The Tea Trade, Circa 1834 – The Book

By the time 1834 rolled around the British had been drinking tea for a couple centuries and tea had gone from being a precious commodity that was only available to those with deep pockets to something resembling the national icon that’s so beloved to this day.

The British were just beginning to explore the notion of producing tea in their colonial holdings in India but at the time most of the tea traded was still originating in China. No small amount of that trade had been conducted by the powerful and influential East India Company.

If you’re looking for insight into how said company conducted its business at around this time, you might want to take a look at a tome whose title starts with The Tea Trade. A Full and Accurate Report of the Extraordinary Proceedings at the East India House, on the Commencement of the March Sale (and continues on into what seems like eternity).

Ponderous and endless title aside, it’s an informative look at the tea trade of the day though it can be a bit on the dry side if you’re not accustomed to the circuitous prose that seems to have been so common in earlier times. The anonymous author opens with the assertion that at no period in history “has the public attention been drawn more intensely to its sales.” If one grasps the author’s somewhat convoluted prose correctly, this was apparently due in large measure to some proposed changes in taxes on tea.

But after a section in which the issue is laid out in great detail things pick up somewhat with a summary of a meeting that was held to discuss things. The remarks of the various participants (which includes Richard Twining of the Twinings tea dynasty) are interspersed with various references to the crowd’s reactions, such as (Cheers), (loud cheering), (Cheering and laughter) and (Great cheering).

While you might find it tricky to decipher it from these antics, other sources confirm that by 1834 the East India Company’s fortunes were changing. As this article from the UK Tea Council relates, in 1834 “Parliament’s new charter for the Company abolished its trading functions altogether.” While the company was made an agent of the British crown, their inability to engage in trade with China gave them a kick in the pants when it came to exploring options for tea production in India.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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