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Tea Drinking and Class Distinction – 1890

Thomas Lipton was always the master of marketing, especially when it came to touting the fact that he indeed owned the Ceylon gardens wherein his teas were grown. “Direct from the Grower” was one of his favorite slogans.

Why then pay the extortionate prices that are being charged by the Trade when you can buy the finest qualities of absolutely pure tea at about half the money from Lipton?

Lipton seems to add a bit of class distinction to this advertisement found in an 1890 London newspaper. Notice the fashionable upper-class women on the left as they drink Lipton tea in their home. They are suitably corseted, well-coiffed, and they exemplify perfect posture and decorum. Their drawing room is decorated with a mirror and, in keeping with Europe’s raging fascination with Japan, a Japanese fan is prominently displayed.

In contrast, the working-class women have wasted their money on a more expensive brand of tea and cannot afford the happy lifestyle their counterparts enjoy. Their hair is pulled back, giving them gaunt and severe faces. Their dresses are plain and a black cat appears in the window behind them, casting a hint of witchery. Their simple unadorned tea pot appears sad compared to the decorated Chinese teapot found on the opposite table.

Worst of all, one of the women appears ready to drink tea from her saucer. This major tea faux-pas would never have happened in an upper-class home.  Thankfully, it fell out of style for all classes as the 20th century began.

Lipton’s lesson here is that the ladies have impoverished themselves and created an unhappy household because they drink another brand of tea. Fortunately, they have realized the error of their way and have vowed – as indicated on their tablecloth – that they must use Lipton’s Tea after this.

O, if only all life’s troubles could be cured by switching our brand of tea!

Excerpt from A Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew & Bruce Richardson.  Benjamin Press, available September 2013.

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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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