Foreign dignitaries visiting the court of Queen Elizabeth I often remarked upon the shocking condition of the monarch’s teeth. They were rotten, a deplorable condition aggravated by her addiction to sugar.
But don’t blame tea with sugar for her decaying teeth because she didn’t live long enough to taste the exotic new herb from China.
At the opening of the seventeenth century, sugar was a rare habit only rulers and rich merchants could afford. Cones of hard brown sugar were imported via Arab traders, and eventually from South American plantations owned by the Portuguese and Spanish. It was mainly used to sweeten herbs and medicines concocted by apothecaries. That scenario changed dramatically with the arrival of a new queen, Catherine of Braganza, and her own peculiar habit of drinking tea.
It’s not clear who first advocated the addition of sugar to tea. It certainly wasn’t the Chinese because, to them, that combination would be revolting.
By mid-century, the habit of adding a spoonful of sugar to hot tea spread from Hampton Court to urban households and rural cottages. And the term teaspoon, first mentioned in an advertisement in an 1686 edition of the London Gazette, was born.