FOOD HISTORY: Tea - Part 4 United States***




When tea is thought about in what was to become the United States of America, the Boston Tea Party protest against high taxes on tea from England usually comes to most people’s mind. However, tea was first brought by the Dutch who, in 1624, established a colony on Manhattan Island which grew to encompass all of what is now New York City and parts of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey They named the settlement New Netherland. The site was considered the optimal place by the Dutch West India Company for them to carry on trade in the New World. To encourage colonization, the Dutch company offered free land along the Hudson river. In 1626, a town was established on the southern tip of Manhattan Island which was to become the capital of New Netherland. It was named New Amsterdam after the Dutch capital city. When Peter Stuyvesant became the Dutch Governor of New Amsterdam in 1647, he brought tea with him and introduced it to the colonists. Since the Dutch were confirmed drinkers of high quality of both Chinese and Japanese teas called “Bai Hao”  in Chinese, which means, “white tip”, the Dutch colonists readily adapted tea drinking. (The Chinese word, “Bai Hao” had been corrupted by the Dutch to “Pekoe” and because the best quality tea was presented to the Dutch royalty, the highest grades of tea reserved for the royalty were called “Orange Pekoe” since the Dutch royal lineage came from the House of Orange). England and the Netherlands were both maritime powers in the 17th century and several wars occurred between them. One of these wars took place in 1664 and involved New Netherland where a British fleet appeared off New Amsterdam and forced Stuyvesant to surrender. New Amsterdam came under British rule. The name was changed to New York, when King Charles II awarded the Dutch colonies to his brother, the Duke of York. When the British settlers arrived in the colonies, they found that the small Dutch settlements consumed more tea, at that time, than the whole of England. It was not until 1670 that the English colonists in Boston became aware of tea and it was not available for sale until 20 years later. However, by 1720 tea was an accepted trade staple between England and the colonies. The tea trade centered around Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Because English tea was very heavily taxed a “Black Market” flourished with tea smuggled in by enterprising merchants. This angered the British East India Company, England’s tea trading organization and they petitioned Parliament for relief. Parliament responded by imposing even higher tea taxes over a several years period. Finally, it became too much for the colonists and, on December 16, 1773, a group, of patriots from the Sons of Liberty organization dressed as American Indians, boarded three ships in Boston harbor and threw a cargo of tea into Boston Harbor. This not only set the events of the American revolution into motion but it turned Americans away from tea and into coffee drinking. While tea started to be traded slowly again by the United States after the revolution, a 2014 market research study still confirmed that Americans still preferred coffee by a three to one margin. Tea, however, owing to more recent information about its health benefits, appears to be growing in popularity, particularly among young Americans. According to the US Tea Association, the wholesale value of the USA tea industry increased from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 10.8 billion in 2014.