Lloyds of London, one of the oldest insurers in the UK, was birthed at Lloyds Coffee House on Tower Street in 1688, soon after a tax was placed on tea brewed in coffee houses.
A tax was first levied not on the dry leaf tea, but on brewed tea found in coffee houses.
Charles II continually found his treasury out of money. His Portuguese bride, Catherine of Braganza, was the first tea drinking queen and it must have cost him a pretty pence to keep his young bride’s tea caddy well stocked.
In 1660, the Crown was granted the right to collect excise duties on certain beverages served in coffee houses. This might have been all right for ale, cider and sherbet, but for tea, coffee and chocolate it was ridiculous. The duty was assessed at 8d. per gallon (the daily wage of an unskilled worker).
Gallons of tea, brewed in the morning, had to await the Excise Officer who measured the amount once or twice a day. Tankards of tea were dipped out and served to customers – all male – who frequently the popular establishments throughout the day as they conducted business.
The image of tea slowly cooling and blackening in barrels as the hours dragged on, and being reheated for customers is not very appetizing. Yet the laborious system of taxation was carried on for years with the tax being raised to two shillings per gallon a decade later.