange peel, rose hip, licorice root, and clove.

History

History 101: The Boston Tea Party

June 20, 2017

As you celebrate the 4th of July, take a few moments to think about how tea is responsible for the freedom you enjoy every day. We’re talking of course about The Boston Tea Party, an event that moved the American colonies one giant step toward revolution.

The year was 1773. Tea was extremely popular with American colonists. But what wasn’t so popular? Taxation without representation. Both the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act forced Americans to pay taxes to the British government on items such as paper, paint, glass, and tea without any voice in their own government.

In 1773, British Parliament passed the Tea Act, which granted the East India Company a monopoly on tea imports to America and reinforced the pre-existing tax on tea.

In December 1773, three boats containing East India Company tea docked in Boston’s Griffin Wharf. Angry Bostonians met to discuss the situation. Taxes on the tea were due within 20 days of the ships’ arrival. Paying the tax was out of the question for these fed-up colonists. Led by Sons of Liberty front man Samuel Adams, the riled up colonists at first attempted to peacefully and legally resolve the situation by getting the governor’s permission to send the ships back to Britain without paying for the tea. When that didn’t work, and with less than a day before the tax was due, it was time for a party:

On December 16, 1773, hundreds of colonists dressed in disguise as Mohawk Native Americans and descended on the three ships—the Beaver, Dartmouth, and Eleanor. Dressing as Native Americans had significance beyond disguise: it signaled to the British that they now identified as Americans, not as Brits.

In three hours, the protesters dumped 342 chests of tea into the water. Collectively, the chests contained about 90,000 pounds of tea—enough to fill 18.5 million tea bags— and their destruction amounted to a loss of about $1 million in today’s currency.

Boston Tea Party Painting

W.D. Cooper. “Boston Tea Party.”, The History of North America. London: E. Newbury, 1789

The Sons of Liberty instructed protestors not to destroy anything but the tea. Careful attention must be paid not to damage the ships themselves or to steal any of the tea—that would be off message.

When the British government got wind of the demonstration, they were incensed. So incensed that they punished Massachusetts with a series of acts known as The Intolerable Acts in 1774.

These acts instituted the following policies:

1) Boston’s port would remain closed until the East India Company was reimbursed for their losses in the Boston Tea Party.

2) The British government beefed up its control over Massachusetts’ governing bodies, replacing elected officials with royally appointed ones and taking away citizens’ right to assemble without the royal governor’s approval

3) British officials could no longer be tried in Massachusetts criminal courts

4) If asked, colonists would now have to house British troops in their homes

Massachusetts residents reacted to the Intolerable Acts with outrage.  But they’re weren’t alone: Other colonies expressed their fury, knowing that they could be next. Widespread concern over British control prompted representatives from the colonies to convene the first Continental Congress in early September of 1774. This congress would discuss ways to counter British tyranny, and ultimately declare American independence on July 4, 1776.

And over two centuries later, we can trace it all back to tea!

First Continental Congress

The First Continental Congress | John Trumbull [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

History

Tea Smugglers: 18th Century Bad Boys

January 31, 2017

It’s very easy to get a cup of tea in England. But it wasn’t always that way. In the 1700s, tea was so expensive that only aristocrats could afford it. Prices ran so steep thanks to an exorbitant government tax on the import and the East India Company’s monopoly on the good. The EIC could charge high prices, the government could stick a giant tax on top, and people who wanted tea were forced to shell out top dollar, making the import a luxury item that only elite citizens could afford. But the lower classes needed their fix, too. To their rescue came a band of heroes: tea smugglers.

These smugglers transported non-EIC tea across the seas but didn’t pass through customs, avoiding the tax. At first, tea smugglers sold reduced-price tea to personal contacts near the coasts. But soon, tea smuggling became a sophisticated operation with large, armed ships dropping anchor before tea would be transported farther and farther inland.

Tea smugglers enjoyed popular support in Great Britain for a number of reasons. First, the covert industry supplied jobs. Second, people loved to drink tea. And third, the British were fed up with taxes. As the 1790 cartoon below illustrates, British citizens felt heavily burdened by taxes, and circumventing the sky-high tea tax was one way to stick it to the man.

William Dent's 18th Century Britain Cartoon

A 1790 cartoon by William Dent illustrated the public sentiment about taxes: there were too many! | The British Museuem via CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

But when a prominent group of smugglers known as the Hawkhurt Gang got violent, the public began to turn against them:

In 1747, the government seized one of the Hawkhurt Gang’s illegal shipments. The gang responded by raiding the customs house in Poole where their goods were being stored, as depicted below:

Hawkhurt Gang smugglers break open King's Custom House

Hawkhurt Gang smugglers break open the King’s Custom House at Poole in October 1747 to retake their confiscated goods (Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain)

The government learned that one of the locals who witnessed the ordeal, shoemaker Daniel Chater, had worked on a farm alongside Hawkhurt gangster Joe Diamond in the past. When the government arrested Diamond in Chichester months later, they needed someone to confirm Diamond’s identity, and summoned Chater. Chater and a customs officer started their journey to Chicester, but never made it. Along the way, tea smugglers barbarically tortured and killed them.

The brutal murders of Chater and the customs officer incited public outcry and a swift government response. The government issued rewards for gang members and many faced arrest or execution.

Still, tea smuggling continued for another forty years, thanks to the nation’s insatiable thirst for tea.

In 1783, the government conducted a study that found 13 million pounds of tea were consumed in England each year, but that only 6 million had been imported by the East India Company—the only company that could legally bring tea into the country. That meant that most of the tea in England was coming from smugglers. Something had to be done.

And so, the very next year, Parliament introduced the Commutation Act of 1784.

The Act reduced the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%. Smugglers could no longer offer a better price for the same good, so they became obsolete.

And so ended a century of covert tea operations, and the beginning of accessible, enthusiastic tea drinking that continues today.

 

History

How Taking Tea Sans Sugar Meant Opposing Slavery

January 26, 2017

Today, sprinkling a spoonful of sugar into your tea doesn’t say much about your views on human trafficking. But in the late 18th century in England, it did.

In 1791, about 400,000 Brits boycotted slave-made sugar from the West Indies as a protest against slavery and Great Britain’s failure to pass a bill abolishing the slave trade. Drinking tea was a hugely important social custom in England, and with the sugar boycott, it became a political one. As NPR put it, the sweet condiment “came to epitomize the evils of slavery.”

Great Britain benefitted economically from slavery, with slaves on plantations in the West Indies pumping out valuable trading goods like sugar, which also drove consumerism in England. The Empire also profited from the slave trade, trafficking more than 3 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean between 1700 and 1810.

To abolitionists, this was morally abhorrent and had to end.  The sugar boycott provided the average British citizen with one way to not only advocate for the end of slavery, but to put a dent in the economic influence that slavery had on their Empire.

18th century sugar boycott political cartoon

A political cartoon by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 23 April 1791, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Printer William Fox started the boycott by publishing a pamphlet titled An Address to the People of Great Britain on the Utility of Refraining from the Use of West India Sugar and Rum.

William Fox's pamphlet to the public

A copy of the pamphlet from the Boston Public Library digitized HERE

That long titled boiled down to one main takeaway: every time you add sugar to your tea, you’re supporting slave labor. For those against slavery, opting out of sugar was a simple way to communicate a political and moral position on the hotly debated issue. Fox’s pamphlet surpassed Thomas Paine’s American Revolution-inspiring Common Sense as the most distributed pamphlet of the century.

According to the BBC, the boycott certainly made an impact: sugar sales plummeted by a third to a half, and hundreds of thousands signed petitions calling on the British Empire to outlaw the slave trade. As BBC put it, the boycott “is one of the earliest examples of consumers using their purchasing power to reject the trade in goods which have not been ethically produced.”

To meet tea-drinkers’ sugar fix, grocers started stocking sugar from the East Indies, where sugar production didn’t rely on slave labor.

At home, people made sure to let their tea party guests know where their sugar came from. Sugar bowls like the one below added the label “not made by slave labor” to assuage guests’ concerns about a host’s ethical or political stance.

sugar bowl

Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Fair Trade, non-GMO Project, or Organic labels aim to both help consumers make informed choices and communicate those choices to others.

Some British citizens responded to the sugar boycott by switching to green tea, a beverage that didn’t call for sugar the same way black tea might to some palettes.

The sugar boycott lost its mojo as time went on—particularly as Brits saw the violence endured by French citizens for resisted the monarchy—but Great Britain did eventually abolish the trade of slaves in the British Empire in 1807. To incentivize Brits to follow the new law, the government threatened to fine ship owners a steep £100 for every slave found on British ships. Although the slave trade was now illegal, slavery itself remained legal 1833, when the British Empire abolished the practice in all its territories.

Be aware of what you put in your tea cup.  As history has proven, it may have a large impact.