In Britain, tea is a drink usually taken with milk and sugar added. However, of the four ingredients that create a good cup of tea – water, sugar, milk and tealeaves – only milk and water were to be found in any quantity in Britain until the 17th century. By the 1650s in Britain, the nobility and wealthy became inveterate consumers of sugar. Yet by 1800, sugar had become necessitated in the diet of the British, and by 1900 it was supplying nearly one-fifth the calories in their diet. Sugar’s high-end status fuelled its desirability. More importantly, sugar in combination with tea (whose bitter edge it softened and mildly addictive caffeine it complemented) together with milk (to counter the drink’s astringency) formed a beverage that pervaded British culture.
The teaspoon illustrated this pervasion. Between 1710 and 1720, a teaspoon (exhibit one) was forged and engraved in England out of silver, with an upturned stem but otherwise rather unadorned. Britain began to import tea in the early 17th century, however it was hesitantly embraced by British culture until it was made fashionable by coffee houses in the late 1600s. Tea was originally drunk in the Chinese manner (weak and without milk) but by the early 18th century milk and sugar were added, and small spoons became necessary. This particular spoon, like others of its time, were crafted by specialist goldsmiths, and often supplied as part of a tea service. Teaspoons were part of the ritual of the tea table: Until 1760, the end of the stem would curve upwards in the same direction of the bowl, however from 1760 onwards the stem began to curve down, and the spoon was laid face up on the table surface. The spoon could be used to signal the hostess when the guest had drunk their fill.
Tea was a highly priced commodity, often kept in locked containers for preservation as well as display. The tea caddy (exhibit two) hallmarked in 1735 by Paul de Lamerie out of silver was popular in this period, as elegant tea wares held tea made in the drawing room by the hostess rather than in the kitchen by servants. The distinctively fluted angles and sloping shoulders of this canister mark its prestige, influenced by the Rococo style. Its heart-shaped cartouche is typical of British engraved ornament in this period, based on widely available French ornamental prints. The sliding panel of the lid has a hinged handle, to have been drawn back for filling or dispensing leaves in its canister. The precise technical manufacturing of the sliding lids would ensure that the canister remained airtight in order to preserve the expensive luxury.
Tea was served to people of quality, however as prices fell it became a more popular drink. Catherine of Braganza, Charles’ III Portuguese wife, shared a particular zest for tea and influenced its entrance into the marketplace. Only by the 18th century did tea begin to emerge in the home. The oil painting titled “A Family of Three at Tea”(exhibit three) painted by...