The son of the martyred king had in the meantime been restored to the English throne as Charles II, after having grown up in exile at The Hague. He had brought home with him a taste for tea and soon acquired a Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, who shared it. This explains the earliest Company reference to tea; two pounds were purchased from a coffeehouse proprietor as a gift for His Majesty lest “he found himself wholly neglected by the Company.” (Tea cost over one hundred shillings the pound at this time.) A couple years later the Royal Pair received over twenty pounds from the same source. In contrast to Elizabeth, who breakfasted each day on bread, meat, and a gallon of beer, Catherine was soon known as a tea-drinking queen–England’s first. Before Catherine’s day, sniffed a Victorian biographer in her praise, English ladies and gentlemen “habitually heated or stupefied their brains morning, noon, and night.” As it was, the Royal Pair started a trend.
Had tea been introduced earlier, the English coffeehouses–the first of which was established in 1650–would have been known as teahouses. By the time of the Restoration, they were all offering tea as a wonderful health drink, but, being made by the barrel, one that must also have tasted like medicine. It is doubtful if tea could have caught on had the court not made it fashionable (or Charles and Catherine not known the proper method of preparing it). Courtiers of theirs, the Lords Arlington and Ossory, gave the fashion a major impetus when they returned from a mission to The Hague with a quantity of tea they had bought there. Their wives proceeded to give enormous teas after the newest and most elegant Continental manner. Many an Englishman heard of tea for the first time in connection with these entertainments, the apothecaries of London hastened to add it to their stock in trade, and ladies of the realm acquired a sudden interest in the vogue. In the middle of the seventeenth century, tea was “in”.
To be concluded in Tuesdays With Norwood: Tea Reaches England At Last – Part Three