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Tea Appears in the New World

Portrait of Governor Peter Stuyvesant
Governor Peter Stuyvesant

America’s interest in tea began not in Boston, but 200 miles south in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. By 1640, Chinese tea had been introduced to the Netherlands by the Dutch East India Company and infused into the daily life of the monarchy, the House of Orange. Although there were no specific records of its earliest use in America, it was probably brought to New Amsterdam soon afterwards.

By the time Dutch East India Company Director, Peter Stuyvesant, arrived as governor in 1647, early records show the custom of taking tea by the burghers of New Amsterdam proved equal to that of their native Holland. The tea board, tea table, teapots, sugar bowl, silver spoons, and strainer were the pride of the Dutch household in the New World.

Rich burghers often retreated to their garden pavilions to take afternoon bread, fruit and tea. The socially correct grand dame of New Amsterdam not only served tea, but she brewed several kinds in different pots so as to accommodate the tastes of her guests. She never poured milk or cream with tea, for this was a later innovation that came to America from France; but she did offer sugar, and sometimes saffron or peach leaves for flavoring. The records of household inventories make it evident that tea was in vogue in New Amsterdam.

Author Esther Singleton records in her book, Dutch New York

Dr. De Lange has a number of teacups and no less than 136 teapots. Lawrence Dedyke has a tea-board among his articles, and Mr. Van Varick, a small oval table painted, a wooden tray with feet, a sugar pot, three fine china teacups, one jug, four saucers, six smaller tea saucers, six painted tea dishes, four tea dishes, five teacups, three other teacups, four teacups painted brown, six smaller teacups, three teacups painted red and blue, one tea dish and two cups finest porcelain.

Washington Irving’s description of Ichabod Crane, as recorded in his 1820 publication The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, gives us a glimpse of the lingering influence of tea in 1790 Dutch settlement of Tarrytown, New York –

Catherine of Braganza, Portuguese wife of Charles II
Catherine of Braganza

Ichabod was a kind and thankful creature, whose spirits rose with eating as some men’s do with drink. He could not help rolling his large eyes round him on the ample charms of a genuine Dutch country tea table in the sumptuous time of autumn. Such heaped-up platters of cakes and crullers of various kinds, known only to experienced Dutch housewives! And then there were apple pies and peach pies and pumpkin pies, besides slices of ham and smoked beef; and, moreover, delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces, not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, with the motherly teapot sending up its clouds of vapor from the midst.

In August 1664, Stuyvesant was forced to surrender Dutch controlled lands to the British. New Amsterdam was re-christened “New York” to honor James, Duke of York and brother of King Charles. The colony’s largest borough was named “Queens” as a tribute to Charles’ Portuguese bride Catherine of Braganza, England’s first tea-drinking monarch. The ritual of daily tea drinking continued to flourish under the influence of British governance.


Next installment: The tea water wells of lower Manhattan

Excerpt from The Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson. Benjamin Press, June 2013.

Bruce Richardson Profile Picture

Bruce Richardson

MSN calls Bruce Richardson "A leading tea expert involved in tea's American renaissance for over 30 years." The native Kentuckian is a writer, photographer, tea blender, and frequent guest speaker at tea events across the globe. He can often be found appearing on television and radio talk shows, or as a guest speaker at professional seminars such as World Tea Expo or China Global Tea Fair. He is the author ...

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