In 18th-century America, the pleasant practice of taking tea at home was an established social custom with a recognized code of manners and distinctive furnishings. Pride was taken in a correct and fashionable tea table whose equipage included much more than teapot, cups, and saucers. (Rodris Roth)
Americans are not the greatest tea drinkers in the world, not by a long shot, but we drink our fair share and always have. While we tend to think of the historical version of America as a rough and tumble place, as the passage quoted above indicates, that’s only partially true and in many places the polite custom of taking tea was well established. The passage is taken from a brief but informative work called Tea Drinking in 18th-century America: Its Etiquette and Equipage, by Rodris Roth, which was published by the US National Museum in 1961.
The work opens with a quote from a French traveler to America, who noted, in 1781, that the Americans “use much tea.” As is the case with so many tea books, the author then proceeds to give a brief overview of the history of tea and moves on to a discussion of tea drinking in early America and notes, not surprisingly, that “English customs were generally imitated in this country, particularly in the urban centers.”
Of course, any discussion of tea drinking during this era can’t really avoid the tension between colonists and the British regarding the topic of tea. Roth touches on this as well, even quoting an anti-tea poem that appeared in newspapers of the day called A Lady’s Adieu to Her Tea-Table.
But of course tea drinking continued even after the great conflict had ended and the author touches on this as well. As the name indicates, however, the focus here is primarily on manners and teaware. And, even though the work only totals 31 pages in all, it provides an in-depth, illustrated look at tea culture during this time, one that’s probably more than anyone but the most avid tea historian would ever need.
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