The First Tea Imported into London

The first importation of tea into England by the English East India Company was in 1669, when that company brought 143 pounds from Bantam, in Java. We will disregard two small gifts of tea that The Company purchased from their Dutch counterparts as wedding gifts for King Charles II and his Portuguese bride Catherine of Braganza in 1664 and 1666.

London Gazette 1680 announcing tea at 30 shillings per pound

So began an importation into England which in time was to build fortunes and dot the seas with tea ships. Charles II rechartered the English company, granting it powers usually enjoyed only by governments. The company then proceeded to build up an Oriental trade, which soon far outstripped its rivals—the Dutch and the Portuguese.

While tea was being carried into Western Europe over water routes, overland caravans by way of the Levant were bringing it to other parts of Europe. The first tea so to arrive was a gift of several chests brought by a Chinese embassy to the Russian court at Moscow in 1618. Eighteen arduous months on the backs of camels were required for the journey, and if the Chinese hoped by this present to create a demand for their product, the shipment was in vain, for the tea failed to win Russian friends at that time.

Catherine of Braganza

For nearly twenty years after the arrival at Moscow of the imperial gift of tea, nothing of historical importance appears in connection with the early use of the drink in Europe.

The Levant was also bringing coffee through the Mediterranean and into a growing number of coffee houses springing up across London. By 1658, ready-made tea in barrels would be found alongside coffee and cocoa in these male-dominated establishments. This crude way of serving tea was a far cry from the well-established tea rituals found in tea houses and temples that dotted  Kyoto or the tea being poured in fine houses in The Hague or Paris.

England had a lot of catching up to do and the East India Company was all too happy to oblige the tea obsession that was about to begin.


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