Tea was a relatively new commodity in both the colonies and England and, despite the fact that more and more people were brewing and drinking it, not everyone knew exactly what to do with the leaves.
In a scene reminiscent of that found in the early history of tea in Salem, Massachusetts, the British poet Robert Southey recounted a story in his Commonplace Book of 1850 about “the first pound of tea that ever came into Penrith [in Cumberland]. It was sent as a present without directions how to use it. They boiled the whole at once in a kettle, and sat down to eat the leaves with butter and salt; and they wondered how anybody could like such a dish.”
The tradition of having the lady of the house brew and pour the tea herself continued. Sugar was almost universally taken—refined white sugar for the rich and dark brown unrefined sugar, molasses or treacle for the poor. In 1706, a certain Dr. Duncan explained that “Coffee, Chocolate and Tea were at first us’d only as Medicines while they continued unpleasant, but since they were made delicious with sugar, they are become poison.” François de la Rochefoucauld, writer and traveler, wrote in 1784 in A Frenchman in England: “The high cost of sugar or molasses, of which large quantities are required, does not prevent this custom being a universal one, to which there are no exceptions.”