Discover the history of tea

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National Maritime Museum, First floor, Traders gallery

By the 1800s tea had already become the nation's favourite drink, but it started off as an extreme luxury. 

Tea could only be obtained from China. It was an expensive luxury in Europe in the 1600s. The huge scale of East India Company trade during the 1700s introduced more people to tea-drinking. By the 1800s tea was the favourite drink of the British people.

In the 1700s the East India Company made most of its money from the tea trade. However despite an insatiable appetite for tea in Britain, China had little demand for British exports. Buying tea was tightly controlled and paid for with huge quantities of silver. To bypass this the Company encouraged opium production in India so they could raise money through taxation before it was smuggled into China. This illegal practice led to two wars with China known as the Opium Wars.

The tea chest above carried tea from a producer called Gao Mao. It contained double-scented caper tea, a black tea from the district of Anxi in the western part of Fujian Province, that was very popular at the time.

See it for free in our Traders gallery