America's First Tea - Happy Thanksgiving!

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As our American friends celebrate Thanksgiving this week it only seems fitting to take a look back at the first tea to arrive on their shores. Unsurprisingly there is no specific record for the first consumption of tea in America, but it, like Britain, received its first tea from the Dutch East India Company.

We do know that tea had arrived at the settlement of New Amsterdam and was being consumed by residents by the time Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch East India Company Director, arrived as governor in 1647 as he kept notes of life there. Tea quickly became an integral part of life in the Dutch household in the New World, and the tea tray, tea table, teapots, sugar bowl, silver spoons and strainer were pride of place in the home.

The grand dame of New Amsterdam (later to become New York!) would serve several kinds of tea brewed in different pots to cater for all of her guests’ tastes. At this time the practice of serving tea with milk or cream had not reached America from France, but sugar was offered as was saffron or peach leaves on occasion.

Esther Singleton in her book ‘Dutch New York’ recorded household inventories indicating the tea was very much in vogue in New Amsterdam:

Dr. De Lange has a number of teacups and no less that 136 teapots. Lawrence Dedyke has a tea-board among his artciles, and Mr. Van Varick, a small oval table painted, a wooden tray with feet, a sugar pot, three fine china teacups, one jug, four saucers, six smaller tea saucers, six painted tea dishes, four tea dishes, five teacups, three other teacups, four teacups painted brown, six smaller teacups, three teacups painted red and blue, one tea dish and two cups finest porcelain.”

In 1664 New Amsterdam was re-named New York when Peter Stuyvesant had to surrender all Dutch-controlled settlements to the British to honour James Duke of York and brother of King Charles, and as a tribute to Queen Catherine, the Colony’s largest borough was named Queens.

Under British governance, the ever-present ritual of daily tea-drinking continued to flourish. Boston merchants Benjamin Harris and Daniel Vernon were licensed to sell tea by 1690, when every purveyor of tea was required to have a license for its sale in accordance with English law.

Amusingly, tea’s proper preparation was not widely understood in the New World, despite growing awareness of the beverage and to the untrained housewife, the exotic leaves sometimes remained a luxurious mystery. There are tales of unfortunate tea-making incidents including boiling tea leaves for a long time, drinking the brew and then eating the leaves with butter! Not quite what we would do here at Char…

 Facts and figures taken from ‘A Social History of Tea‘ by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson

Last update: November 27, 2015
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