Tea People: Thomas Garway

When it comes to pioneers in the tea industry, it seems that there’s something about the name “Thomas.” There’s Sir Thomas Lipton, whose name is perhaps the most recognizable of all tea people. Then, there’s Thomas Twining, whose firm got started in the tea business nearly two centuries before Lipton did and is still going strong to this day.

Then, there’s Thomas Garway, or Garraway (1632-1704). Okay, so he’s hardly a household name and, in fact, his is a name that’s probably only recognizable to the most avid tea historians. But Garway was a key figure in the early days of the tea industry in England, long before tea became the drink of choice for the majority of that nation’s citizens.

One probably shouldn’t make any definitive statements about when tea first came to England but Garway is often credited with being the first to serve it to the public (in 1657). It was perhaps a logical development, given that he already operated a coffeehouse. It was just one of many such establishments in London at this time that were poised to become all the rage, as much for their popularity as gathering places as for the beverages they offered.

By way of rolling out this exotic new beverage know as tea, Garway put together a broadsheet “Advertisement” called “An Exact Description of the Growth, Quality, and Vertues of the Leaf TEA.” It served to explain what this novelty was and sung its praises in no uncertain terms.

The document also anticipated the “tea is healthy” craze that would follow several centuries later. As Garway noted, “The Drink is declared to be most wholesome, preserving in perfect health untill extreme Old Age” and then went on to list a number of its “particular Vertues.”

The rest of the document is a brief but interesting overview of what the English knew about tea at that time. It contains some interesting perspective, including the fact that “those very Nations so famous for Antiquity, Knowledge, and Wisdom, do frequently sell it amongst themselves for twice its weight in Silver” and the curious idea that “the best Tea ought not to be gathered but by Virgins who are destined to this work.”

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

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