Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: Holland is First – Part One

Within a generation–by 1637–tea from China and Japan was in sufficient demand in Holland for the Company to order regular imports of both on each homeward bound vessel. Within another generation the Dutch had succeeded in introducing tea so widely that it was being denounced in France as “the impertinent novelty of the century.” Holland’s principal tea customers, however, were her neighbors on the North Sea coast, the Frisians, and the preeminence of Hamburg, Germany, as the center of the European tea trade today is another monument left by the Dutch tea traders of this early period. Although younger than the Frisian tea tradition, the English also owes its genesis to Holland, since the future Charles II acquired his taste for tea in exile at The Hague. The first tea in the New World, like the first in England, was bought from Dutchmen. But it was precisely by underestimating the demand for tea–“hay water” as Holland’s coffee drinkers called it–that their Company failed. The Dutch had long contented themselves with buying tea from Chinese junks trading in Java and undertook direct voyages to Canton only in 1729–too late to challenge their English rival’s position in China’s tea market. After the English were able to drive them from India in 1759, both the French and Dutch East India companies plunged continuously deeper in debt until forced to declare bankruptcy. (Strange to say, Denmark’s East India Company held out until 1845.) John Company maintained its stranglehold on the China tea trade until 1833, when Parliament decreed the East Indies and Cathay open to all Englishmen on a strictly competitive basis. The Chinese were not consulted.

Read next: Tuesdays With Norwood: Coffeehouse and Tea Garden – Part One