Tag Archives: World War II

American Tea History

Tea traveled to America with the colonists who arrived from all European countries, with some colonies like New Amsterdam (modern day New York) being heavier tea drinkers than all of England at the time (Smith & Kraig, 2013).  The British implemented a mercantile system, as with its other colonies, which focused on trade to increase its wealth.  With this system London based businesses were protected through the use of trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies but it also required the British government to fight smuggling and illegal trading with other countries, especially by American merchants.

Early American Tea Experience

American Tea consumption is tied tightly to the early ship building in the colonies.  Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were both major ship building colonies, where craftsman took advantage of the abundance of local resources, craftsman, and cheap labor to build more and faster clipper ships than the British.  Many of these clipper ships were put into use by the American merchants to trade directly with other countries, bypassing the British government.  Smuggling was extremely common in the American colonies and tea was high on the list of illegal goods.

American Tea drinkers are less familiar with asian teapots and accessories.

Small Yixing Teapot

The colonists adopted many of the British customs like tea drinking both at home and in public coffeehouses (Yes, coffeehouses did exist 300 years before Starbucks).  It should be noted that much of the tea consumed in the colonies and Britain was green tea (Smith & Kraig, 2013).  The social demand for tea, and the additional taxes levied on tea from the British East India Company made smuggled tea a very common commodity in the colonies, most coming from the Dutch East India Company.    The loss of revenue by the British East India Company did not go unnoticed and in 1767 the tea tax was levied.  This tax became one of many levied on the colonists in the ten years leading to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution.  As Joseph M. Walsh noted in 1892, “The birth of the greatest nation of all time due to a three-penny tax on tea!”    (Walsh, 1892)

After the revolution, American merchants used their clipper ships to go direct to China for trade, bringing tea and other goods legally into the United States without British involvement.  These merchants became the first of the American millionaires, with tea being a dominant contributor to their wealth.  This wealth was later used to give loans to the fledgling American government to purchase arms for the War of 1812 other ventures necessary to stabilize and expand the country.

American Industry and Tea

Tea consumption thrived in the United States through the 1800’s with farmers experimenting with growing tea plants in the country.  The US Department of Agriculture even published a study about using tea as a commercial crop in 1897.  There is still a commercial tea plantation in South Carolina, new tea farms in Hawaii, and the US League of Tea Growers working to increase the growth of tea in America.

It was in the early 1900’s that America made perhaps its largest contribution to modern tea culture, first through the large scale introduction of iced tea and then through the invention of the tea bag.  While iced tea has been documented in American cookbooks dating back to 1870’s, it was at the World’s Fair in 1904 that iced tea was introduced in a big way to the public.  With the warmer US climates, iced tea still remains the most consumed tea in the US.  The second was the accidental invention of the tea bag by an American, Thomas Sullivan, who sent small samples of his tea in silk bags to his clients in 1908.  Those clients went on to ask Thomas to send their tea in bags going forward and since silk was expensive he created his bags out of paper.

American Tea drinkers love beautiful European inspired teapots.

Antique Teapot

American Tea Consumption and World Wars

American tea consumption saw significant declines around World War I (1914-1919) and then again around World War II (1939-1945) because of significant disruption in trade with China and Japan..  Trade with China did not resume after WWII until 1971.  As green tea was produced predominantly in China and Japan, this left black tea from India to satisfy the US market.  Current tea consumption in the United States is 85% iced tea and still overwhelmingly black.

As loose leaf tea becomes easier for the US consumer to get and consumer awareness of options increases, the growth in the specialty loose leaf market will mirror that of coffee and wine bringing a large variety of tea to market.  I am looking forward to having more options in the high quality tea market, are you?


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Works Cited

Smith, A., & Kraig, B. (2013). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walsh, J. M. (1892). Tea – Its History and Mystery. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Co.

Loose Leaf vs Fannings and Dust

What’s in a Cup of Tea?

Simple right? Add some leaves to a little hot water, A pot of tea.let sit a few minutes, and voilà. However, this seemingly simple question can unfurl into a huge variety of topics ranging from the different types of tea to the impact on world history. An exploration of tea affords the opportunity to better understand what is behind those tea bags, broaden your palette, and appreciate how the drink has influenced history and the world culture that we have today. Our intent with the Dominion Tea blog is to try to explore a variety of these topics, admittedly with a focus on specialty loose leaf tea. Over time we seek to dive deeper into the many facets of tea in an effort to learn more about this beverage. In this specific posting we seek merely to scratch the surface, looking broadly at products, countries growing tea, and how history was impacted by our favorite drink.

Types of Tea

Most US citizens associate tea with the humble tea bag found in the grocery store or restaurant. However, today tea is found in a great many forms, driven by wide ranging consumer interest in gourmet and specialty foods, social concerns around its production, convenience, and individual health. As a result, products include loose leaf tea, tea bags, ready-to-drink products, powdered options, shampoo, body wash, masks and scrubs, and even supplements.

Loose Leaf vs Fannings and Dust

Loose Leaf Tea vs Teabags

Within brewed or steeped tea, most American consumers experience comes from tea bags. These generally come from an extremely small number of multi-national corporations that buy huge quantities of tea and produce bags branded for consumer sale. This product is produced on mass scale and the emphasis is on low cost with consistent taste. The actual product inside is normally small particles from many different sources, referred to as fannings and dust. Contrast tea bag tea with that of specialty loose leaf tea which is closer to whole leaf and, at the high end, consists of the very best leaves which have been hand-picked and processed. While it’s virtually impossible to know where commodity products come from, it is increasingly common to know where and how specialty teas have been grown and manufactured. For those looking for a stronger connection to the source, greater variety, and higher quality, specialty teas offer a wide array of choice. Yellow, White, and Oolong Teas are among the options beyond the well-known Green and Black varieties. However, like fine wines, loose leaf specialty tea varies greatly in quality, authenticity, price, and availability. Generally, the closer to the traditional growing region and production methods, the wider the variety in taste from year to year, the harder it is to come by, and the more amazing the drinking experience.

Tea Growing Countries

Tea is produced in a large number of countries around the world. While China, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka are well known producers, the list also includes Kenya, Jamaica, Iran, Argentina, the United States, and many others. Numbers from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggest that some of these countries, like Japan and India, as well as China, grow tea in large part to satisfy domestic consumption. Others, like Sri Lanka and Kenya, produce it primarily for export, and some, like the U.S. grow only on a very minor scale. The cliff notes version is that a large number of countries produce tea with huge variety in production, appearance, and flavor differences providing a knowledgeable and informed tea drinker many avenues to explore.

History of the Worlds Second Most Popular Beverage (after water)

Tea permeates the history of many countries dating back hundreds of years and continuing to modern times. Around 1000 CE tea was a major trading commodity used by the Chinese to acquire horses from Tibet. More recently the trade led to the Opium Wars, concluding in 1842 with the United Kingdom taking ownership of Hong Kong. American imports from England began in about 1711 and continued until the Boston Tea Party of 1773 when the colonists, fed up over British taxation, tossed shiploads of tea into the harbor. As Joseph M. Walsh wrote in Tea: Its History and Mystery (circa 1892), “The birth of the greatest nation of all time [was] due to a three-penny tax on tea!”

American Tea Clipper Ship

American Tea Clipper Ship
Antonio Jacobsen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

After the revolution, of course Americans continued drinking tea and the first two Clipper ships manufactured in the U.S. , Helena and Montauk built by H.W. Webb, were built specifically to travel to China for tea. Today American consumers prefer black tea by far. However, early American consumers actually preferred green tea until World War II when access was lost to most sources and the American palate shifted toward black.


Making a cup of tea can be quite a simple and pleasurable experience. However, for those of us who would like to know more about what is behind the beverage in our cup, how it is properly prepared, and how preferences in America differ from the rest of the world, there is much to learn. What started out as a love of tea, has becoming a great opportunity to continue to broaden our own horizons, teach our son about the world, and share our interest with others.

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