There are those tea merchants who pride themselves in cutting out the middlemen and dealing directly with the people who grow tea. But there are probably more cases in which tea goes through at least one of those middlemen before it gets into the hands of the people who sell it to us, the consumers.
Which has been a common practice in the tea industry for many centuries now, as evidenced by a moldy old volume that’s been rescued from oblivion by digitization and is readily available for any tea lover or student of history to peruse. The work dates to 1785 and bears the snappy title, A Narrative of the Conduct of the Tea-Dealers, During the Late Sale of Teas at the India House. It’s by a person or persons known only as the Committee of Tea-Dealers. Check out an online copy here. [Ed.: available for purchase here.]
Before you do be advised that it’s not exactly the kind of page turner that you’ll be taking with you on your next visit to the beach. Like so many of these dusty old tomes the text is a bit dry (to say the least) and has considerably more use for its historic than entertainment value.
A relatively brief work, at about 30-odd pages, the document is written in dense and convoluted language that would likely be a challenge for even the most experienced attorney. I apparently lack the required training needed to decipher it fully but as nearly as I can tell, it details a “contest” between the directors of the East India Company and the Tea-dealers who penned the account. The points of contention raised by the latter have to do with communication between the two groups and (not surprisingly) the price of tea. Note that the rather well-known East India Company is the same one that had a famous run-in with colonists in Boston about twelve years earlier, a conflict that led to the Boston Tea Party.
Interestingly enough, one of the only tea dealers to be mentioned by name in this arcane document will be familiar to tea drinkers even to this day. A descendant of Twinings of London founder, Thomas Twining, the “Mr. Twining” referenced numerous times throughout the document was obviously an established member of the tea trade even at this early date.
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