Previous in series: Tuesdays With Norwood: John Company – Part Three

Tea, which refreshes and quietens, is the natural beverage of a taciturn people, and being easy to prepare, it came as a godsend to the world’s worst cooks.

-C.R. Fay, English Economic History

Tea finally arrived on the English scene in September of 1658, the very month that Oliver Cromwell died and presumably went to hell. There is an interesting connection between these two events. Holland was at the height of her power when Cromwell took over in England and beheaded Charles I. If an English merchant of the day wanted to import wine from Bordeaux, say, or ship masts from the Baltic, he was likely to employ Dutch ships as the most economical. Cromwell soon passed laws ordaining that European goods could only be imported to England in English vessels or else in those of the producing nation, but not in Dutch ships. The Amsterdam harbor was suddenly transformed into a forest of masts and idle ships and the Dutch went to war with England over this threat of financial ruin. They lost the war, but the English lost the chance to make tea’s acquaintance at the same time as the rest of Europe. Thus it was ten years after “the impertinent novelty of the century” had come to France, that tobacconist and coffeehouse owner Thomas Garway became the first to offer it to England. It may have been an English ship that brought it, but the tea must have come from Holland, for it was ten years more before the John Company first imported tea from the East–a scant 140 pounds of it.

To be continued in Tuesdays With Norwood: Tea Reaches England At Last – Part Two