The first known reference to tea by an Englishman dates from 1615, when a certain Richard Wickham wrote to Macao asking for 'a pot of the best sort of chaw' The oldest name for tea recorded in China seems to have been Kia and the prounciation Ch'a is only found after 725 A.D.. In certain regions a 't' took the place of the initial 'ch' and we find the variant pronunciations ta or tai. In Korea today we find both pronunciations, Ch'a and Ta, just as in England from the beginning people spoke of both cha and tay.
When did the English start to drink so much tea?
It is quite a mystery why England developed such an intense and widespread taste for tea, unparalleled in Europe. It was the Dutch merchants who first discovered the pleasures of tea, and began including a separate tea-room in their houses in the early 17th century. The first recorded Coffee House in England was in Oxford, open by 1650. The first known in London, at the Sign of Pasqua Rosee in St Michael's Alley off Cornhill, was open by 1652. But after the Restoration in 1660 London began to fill with coffee shops, where tea was also served, and by 1683 there were reported to be over 2000 such shops in London. Their customers were so thirsty for the latest news that their owners began to provide 'news-papers' and modern journalism was born. The first regular daily paper was 'Lloyd's List', so-called because it appeared in Mr Lloyd's coffee house in 1734. It is still being published, now online. The others weren't regular, or weren't daily, and 'Lloyd's List' is the oldest daily newspaper in the world. Later in the 18th century coffee houses declined as regular 'gentlemen's clubs' arose, offering better facilities but tea and coffee continued to be drunk.
Tea was at first a luxury, enjoyed only by the rich, and for a time the government imposed a 200% tax on it. As a result, a thriving trade arose in tea smuggled from Europe. So much cheap smuggled tea entered every harbour in England that it soon became available to even the simplest homes. In the 18th century tea generally replaced the ale that had previously been the English people's basic drink, and the Methodist campaigns against the Demon Drink were certainly helped by having tea to propose as a substitute. Finally the tax was abolished, smuggling ceased, but tea was in England to stay, with coffee only a pale second, at least until very recent decades.
But what about tea from India?
By the early 19th century, China was exporting some 15,000 metric tonnes of tea to England every year. When the English government realized that there was a very unfavorable trade balance, the Chinese buying very little from England in return, it decided to try to improve matters by introducing the Chinese to the expensive delights of Indian-grown opium; at the same time it set about establishing tea plantations in India. India now produces something in excess of 200,000 metric tonnes of tea each year.
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