Tea and Liquor

With prices for tea remaining high throughout the early 18th century and the passion for it growing, poets and essayists summed up popular attitudes of the day. Many praised tea, recommending it for health reasons, as London tea merchant Thomas Garway had done a hundred years before. Some pointed out its benefits as an alternative to alcohol. In 1708, in The Lady’s Last Stake, Colley Cibber called it “Thou soft, Thou sober, sage and venerable liquid,” while Duncan Campbell, in his Poem Upon Tea, 1735, praised tea as a far better choice than alcohol, especially for women:

Tea is the Liquor of the Fair and Wise;

It chears the Mind without the least Disguise:

But Wine intoxicates, and wrongs each Sense;

Sweet innocent, mild Tea, gives no Offence:

It makes the Blood run sporting in the Veins,

Refines each Sense, and rectifies the Brains.

Religious leader John Wesley, however, was initially against the use of tea. In his Letter to a Friend Concerning Tea written in 1748, he pronounced that tea impaired the digestion, unstrung the nerves, involved great expense, and induced symptoms of paralysis. Although a tea drinker himself, he claimed that it made his hands shake. In 1746, he called a meeting of his London Society of Methodists and put to them a proposal that they should give up tea for the sake of temperance. They apparently followed his advice.

Charles Wesley Teapot by Josiah Wedgwood, c.1760.

It is curious that Josiah Wedgwood made a teapot especially for John Wesley as a reminder of their first meeting in Burslem in 1760. It is decorated with a floral wreath which surrounds the ‘Blessing’ on one side and the ‘Return thanks’ on the other.

The text reads:

 Represent at our Table Lord

 Be here and everywhere ador’d

 These creatures bless & grant that we

 May feast in Paradise with thee

What Wedgwood probably didn’t know was that Wesley was not particularly fond of tea. He thought it was bad for the health and also that it was an expensive excess. He claimed that drinking tea caused his hands to shakes: the tremors ceased when he cut tea from his diet.

It is ironic that in the next century, tea was to become the symbol and focal point of the temperance movement with John Wesley’s Methodists as the leading lights. Perhaps Wesley began to realize tea’s benefits as an alternative to the copious quantities of gin and beer being consumed by the poor at this time, for later in life, he took up tea again and even organized tea drinkings for his ministers.