The progress of this famous plant has been something like the progress of truth; suspected at first, though very palatable to those who had the courage to taste it; resisted as it encroached; abused as its popularity seemed to spread; and established in its triumph at last, in cheering the whole land from the palace to the cottage, only by the slow and restless efforts of time and its own virtues.
-Isaac D’Israeli (1766-1848)
in a 1790 Edinburgh Review
When the Dutch brought the first tea to Europe in 1610, England’s Good Queen Bess had been dead seven years, Shakespeare had six years to live, and Rembrandt was four years old. After decades of Portuguese middlemanship, the Dutch East India Company had been formed in 1602, to establish bases in Indonesia and Japan and trade directly with the Orient. And by 1637 the Company’s directors, the Lords Seventeen, were writing their governor-general in Indonesia: “As tea begins to come into use by some of the people, we expect some jars of Chinese as well as Japanese tea with each ship.” They got their jars on a regular basis thereafter, it appears, for within a few years tea had become a fashionable, if expensive, beverage among high society at The Hague. And if it sometimes cost the equivalent of a hundred dollars or more per pound, so what? The people Vermeer pictured for us in rooms rich with colored maps and intricate Oriental carpets were nothing if not affluent. At first they bought their tea from apothecaries, who added it and other such luxury items as sugar and ginger and spices to their line of medicines. By the year of Vermeer’s death (1675, six years after Rembrandt’s), tea was being sold in grocery stores to rich and poor alike and was in general use throughout Holland.
It is about this time we find a certain Dr. Bontekoe advising his Dutch readers to use eight or ten cups of tea daily, hastily adding he sees no reason to object to fifty, one hundred or two hundred cups, as he frequently consumed that much himself! The good Dr. Bontekoe met a premature end from a fall for which tea was no cure; his detractors thought him in the pay of the Dutch East India company, which had made him a handsome honorarium for the impetus he’d given their tea sales. Tea became a daily necessity in Dutch life as quickly as people could learn how to enjoy it.
To be concluded in Tuesdays With Norwood: The Reception in Europe – Part 2